Why Did Banksy’s Dismaland Capture Everyone’s Imagination?

Posted by Elizabeth Alton on Tuesday, October 6th, 2015

Banksy decrepit castle

Are you looking for an alternative to the soulless sugar-coated banality of the average family day out? Or just somewhere cheaper. Then this is the place for you—a chaotic new world where you can escape from mindless escapism. Instead of a burger stall, we have a museum. In place of a gift shop we have a library, well, we have a gift shop as well.

Bring the whole family to come and enjoy the latest addition to our chronic leisure surplus—a bemusement park. A theme park whose big theme is: theme parks should have bigger themes…

This event contains adult themes, distressing imagery, extended use of strobe lighting, smoke effects and swearing. The following items are strictly prohibited: knives, spraycans, illegal drugs, and lawyers from the Walt Disney corporation.

– An excerpt from the original event announcement for Banksy’s Dismaland

Dismaland overturned Cinderella carriage

A few weeks ago, a new “theme park” got nearly as much media and social media buzz as a major announcement from Walt Disney. What was interesting about the situation was that the focus of the furor was Dismaland, an artistic “bemusement park” looking at theme park culture. Dismaland was the creation of British graffiti artist Banksy, who is routinely referred to in media coverage as elusive. The park opened to the public in August for five weeks and is already being dismantled. Interestingly, pieces of the exhibit will be used to help provide shelter during the current EU refugee crisis.

Who is Banksy? According to media coverage, the artist entered the creative scene with surprising art pieces appearing on walls in London and Bristol in the 1990s. American audiences may be more familiar with the recent month-long show that he did in New York City in 2013, contributing art to neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. Banksy’s themes typically tackle some of the most troubling social and political issues of our day: immigration, consumerism, celebrity culture and law enforcement. This latest pop-up art exhibit in Weston-super-Mare is no exception. Many of the pieces have a political focus, but the overarching topic takes a more specific look at theme parks.

Dismaland orca

What was the inspiration for Dismaland, and bluntly stated, was it a swipe at Disney? In a statement, Banksy said,”I guess you’d say it’s a theme park whose big theme is theme parks should have bigger themes.” He went on to call Dismaland a “festival of art, amusements and entry-level anarchism.” Pictures of Dismaland have been splashed around by the media. The exhibit was housed in a derelict seaside resort, and billed as “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction.” Yet it sold out within hours and crowds clamored for more tickets.

Guests wandering around Dismaland saw the usual elements of a park, from rides to games. Two of the most talked about attractions directly echoed and twisted iconic elements of mainstream theme parks. At the center of the park was a decrepit castle. Inside the castle, an overturned carriage featured a Cinderella surrounded by paparazzi a la Princess Diana’s tragic death. Another attraction featured an orca rising up out of the toilet to jump through hula-hoop. More than 50 artists from 17 countries contributed to the exhibit. Glum staff were available throughout the park, adding another layer of interaction and interest for guests.

Dismaland layout

Dismaland was a novel concept, and some would argue a timely commentary on a central component of our culture. But the bigger question that entertainment designers need to consider is this: why did it capture so much attention among media and the public? There are a couple of answers worth considering. One is that there were big names attached to the project, and with those names comes an effective PR machine. Another is that people love something controversial and many of the visuals and concepts associated with the park were chilling.

Or did the underlying commentary resonate with audiences? Is there room in the theme park world for, as Banksy says, theme parks with bigger themes? It’s hard to reconcile our current construct of what a theme park is – imagination, immersion, and fun escapism – with a place that tackles national surveillance or immigration. Yet it’s worth considering. Is there a need in the theme park world for more authenticity and more current context? Do certain dystopic themes resonate powerfully with younger generations and will that influence the way that we conceptualize design and tell stories in the future? There’s no single right answer. But we’re curious to see if Dismaland impacts theme park design in the years ahead.

Images sourced courtesy of Dismaland, WordPress, Express

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