When Gill and her siblings were young, they loved going to Disneyland. One of their favorite family pictures, to this day, is one of the three of them with their Mickey Mouse ear hats posing with Goofy. Everyone is smiling. For them, Disney was, that day, the Happiest Place on Earth. Well, except for a few minor glitches. The major one was that , as kids with serious food allergies, they couldn’t eat any of the tempting, greasy, sugary, wonderfully fragrant food products offered on site. As the day wore on, their cries for junky food grew louder and more determined. I felt like the Wicked Witch of The North denying them these treats.
I coerced them: “But, kids, Mommy packed a lovely picnic lunch for you. Why don’t we go back to the car and eat that? Come on, let’s run…last one to the tofu bologna and soy cheese is a rotten egg!”
It should be noted here that Disneyland did not permit ‘contraband’ food (i.e.: anything not purchased from their food concessions) on the grounds. Not wanting to find myself in the slammer for breaking The Laws of Disney, for once I complied. It was a long, hot trek to the car. The kids were not overly impressed with the lunch I had packed but the fact that we were sitting in the car perked them up. They loved that car! It was my uncle’s behemoth pink Lincoln… circa 1970. (It came with his condo in which we were staying…the one with the swimming pool that was inhabited, the kids were convinced, by alligators.) The kids were so enthralled with the car, horn that went off unexpectedly, broken door, and all (they had to climb in through the window), they even named it– ‘Pinky Ballou’.
It was a day of highs and lows. Highs when they went on water slides (Gill and Crazy D), the slow-moving sissy teacups (L’il Sis and moi) ; lows when Crazy D discovered he was being discriminated against for lack of height at one of the roller coaster thrill rides. And then there was the inevitable “Mom, I don’t feel so good” as Crazy D upchucked his lunch.
Despite these unfortunate moments, we had a good time. And after all these years, memories fade and mellow. All three children remember the experience with only fond memories and warm fuzzies.
So I was a bit taken aback when Gill announced recently that she was keen to go with a friend to visit the new art exhibit near Bristol by well-known graffiti artist Banksy. It was called ‘Dismaland’ and presents, on a crumbling old lido site near a particularly dismal, down-on-its-luck seaside town, his version of Disneyland. It is social commentary at its best and darkest. When Gill explained some of the exhibits to me, I finally understood why she loves England so much. It appeals to her darkly humorous side.
The one part that I particularly loved was the sign that promised “A free hot dog for anyone who can figure out what animal it is made from”.
There was a booth offering ‘Payday loans for kids’ where they could swap teeth for instant cash. (Tooth Fairy, anyone?)
And what would the theme park be without ‘Greeters’? Not for Banksy the chipper, ever-smiling princesses or Daffy Ducks…his greeters were surly, cranky curmudgeons more reminiscent of airport security officials at the end of a twelve-hour shift.
I loved what I saw of Banksy’s exhibit. But I do have fond memories of Disneyland too. And my heart goes out to Walt Disney. He must be rolling over in his grave right now, wondering how his Happiest Place on Earth morphed into ‘Dismaland’.