The Critical Theory of Amusements

Last Thursday I went with Youth Rights Media to Lake Compounce, an amusement park in Connecticut – we took the youth there to close out the Summer Institute program.

I have never cared for amusement parks. Everything about them bothers me – the giant parking lots, the lines, the prices, food stands. On top of that, I don’t like the rides themselves. All the feelings of anxiety, excitement, and g-force pressure just don’t make me happy! Perhaps this makes me stuffy. I’ve just never been able to understand why so many people enjoy theme parks, and this is similar to my feelings about sports, pop music,  most television and blockbuster films.

Scholars have found rationale for critiquing these institutions in ways that range from “very stuffy fuddy-duddy” to “brilliant and insightful” that appeal to the like minded, but tend to be ignored by the public. I actually used Noam Chomsky‘s argument about sports being “training in irrational jingoism” to bash the athletic programs at the university where I got my BA. But these sorts of arguments stem from the influence of critical theory. Amusement parks themselves seem to be an embodiment of Adorno and Horkheimer’s concept of culture industry, or maybe they just strike me that way as someone who doesn’t like roller coasters.

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