As a former Disney Cast Member, I have been forced to do everything in the “Happiest Place on Earth” (sarcasm intended). Using the “Disney Point,” a habit of pointing with two fingers instead of one, working until midnight only to have another shift nine hours later and forcing a smile when a disgruntled mother screamed about our slow service during Star Wars Weekend is just some of the fun.
The magic dies after you get sick of the same maddeningly soft soundtrack playing on the streets of Hollywood Studios every day, and when the umpteenth guest asks you about the ride in the “Chinese Theater,” an exact replica of the Grauman’s Chinese Theater seen from the entrance of the park. The magic is a downright distant memory by the time a guest calls the theater “Mulan’s Castle” and you sit there, a Chinese American, discussing orientalism with an International College Program cast member from Shanghai.
For all its flaws, like taking the time to laud Andrew Jackson’s populism in the Magic Kingdom’s Hall of Presidents attraction, Disney World is a well-meaning environment seeking political correctness in every aspect. It is a rule to say, “the guest in a wheelchair” instead of “the wheelchair-bound guest” and “the guest with a disability” instead of “the disabled person.” It is because a person’s disability does not define him.
Dismaland takes moments like the textbook-style lauding of Andrew Jackson and the screaming mother and turns it into a park.
Working there would be different. Forcing a smile and working in a “the customer is always right” environment is grinding. And there is something deeply satisfying in seeing Cinderella’s crashed coach.
Banksy’s attempt at making an edgy theme park that doesn’t force you to smile is an odd paradox to Disney’s attempt to forget about the real world. The story among cast members is that our venerable founder, Walter Elias Disney hated how the first Disney theme park, Disney Land in California, was situated across the street from everyday life—even now Sleeping Beauty Castle faces a McDonald’s. When he built Disney World in the swampy thickets of Orlando, he isolated the small world, accessible most iconically by the monorail. The Magic Kingdom, ironically, is the most isolated of all four Disney World parks, entailing a ride through several resorts before stopping in front of Main Street USA. Each park and resort, confined and carefully fenced in the woods, is cloistered so that the first step before Epcot’s Spaceship Earth, the Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life, the Magic Kingdom’s 1800s Missouri-themed streets and, Mickey forbid, the small Los Angeles streets leading to Hollywood Studios’ “Chinese” Theater guarantees an instant disarming charm and innocence. The most cynical heart stops for a moment.
I cannot count the amount of times children wearing Make-A-Wish Foundation and Give Kids The World buttons and T-shirts came to my stroller rental at the fake gas station, Oscar’s, at the front of Hollywood Studios. The chronic Disney smile I wore for our yearly serving of self-entitled cheerleaders and foul-tempered men with thick southern accents suddenly landed on those who needed it the most. Disney’s goal of “making memories,” as they drilled in my brain, became clear.
Dismaland brings adults, particularly, together to see political comics in the flesh. The sole refreshing aspect, in the acrid but humble opinion of someone who has never been there, is that we do not hear about theme parks whose sole purpose is to remind us of gritty reality. If I wanted to see satire and reminders of my heaping college loans I would have gone on Tumblr.
Banksy faces the bigger issues in society and politics, while our venerable founder Walter Elias Disney chose to personally inspire the individual. Banksy represents the artistic revolt against big bad corporate Disney, which contributes to stereotypes that affect minorities like me by selling Japanese katana and displaying a “The Big Wave off Kanagawa” mural in the Chinese pavilion of Epcot. He sneers at big bad corporate Disney, which tells its nine-dollar-an-hour cast members to throw out bags of unsold food at the end of the day. He is art versus the institution.
As art, Banksy’s Dismaland is ultimately a statement. But he can float as many migrant-filled boats in his exhibitions as he wants—in the end, his park does nothing to inspire the individual into action. If his goal is to inspire change with art, then unlike Disney, he has failed to reach his goal.
But you know what the best part is?
At least the entrance fee is only five dollars. If you’re a local, that is. The plane ticket, according to my trusty SkyScanner.com, is at least five times the price of a Magic Kingdom day ticket.