Dismaland takes the 'escape' out of 'escapist'

By Candy Gourlay

If you're planning to see Dismaland before it closes on 27 September, look away now.

Dismaland. Photo © Candy Gourlay
The night before my ticket entry I went for a walk and took this photo of the Dismaland sign. There were about a thousand people waiting to get in and strange thumping music played from the derelict lido hosting Banksy's installation

So a friend suddenly had a spare Dismaland ticket and there I was, waiting to worship at the altar of Banksy by the shore of Weston-Super-Mare.

If you haven't heard of Banksy or Dismaland, you can read this to get the gist. Suffice to say: it's an event they'll be talking about for years whether the reviews are good or bad. (I tend to agree with the good reviews, it was definitely unmissable)

The newspapers had already warned us about the surly, sneering fairground team and it was true. Guests were welcomed with open hatred and disgust.

Photo © Candy Gourlay

Photo © Candy Gourlay

Photo © Candy Gourlay

I could see a lot of people grinning like they were enjoying the unpleasantness. Marshmallow that I am, I found it a bit frightening. I couldn't meet  their glares.

As we surveyed the raggedy castle, the armoured police van crashed in the moat, the oil daubed crazy, Crazy Golf, twisted, twisting structures, and piles of garbage that were saying something about something, I said, 'So what's it about?'

'It's a dystopian vision of an amusement park, isn't it?' one of my friends replied.

It was all too familiar to be dystopian. More like hyper-real. The installation underscored the most unpleasant elements of a bad English holiday.  The contrast between heavy skies and the bright stripes of sun loungers, the grinning holidaymakers determined to endure, the grim wage makers at their grim jobs, the long queues to everything. The weather even obliged with a flurry of rain and gusty winds that turned umbrellas inside out.

Vulture.com called it "the most ironic place on earth" ... and irony was there in buckets and spades, intended and unintended. The constant queuing, the gormless guests carrying black helium balloons with the blurb 'I am an Imbecile', the exit through the gift shop (evoking Banksy's 2010 film). Banksy's jokes are always on us, why do we love him so much?

But I didn't sense any irony in the (delicious) popcorn priced at a reasonable £2, tickets at £3 apiece, souvenir photo for just £5 (a fraction of the normal pricing in a typical British theme park).

And though the workers on site were nasty, the opinions on offer from the artists on display in the exhibition spaces (there were four) were on the side of the idealistic, ranting against the gamut of injustice - the current refugee disaster, capitalist outrages, imperialism, police brutality, militarisation, David Cameron, war, the rape of the environment, you name it, the art raged against it.

It reminded me of my Facebook feed.

There is an intensity of like-mindedness amongst the people I have chosen to follow on Facebook. It's a constant reminder that Facebook is not the real world ... in the real world people don't agree with each other all the time.

An amusement park is designed to be a place to escape the cares of the world.

Dismaland takes the 'escape' out of 'escapist'. At Dismaland, the relentlessness of identical outrage made me feel a bit ... trapped.

Oh and here are a couple of shots of Weston Super Mare's beach. Which was beautiful. As I checked out, my bed and breakfast host said, "Hope to see you again." She just might.

As time permits, I will be uploading more of my photos on Instagram #dismalandbycandygourlay and on Facebook.

Photos © Candy Gourlay


  1. I sense you are still musing ..thought provoking, clearly.

  2. There is a Chinese restaurant in London that has been doing this for years. Wong Kee (I kid you not) in the West End was famous when I went there for its surly, downright rude waiter service. It became the main atrraction. Eventually I think they cultivated that image deliberately.

    1. We used to go to an Italian restaurant with a glum (but not nasty lady). They got a review on Tripadvisor (not us!) who mentioned the misery service. When we next returned the waitress was so cheerful it was disturbing!

  3. That's an interesting takeaway - that groups tend to reinforce each other's prejudices, sometimes to the extent that dissenting (and balancing) views are removed. It's fascinating to see the sudden re-emergence of the political left as a substantive force in British politics and the bias that has exposed in a society that's been quietly drifting to the right for some years. We need robust dialogue on both sides to make society work effectively.

    1. I was tempted to call it a Utopia ... in which everyone shares the same grievances.

      I've been musing about my Facebook feed for a while. It goes on in all social media ... Google's algorithm for example guesses at what you'd most like to see, tailoring your searches based on your previous browsing. This must mean that large chunks of the world is excluded from your experience. Which must mean we are all only experiencing our own truths and then are surprised to discover that an opposite opinion might exist elsewhere.

    2. It's a little bubble, isn't it? The alarming number of selfies that children are taking and sharing seems so much more blantant than the facebook feed but actually we're just having ourselves mirrored back to us. Not wholly healthy (or wholly different from those selfies)...

    3. Tis true but there is still much to love. I love how life bubbles away before your eyes and how you can get to know people well. And I loved the pics of all the children on their first day of big school.

  4. Bit late to the party here but yes, it was unmissable, and Weston is a gorgeous secret with the most amazing autumn sunsets. The residents fell in love with Disma which says something interesting. When I've worked out what it is I'll blog about it.


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