Themes as normative unities

click on images for full-size:

The Hotel New York at Euro-Disney

Claddagh Irish Pub in Pittsburgh

Abbey's Irish Pub in Chicago

Whether or not a place is themed does not depend on its decor, nor does it depend on how it is received by the visitor. Rather it depends on the place's institutionalized mode of self-presentation. What is important is the source of the unity of the decor and atmosphere.

In themed places there is a unified character, and it is controlled by an unusually detailed set of norms for actions and decor. The explanation for the unity of this grammar is found in an already established normative unity of meaning.

Suppose I want to give a bar an Irish theme. I will likely use the color green, and probably include representations of shamrocks, build certain kinds of windows, and so on. Why those particular items? Why is this wall green rather than blue? Why have painted shamrocks rather than roses? I will probably serve certain kinds of beer, and perhaps have the barstaff dress in particular ways and, ideally, talk with a certain accent and encourage certain behaviors among the customers. Why do this accent and this color and that flower and that beer and that window shape and that way of acting all go together? My Irish restaurant does not just happen to have these features because I like green or favor Guinness. These features are not just randomly combined, and neither are they combined because they seem aesthetically harmonious (though they may be combined in more or less aesthetic ways). The explanation for their combination is found elsewhere, in an already established Irishness.

It can happen, though, that the theme unity be set up at the same time as the themed place.