Spectacularized Jerusalem: An Analysis Of Jerusalem

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Jerusalem and the Holy Land represent the beginning of Christianity, where Jesus was born and thus where Christianity was born. Christians often travel to the Holy Land to embrace prayer and worship on a more involved level, to observe the landmarks discussed in the Bible and to experience God in their own individualistic way. The importance of Jerusalem led to the need Westerners felt for similar land. This brought about the existence of the Holy Land Experience. The Holy Land Experience is a tourist attraction located in Orlando, Flordia. It is a theme park that is a living biblical experience which takes you 7000 miles away to the Holy Land of Jerusalem and 2000 years to the past, with the intended purpose of education and conversion (Smith, Lecture 7). Essentially the Holy Land Experience (HLE) is meant to portray Jerusalem under the guise of a theme park (Wharton, p. 191). Wharton makes the argument that the HLE is a Westernized “spectacle” of Jerusalem, such that it is not a relic, nor a replica, and not even a reproduction of Jerusalem. Thus it only truly offers an entertaining and pleasurable encounter for the customer. It does not immerse one within the activity they are doing, rather it is meant to be an observance of the Holy Land that exists in the Bible (Smith Lecture 8). For this reason, Wharton refers to the HLE as a spectacle, one where the “politics or ideology pretends to be entertainment: it is the theatrical figuration of capital and an expression of its excesses,” (Wharton, p. 190). The parks’ presentation is led by politically and imperialistically charged attempts by the West to re-create Jerusalem. The park has forgone the medieval system where profit is considered immoral and embraced the postmodern system where the pursuit of profit is admirable. Its presentation is largely determined based on the Western economy at the time, causing it to move away from its original claims.    

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The park’s creator Rev. Rosenthal, claims that the HLE is “more like a shrine than a theme park” and that it “promises its consumers… the ‘real’ experience of a space that is somewhere else” (Wharton, p. 195). In reality, the park can not provide a “real” experience because it is not a reproduction of Jerusalem. The park is not a relic because it “lacks the material connection to an originating power” (Wharton, p. 231). Specifically, the park is not made of anything from Jerusalem that is seen as holy to the larger Christian community. The HLE is also not seen as a replica since it does not recreate the rituals intended for use in the Holy Sepulchre (Wharton, p. 231). Finally, the HLE is not a historical reproduction of Jerusalem as it does not provide the means to walk in Jesus’ footsteps (Wharton, p. 231). Instead, it is set up in a way such as a Biblical epic, confining the landmarks to fit within a specific space but still requiring them to provide the same impact as the real-life versions. According to Wharton, a relic is meant to be identical to what it represents and a replica is meant to be a reproduction of what it means (Wharton, p. 50). Neither of these is shown at the HLE, rather the HLE acts as a sign of what Jerusalem represents, as a souvenir.   Based on the observation and analysis of the HLE structure and layout one can see that the park behaves “as an essential element in an evangelical education… it deploys Israel to embody that part of the physical past that is essential to Rev. Rosenthal’s message (Wharton, p. 195). The physical landmarks of the park are straight from the Bible i.e: “Herod’s Temple”, “Empty Tomb” and “The Hebrew Tabernacle”. Therefore it is not valid to say that the HLE is reproducing Jerusalem as it is actually reproducing landmarks from the Bible.   

 Wharton, in what largely seems to be a rebuttal against Rosenthal’s claim that the HLE is “like a shrine,” methodically dissects into the fundamental features of the religious shrine and the theme park. To describe a religious shrine, Wharton uses the example of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Holy Sepulchre could be considered the holiest site for Christian denominations. Within the Holy Sepulchre, the “principal subject” is the pilgrim, access is free, ownership communal, and it is only maintained through gifts and donations (Wharton, p. 191). At the bottom of it, visitors of the Holy Sepulchre expect to feel God within themselves. On the other hand, Wharton’s example of a theme park, Disney Land, offers a different set of qualities and expectations for what individuals will experience there. Wharton argues that the theme park’s “principal subject” is the tourist, it is maintained for profit, admission “is pricey,” it is property of a corporation, and time experienced within the park is “synchronic” in nature: “everything happens just once for … pleasure” (Wharton, p. 191). A visitor of a theme park primarily goes for the experience, to see what occurs there just once. As Wharton puts it “the tourist pursues pleasure and transient oblivion in Disneyland, the pilgrim seeks solace and redemption in the Holy Sepulchre” (Wharton, p. 193). An obvious distinction between a theme park and a shrine is the material forms of each (Wharton, 193). The structure of a theme park is meticulously planned out to the last detail. Whereas the Holy Sepulchre is in disarray, entry is not exclusive and the shrines are irregularly placed (Wharton, p. 193). As well, the Holy Sepulchre is often messy, marked by the people who have visited previously. There is no set direction for visitors to follow, they embrace their surroundings by experiencing them. In contrary, the HLE is provided for tourists, it is kept clean and neat and provides a detailed guide to follow, similar to Disney Land.   

It is important for Wharton to distinguish between a shrine and a theme park in order to reveal that the conditions of someone who visits the HLE meets the criteria of someone visiting a theme park not a shrine. The Holy Land Experience, while attracting both pilgrims and tourists alike, acts and looks like a theme-park, or as Wharton describes it, a “truncated version of Disneyland” (Wharton, p. 193). The distinctions made between the HLE and the Sepulchre allows one to see what types of visitors encounter each and the experiences a guest will expect out of each. The Holy Sepulchre focuses on reverence, free-access, sanctity, decorum and communal ownership. The ancient ritualistic atmosphere is suited to the desires of a pious pilgrim seeking a more involved encounter with divinity. On the other hand, while it might attract both pilgrim and tourist the HLE is a theme-park, constructed around exhibitions that utilize visual and aural excitement, nostalgia, and an idealized and narrative-styled setting that very much catered to the expectations of the pleasure-seeking tourist. 

07 July 2022

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