Disney Invades Iraq? by John Ostrander
You may already know about this story – it surfaced in late April elsewhere. I found out about it thanks to This Is True, a weekly newsletter and website run by Randy Cassingham and one of my fave e-mails of the week each week.
Here’s the story, in case you missed it. An American entrepreneur has looked at the mess in Iraq and decided that what Baghdad needs is an entertainment park. Llewellyn Werner, chairman of C3, which The Times of London online says is “a Los Angeles-based holding company for private equity firms” is putting 500 million dollars – a cool half billion – into the Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience outside but near the American “Green Zone.” It will comprise fifty acres and, in addition to the former Baghdad Zoo, will include a skateboard park, rides, a concert theater, and a museum.
The Baghdad Zoo itself now has only 35 animals out of about 700 it had originally. The rest were lost to the war – starved to death, stolen, and killed so they could be eaten by Baghdad citizens who were afraid there was going to be no food.
The project will cost $500 million and will be managed by Iraqis. Under the terms of the lease, Mr. Werner will retain exclusive rights to housing and hotel developments, which he says will be both culturally sensitive and enormously profitable. “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t making money,” he said. “I also have this wonderful sense that we’re doing the right thing – we’re going to employ thousands of Iraqis. But mostly everything here is for profit.”
A $1 million skateboard park, the first phase of the development, will open in July. Parts for 200,000 skateboards and materials to build ramps will be shipped from America to Iraq for assembly at state-owned factories and distributed free to Iraqi children along with helmets and kneepads.
Wait. There’s more.
When the sport catches on Mr. Werner will start to sell the boards – which bear the slogan “Ride Baghdad Skate Park” in hot pink Arabic script – for cash.
Paul Brinkley, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Business Transformation, is working on this from the government. According to Mr. Brinkley, General Petraeus is a “big supporter” of the project.
John March, executive veep of Ride & Show Engineering, Inc. which is designing the place, was asked on Fox News about possible safety concerns for the park and replied, “Well, you live here in Southern California and there’s drive-bys and everything else. So there’s danger everywhere, and I think the key thing is this will be tremendous for Baghdad.”
That answer appeared to satisfy Fox News. Fox News and The Times of London share a common owner – the Republican Party’s own Rupert Murdoch.
By the way, on the homepage for Ride and Show Engineering, Inc, the company describes itself as follows: The world of entertainment and amusement is constantly changing and becoming more sophisticated. Ride & Show continues to be on the forefront. From motion base simulation to unique show action equipment, Ride & Show challenges and overcomes the barriers between reality and dreams.
Sounds like the right company for Iraq.
ThinkProgress.com has still more, including a radio snippet from NPR’s Eric Westerveldt which included part of Werner’s pitch. The site states: In pitching his Disneyland idea to a deputy Baghdad mayor, Werner – displaying little sense for Iraqi culture – said the waterpark is “integral to the sex appeal” of the new amusement center. Speaking in deliberately slow English, Werner told the Iraqis, “One of the fastest growing sports in the world is skate…boarding.
NPR’s Eric Westervelt additionally reported: After explaining skateboarding, Werner tells the assembled Iraqi business and government men, “I’m a businessman. I’m not here because I think you’re nice people. I think there’s money to be made here.”
It’s not the only permanent American element designed for Baghdad. According to ThinkProgress: The AP reports that the Pentagon is backing a $5 billion dollar plan to “transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone” into a “centerpiece for Baghdad’s future,” resulting in “big paydays for early investors.”
For Washington, the driving motivation is to create a “zone of influence” around the new $700 million U.S. Embassy to serve as a kind of high-end buffer for the compound, whose total price tag will reach about $1 billion after all the workers and offices are relocated over the next year.
“When you have $1 billion hanging out there and 1,000 employees lying around, you kind of want to know who your neighbors are. You want to influence what happens in your neighborhood over time,” said Navy Capt. Thomas Karnowski, who led the team that created the development plan.
An incentive for the project, which would include hotels, resorts, and commercial development in the Green Zone, appears to be lining the pockets of investors and allies rather than re-building Iraq’s economy. In fact, Karnowski acknowledged that American officials would vet potential investors because of a “vested interest” — mirroring the cronyism of Saddam’s Hussein’s regime.
This whole thing just depresses the hell out of me. Not because of the apparent lunacy. That’s actually hilarious in a jaw dropping to the floor kind of way. The scenario is ripe for all kind of riffs – will they work bombs and mortar rounds into the fireworks displays? Will the Marines act as Disneyland-type guides for the place? I could go on and so could you. Many of you have.
Or I could get pissed off about it. I could make the same observations that everyone else had made by now – that this project epitomizes American “tone deafness” when dealing with another culture. Or that it symbolizes every misguided step that we’ve made in Iraq. At a time when there are still mortar attacks and sniper killings, this guy Werner wants to open a skateboard park. Baghdad citizens don’t get electricity on a regular basis and he thinks he is going to open an amusement park.
I’m not going to decry the very idea of opening an American style amusement park in Baghdad, however. Before the war, Baghdad had two amusement parks and a new Disneyworld-type park is going to be built in Dubai. Amusement parks are not essentially non-Arab. We liberal types should try to maintain a certain consistency – we keep insisting that Iraq wasn’t a center for terrorists because it was a secular society. If its a secular nation, why not a Disneyworld?
Of course, it’s encroaching American culture – and the odd Army base – that seems to really hack off the Moslem fundamentalists. And it’s the timing of the whole enterprise that just seems mind boggling – it would seem that the people of Baghdad need more essential things than a skateboard park. Even assuming it gets off the ground, how long before the extremists start having skateboard suicide bombers?
But that’s not what’s really bothering me about all this, bunky.
What depresses me is – I’m an imaginative guy. I write GrimJack and we’ve had battle cherubs in the current storyline. Battle cherubs, for crying out loud. In our previous story, we had ninja mimes. I writeMunden’s Bar. I wrote Wasteland! Wasteland! And I didn’t dream up “The Baghdad Zoo and Entertainment Experience”!
I mean, c’mon! “Ride Baghdad Skate Park” in hot pink Arabic script on skateboards to be sold in Baghdad? How am I supposed to top that?! Del Close told me once that he and a friend spent part of the late 60s in San Fran trying to figure out “how to be funnier than the environment.” When the environment starts generating this kind of nonsense, anything you can say becomes so obvious as to be redundant. How do you satirize something that is self-satirizing? Devoid of sense, it appears immune from criticism. You can’t improve on it.
Maybe we just borrow a classic Disney tune with a minor modification to the lyrics. C’mon, sing along. You all know the tune.
It’s a mad world, after all.
It’s a mad world, after all.
It’s a mad world, after all.
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.
John Ostrander writes all the stuff he just said he writes, plus more. Including something amazingly new that’ll be showing up soon as we work some stuff out and shanghai the right artist.