America in Miniature: LEGOLAND California

Inevitably, this leads to idiosyncrasies. At LEGOLAND California, the American Midwest, Southwest, Northwest, and South are almost entirely absent from the tableau. This is an America of locales that, while overwhelmingly urban, does not include Chicago, Atlanta, and other cities not coastally located. The “New England” section is a curiously curated “harbor,” in which the region is portrayed as primarily agrarian, lacking any sort of metropolitan area or even colonial architecture. No natural wonders are in evidence. This is an America without a Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, or the need for them.

The New York City skyline of Miniland USA has a number of faithfully reproduced iconic skyscrapers, oriented in a peculiar geography. The “Freedom Tower” and 9/11 memorial located at the tip of “Manhattan” are of a prototype architectural design rejected years ago, becoming literal embodiments of the “simulacrum”—i.e., a copy for which an original does not exist.11 The iconic Brooklyn Bridge originates in “Manhattan” and terminates in an empty, grassy “Brooklyn.” Times Square is sandwiched in between the Woolworth Building and a less-defined “downtown” area. The Statue of Liberty rises in a lagoon just across from Mount Rushmore.

This is the modern tourist’s view of New York City, as well as the New York City most recognizable to consumers of movies, television, and other images in circulation. In order to represent the location “New York City,” LEGO assembled a set of images—an itinerary— that recreates the tourist’s experience of Gotham in a scaled-down form. Places left off this itinerary include the outer boroughs (less frequented by tourists and less frequently portrayed in movies and television shows set in the city), primarily residential sections of Manhattan (the Upper and Lower East Sides, for instance), and neighborhoods that serve as concentrations of labor rather than leisure.

Popular tourist destinations and quirky geography also abound in the other American cities depicted in the Miniland assortment. The iconic architecture of Washington, DC makes it a perfect subject for reproduction. The orientation of the monuments and the dearth of explanatory signage as rendered in LEGO bricks present a decontextu- alized nation’s capital, with the Olympic proportions of the buildings only reinforced by their miniaturization. Las Vegas aptly lends itself to LEGOization as the scale models of the whimsically themed casinos on the strip attest.12 New Orleans features a Mardi Gras parade, complete with Rex and Zulu Krewe floats, passing the wrought-iron railing balconies of a mini French Quarter.

The “California Coast” section features scenes from popular Northern and Southern California tourist destinations (though notably absent is any reproduction of Disneyland® or, indeed, any other themed tourist attraction).13 Also absent are any representations of Carlsbad itself. Though a popular tourist destination since the turn of the century for its mineral springs (the “bad” in Carlsbad is German for “bath”), there is no trace of the town, historical or contemporary. Ironically, the Miniland California in LEGOLAND California erases Carlsbad from the itinerary of U.S. tourist destinations even as LEGOLAND proper seeks to make it one.

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