‘Dismaland’ promises the familiar misery of a grim day out
If history has taught us anything, it’s that while some things are rubbish and depressing on purpose, others are just rubbish and depressing
If you go down to the woods today, you might find a ride called the “farting dog”, a few plastic sheets masquerading as an ice rink or a desolate site strewn with car tyres that have been frosted white. You might see a man pretending to be an elf pretending to be Simon Cowell, or a giant potato mascot in a red jacket and a bowler hat. But only if you bought a ticket.
Because these are all things that have been spotted at real theme parks – some of them abject failures (the many temporary “Craplands” that closed early), some of them deliberately tasteless (Denmark’s BonBon Land) and some of them surprisingly successful at luring the public past the gates (Tayto Park).
When it comes to creating “great days out” guaranteed to provide “fun for all the family”, the first rule is this: there must be adults dressed as animals on the payroll. This makes the standard amusement park surreal by definition, while the substandard ones are so grim – wet garden sheds billed as Arctic “log cabins”, rubbery hot dogs smeared with yellow gunk – that they move firmly beyond satire.
As a result, Banksy’s pop-up “Dismaland Bemusement Park”, a giant art installation spread over a 2.5 acre seafront site in Weston-super-Mare, England, is a wearisome concept from the off. A “Dystopian version of a Disney theme park”? Oh. So happy-clappy kids’ stuff created by a Californian media conglomerate to make money is . . . just that?
Elsewhere, Cinderella’s coach has crashed amid paparazzi camera flashes and the Grim Reaper is hogging the bumper cars. The experience sounds like a cross between a pre-2014 Ryanair flight and Culture Night in Dublin at about 10pm, when everything is closing and the culture is over for another year. Naturally, demand for tickets is soaring faster than you can say, “How about a trip to Stalin’s World instead?”
Closer to home, Tayto Park in Co Meath is less about art and more about crisps, which may be no bad thing. The park, in its fifth season, has had €26 million poured into it this year, giving Mr Tayto a reason at last for his incessant cheeriness.
For its new 100km per hour Cú Chulainn Coaster, the operators of Tayto Park “worked with UCD research teams to get the full background for the character of Cú Chulainn”, which is fun attention to detail, although presumably its customers are less interested in historical accuracy than they are its 31m “drop zone”.
People in Ireland now use the words “Tayto Park” and “queues” in the same sentence the way they have for decades with Disneyland, which will only encourage more local entrepreneurs to have a shot at theme-park glory – notwithstanding Banksy’s searing social commentary.
But if history has taught us anything, it’s that while some things are rubbish and depressing on purpose, others are just rubbish and depressing. So for any amateurs poised to erect a “Winter Wonderland” or similar in a nearby car park, here’s some advice.
Know that the number of fairy lights that qualify as “magical” has been subject to horrifying inflation in recent years. Paying customers are guaranteed to be unimpressed by venues with less sparkle than their own front gardens.
If your target market is hipsters, be aware that salted caramel and pulled pork are mainstream now. Try harder. Imagine what a theme park created by The Grand Budapest Hotel director Wes Anderson might look like, then build it before he does.
Watch out for snowballs: all social-media storms begin as a single dark cloud. It takes just one angry adult with pictorial evidence of a skinny, teenage Santa Claus vomiting in his grotto to prompt a refund frenzy.
Think twice. Children cry all the time, but parents have an uncanny ability to tell the difference between a cry that says, “Why did you make me come here?” and one that translates as, “This place is so awful, only a full media shaming and the bankruptcy of all involved will remedy the trauma.”