Bright paparazzi flashes illuminate the toppled pumpkin carriage with a princess slumping out of the side window. The warped mermaid perches over stagnant, mildewed water, her four eyes staring pointedly at nothing. A surly park attendant holds a bunch of black balloons that read, “I AM AN IMBE-CILE.” Bemused?
This is Dismaland, a “family theme park unsuitable for children” dreamed up by Banksy, a British graffiti artist turned social activist. Though Dismaland is advertised as a theme park, it is more accurate to call it an art exhibit. More than 50 artists contributed work to display in the 2.5 acre seaside exhibit in Somerset, England. The pieces address numerous social and political issues, and take a rather—ahem—dismal tone.
Park visitors may express their uneasiness in a variety of ways. But no one can experience the offerings of Dismaland comfortably. That is, after all, the point.
This seems to be a rather odd way to spend leisure time, but the park is promoted for those who are “jaded by the over-corporate blandness that passes for family light entertainment.” Dismaland stands in direct opposition to the fantasyland from which it derives its name, criticizing what Banksy sees as Disney’s shallow brand of optimism that is ostensibly built on earnest wishes, insipid goodness, and, of course, a little bit of pixie dust. Dismaland, in contrast, is light on parades and big on principle, which is both strange and compelling.
Dismaland enthusiasts aren’t people who revel in misery but rather see the pretense of simplistic, magical amusement as a sham. The abrupt reversal of the “happily ever after” trope is an acknowledgment of their personal ...1