It’s always an eye-opening experience for me to go to a big, sprawling amusement park like Six Flags Great America (where I went yesterday), or one of the Disneys.
All the blinking lights, the noise, the walkingwalkingwalking, the junkfood, the tall purple-faced people dressed as comic book villains I don’t recognize, and of course the rollercoasters! It all hurts one’s brain and beats up on one’s body, but it’s a mildly pleasurable and necessary pain… the “no pain, no gain” type. The intra-body wave you ride, trying on purpose to get dizzy and euphoric and sugar-buzzed without going so overboard that you lose your lunch, is part of the fun.
So is the “taking the pulse of the country” aspect of being there, at least for me. Once again, the park reminded me that the culture I was born into is often simultaneously fun and toxic, brilliant and stupid. For example, I am often in awe of the scientific prowess and heavy-duty marketing knowhow it takes to build these rides and to run such a place, even as I bemoan the unconscionably high prices, and whine that the new Dark Knight coaster really sucked.
Yup, sorry to be the one to break the news, people, but Dark Knight-The Ride was not worth the 1+ hour wait (yes, an hour, …no I’m not crazy, just stupid, …and keep in mind that’s the wait on a non-crowded weekday). It’s an enclosed coaster which runs mostly in the dark, with mediocre blacklight effects and more of a semi-predictable, neck-thrashing jerkiness than genuine thrills, speed, or haunted-house scares.
I didn’t mind the “you’re in Gotham City now” pre-boarding total-immersion room, complete with a mock “live” press conference featuring characters/actors from the new movie shown on a courtesy screen in the mock subway station, with a red dot matrix fake Gotham news crawl running below it. But the letdown of exiting that room, only to board a coaster that doesn’t even equal the creative engineering of the Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain (now over 30 years old), soon takes all the wind out of any Dark Knight rider’s sails. (Did someone say Knight Rider? I hear KITT came back again this year, too, but still sucked as much as the original… ha! The Hoff is such a joke.)
It wasn’t just our multi-age, middle class white party (ages 8-42) that thought the Dark Knight ride stunk, either. I made a conscious effort to listen to people as they were getting off, and also later that night when I again rode Superman next door (an awesome ride, BTW, day or nite). Both rides dump exiting passengers into the same DC Comics-oriented giftshop, and as people exited, it seemed nobody was impressed with Dark Knight-The Ride. It’s barely half the fun of the original Batman coaster on the other side of the park, which is a much underrated marvel (comics pun intended) of design and execution.
Maybe they just tried to squeeze DK into too small a space in the park. Maybe in their enthusiasm about all the high-tech pre-ride stuff, and the up-to-the-minute tie-ins to a summer 2008 Hollywood blockbuster, they thought the coaster itself wouldn’t matter to us. But it does. And it sucked.
That disappointment was piled on top of my already low-boiling chagrin over the massive “Virtual Army Experience” recruiting building Six Flags has allowed in the front parking lot. Apparently, existing propaganda that blurs the line between real violence and simulated violence still hasn’t been enough to fill the Army’s recruitment needs — not even with all the new Army-developed and endorsed “shooter” videogames on the market.
So now they are “taking their message to the people”, to where people show up by the thousands. I can almost hear their fatigue-clad carnival barker now :
Hey all you gung-ho twelve-year-olds! Hey you paintball fans! Come on in! Shoot at real holographic enemies! Test your speed and toughness! Plan a mission to take out the freedom-hating terrorists! Then go get youself a free t-shirt and a Coke, take a pamphlet, and go on into the park for other equally intense amusements, all at the low price of $54 per person. Just think of it as your personal boost to our sagging economy,son. Amusement is your duty, and your right, as a red-blooded American. Now go do your duty, soldier!
Tomorrow: more reflections on Six Flags Great America, including how my body let me down, how the Geico gecko ruined my day, and the blessing of being with siblings who know you “by heart”.