Dionysos and Theme Parks

The only reason I’m not a rabid supporter of Archetypal Psychology is that the research I was exposed to as a student at Pacifica concentrated on Greek Myth as its basis for imagery, and I find that too limiting. But I will admit that the archetypal method can be very fun, which is why I delve into it from time to time on my blog, but I likely won’t use this in the methodology of my larger research projects.

The more I contemplate Greek myth, the more I like Dionysos. He had a rough childhood. I mean, come on, his family almost ate him. No wonder he was/is a complete drunk.

So Dionysos came to symbolize drunken excess, with the idea being that one needs the release that being drunk characterizes. It does get exhausting being uptight and proper for society. Dionysos provided a container for this excess. Boundaries, if you will, to allow each of us what we need without impacting greater society.

One mode of celebrating Dionysos was in the theater, and as such he’s also the god associated with theater and stage craft. In his Poetics, Aristotle writes about the experience of going to theater and the elements of a well-written play that would lead to catharsis, a powerful emotional, collective release.

My new delicious thought is this: the theme park—the well-crafted, well-staged theme park—is the realm of Dionysos. Disney designed Disneyland as a movie set, applying Hollywood’s version of set design that evolved from theater. So, then, the kinetic experience of the park is akin to a Dionysian catharsis (perhaps it’s my Walt Disney-colored glasses, but I prefer to find Dionysian experiences that don’t involve drunken or drug-induced releases, but much could be said about such catharsis in other areas of culture).

I’ve wondered about the attraction to thrill. Compared to attractions at parks such as Six Flags or Universal, Disney’s thrilling rides are relatively tame, but that speaks to the overall goal of Disney’s storytelling and the intended audience. Theme park and amusement park attractions bring us catharsis, with the added level of kinetic experience. We don’t simply take in the story and process it through our emotional framework. Attractions allow us to become a part of the story. The Fantasyland Dark Rides were constructed as though the guests in the ride vehicles were the main characters of the story. But what about roller coasters? It’s difficult to execute an entire narrative for a roller coaster. But perhaps the narrative ceases to be the point when we’re going that fast.

Roller coasters force us back into our bodies. The mind shuts down and instincts take over as we react with fear or pleasure. Although there are many attempts to rectify the mind-body (or Cartesian) split, it still governs many of our experiences, especially in the computer age. Riding a roller coaster allows us to spend some time in that body of ours. It invites us to let go and allow our sensation to soak in the experience.

It’s like this:


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