For those who don’t watch tv, or live under a rock (not that I blame you), the “more flags, more fun” slogan is part of the current ad campaign for the Six Flags amusement park franchise. There are 17 total parks, including Six Flags now in Montreal, Mexico City, and Dubai (United Arab Emirates). So it’s not strictly a U.S. phenomenon anymore. But it’s very much a product of what can be called “American” thinking — the kind of “more is better” thinking that leads to a slogan like the one above, as well as leading to a far-reaching corporate influence that offers a window into the most current marketing techniques. Six Flags wants to be the new Big Brother, in other words, or at least reduce the Disneys and all their own marketing muscle to a bunch of flashy plastic made-in-China rubble. (Speaking of China, and this dangerous “growth at any cost” mindset, who watched Ted Koppel’s Discovery Channel series on China this week?)
This year’s first lesson about the iron grip of commercialism happened for my sister before she even entered the park, when she was faced with the choice of parking in the back lot for $15, or in the closer-to-the-entrance front lot for $25. As we recall, all parking was one price last year: $10. Even Disneyworld in Orlando, where my sister went last year, only charges $10 to park.
I on the other hand, found a way to beat The Man: I parked for free in an out-of-the-way spot outside the park and rode my bike in. Considering that there was only one small bike rack, and mine was the only bike that was locked there all day, I think this was the biggest sign that the “car culture” and the U.S. amusement park experience are inextricably linked. I wonder if they’re running scared now? Are they trying to figure out ways to seem green, while distracting us from the fact that they’re plopped down in no-man’s-land — on an interstate fifty miles from each of the two major nearby cities (Milwaukee and Chicago)? Probably not scared, though. They’ve got sort of a monopoly, and are likely benefitting from the high price of airfare by getting more regional vacationers who have to stay closer to home this summer.
Speaking of the car culture, the GEICO gecko has apparently joined Bugs Bunny, Batman, Scooby Doo and other Time/Warner mascots at Six Flags to make my experience more… um… fulfilling. I first noticed the annoying product placement campaign when I saw that all of the 30+ bumper cars on Rue le Dodge had a bumper sticker which read: “My other car is insured by GEICO.” Then later, they had posted a picture of the gecko on a sign that advised it would be 15-minutes wait-time from that point to get to the front of the line. Next to that, of course, was the reminder that in those same 15 minutes, I could be saving 15% on my car insurance by switching to GEICO. Thanks, mate. Got any sunblock on you? That would be more useful at the moment.
This was just one example of the unrelenting corporate cross-marketing extravaganza we were exposed to, in concentrated form, all day long. It’s like being on The Truman Show, where the godlike planners have thought through every possible angle, dressed it all up nice and pretty, and yet all you want to do is escape as soon as possible. (If not for the rides, that is… which are fast becoming just a part of the background for all these other money-making schemes; they’re the reason we go, but not the reason The Man wants us there.)
I know I must sound like a crotchety old man. Fact is, that’s what I am now. Maybe I’m just pissed that the five pounds I had put on since last year made it impossible for me to fit into the seat and shoulder harness on my favorite coaster: Batman. Add to that the chafing on my thighs from walking around sweaty all day, and the problems with my feet and left knee, and suddenly I’m the All-American Whiny Stick In the Mud, the last guy I ever thought I’d turn into. Getting old just sucks. And I’m not even that old.
Okay, enough whining. A few highlights:
1) American Eagle, a huge old-style wooden roller coaster, has still got the goods, even after twenty years. A tad more rickety in one section, but a nice long ride compared to some newer coasters, yet still with good dips and decent speed.
2) I didn’t notice much ridiculously bad behavior from kids and teens this year. In the past I’ve seen line-jumpers and heard pretty foul language on occasion, or else general brattiness from the spoiled younger ones. But it wasn’t so bad Friday, and most kids were dang cute and pretty gleeful, so I guess the park still remains what I would call “family friendly”. People may finally be learning civility, in these tough times when we all feel a bit nervous about what’s next (Orange Alert, a Second Great Depression, or maybe a flood that takes out the entire city of New York).
3) I had a grand time reminiscing and catching up with my two younger sisters, for whom this Six Flags trip is a tradition that they put right up there with any religious obligation or national holiday. Myself, I was just along for the ride, not looking to do everything in the park, …twice (like the 18 times my nephew Bill rode the Batman coaster). I see them alot, but not as often in a context where spouses and little ones aren’t around. So we got to pack three months worth of uninterrupted storytelling and complaining about life into one day, as we waited in line, moving five feet every five minutes. It’s nice to have people to do that with, people who know me that well, and aren’t wanting something from me.