You might’ve seen pictures of street artist Banksy’s latest project, Dismaland, a demented take on Disney theme parks. You may have read about how the artist, whose real identity is unknown, constructed the pop-up “bemusement park” in an abandoned swimming pool complex in Weston-super-Mare, an economically-depressed English town that used to be a grand seaside resort (if not, check out Rebecca Mead’s insighful New Yorker piece). To tell the truth, my photos (included after the jump) look the same as everyone else’s and while I appreciated the social commentary of the art installations, as I look back on the experience, I think I learned the most from waiting in line to get in. The lesson? What would Banksy do?
It began with ticketing. The exhibit was so popular that its website crashed and rumors abounded that this was a deliberate move to make the experience miserable from the beginning. Some people speculated that the physical tickets themselves were a ruse, and even those with tickets would be forced to wait in line with the thousands that just showed up.
These thoughts weighed heavily on my mind as I stepped out of the car with my friends Matthew and Josie, whom I was visiting in England for the week. The sky was a brilliant blue with puffy clouds, a nice change from the torrential downpours that had soaked the waiting masses over the past few days (Maybe Banksy has a weather machine?). We saw a crowd of people and joined the line. To our surprise, it quickly surged ahead as people realized we had been standing in the wrong place. We rounded a corner to find a snaking maze of barriers when a woman in front of us stopped suddenly. The whole crowd lurched to a standstill behind her and waited patiently for her to start moving again, an action that would be unfathomable in the US, where she would’ve been swiftly trampled. (“British respect for the queue,” explained Josie.)
“Is this the right line? Do we know that this is the right line?” she asked the masses. The crowd looked at each other. Was she for real or was this part of the experience? I could almost see the stage directions: slightly disheveled blonde woman questions the crowd to undermine their confidence in choosing which line to join.
She politely stepped aside to conference with her friend, and we continued ahead with the rest of the crowd, an anti-Banksy action if ever there was one. We then settled in for what we assumed would be a purposefully long wait. Suddenly the man in front of us turned around.
“Do you have tickets?” he asked.
“Yes,” we answered.
“Then you’re in the wrong line. This line is for people who are waiting for tickets,” he replied, referring to the daily limited release of day-of tickets.
“Are you sure?” we asked. He nodded. A low buzz emerged from the crowd around us. Should we believe the nondescript man in the concert t-shirt and jeans, or was he using the uncertainty of the situation to secure a better place in line for himself? Or was he Banksy???
As we mulled over the possibilities, people with tickets began jumping the barriers to form their own line parallel to the original one. Parents with strollers and small children struggled to squeeze through the barrier gaps. No one was going to stand in the way of them traumatizing their Disney-loving babies.
We slipped through an opening and commiserated with the people around us, including a toddler named Dylan, whose screams and tears indicated that he was clearly was not interested in Dismaland, despite his mother’s cheerful urgings: “Do you see the flags, Dylan?” “Do you hear, the music, Dylan?” “Do you want to see pretty dead princess and the mutilated mermaid, Dylan?” (OK, the last one was just my imagination.)
Suddenly, a man carrying a walkie talkie and wearing a vest and a tool belt worked his way through the crowd. He was not wearing a bright pink Dismaland vest like the other employees. In his arms, he carried laminated signs labeled “Ticket holders: enter here.”
“Who has tickets?” he asked. “Who has tickets?” Everyone in the renegade line raised their hands. “Then you need to be over here.” We looked at him suspiciously. Is that all it took to project an aura of power and authority? A walkie talkie and a tool belt – without tools?
We shuffled en masse to fill the empty space where he directed us (again, a very un-Banksy move). The line exited across the street to the entrance, and a few rows ahead of us was the blonde woman who had initially questioned whether we were stampeding into the correct line for ticket holders. She was right. The only person who questioned the sheeple – stopped them in their tracks, really – was right! She had won the Dismaland game and would be one of the first to be insulted by employees and wait in even more lines. Banksy was probably smiling down at her from his/her lair, which I imagined to be a pimped-out suite at the top of Cinderella’s burned-out castle. Mos Def, who would appear as a surprise guest the next evening as part of the Dismaland performance series, was probably right beside him/her, his hand on his/her shoulder, saying “At least one of them learned something. At least you got to one of them.”