Falling Behind and Falling Fast

A few weeks ago I went on vacation to Cedar Point amusement park and took notes so I could come back and blog about it, but put it off. I just found my notes today.

The trip itself harkened back to when I was a kid, and my dad and I would take a yearly trip to Cedar Point as a sort of father-son bonding thing. It’d been almost ten years since either of us went and we thought this year we’d revive the old tradition. Way fucking better than fishing, don’t you think?

My dad is the type who always thinks of the optimal. For this trip he wanted to plan it so that we got to the park at the exact moment it opened. Made sense to me, I just wish he’d checked to see when the park opened. We got there an hour early. At Cedar Point they will let you into the park, but unless you are staying on their resort you are kept in a small fenced in area, surrounded by gun-totting security, as you watch the resort guests riding coasters and wandering freely. Seriously. It was like the ultimate expression of a class system. Enjoyment for the richer folks, the poor are penned in under extreme security.

One security guard in particular caught my eye. He was a tall fella, maybe 30-40, in shape, with the most 1970s looking mustache, crew cut and sunglasses you can imagine. As he was standing guard over us he kept his arms crossed and head locked. Even when an employee came to ask him something, he did not make eye contact with her, but only tilted his head so as to keep eye contact with the rabble. I’ll point out in a moment how Cedar Point is the epitome of hyperreality, right down to their security guards.

Cedar Point, like any amusement park, operates on the principle of hyperreality–to steal Jean Baudrillard and Umberto Eco’s term and even to its application with amusement parks. Hyperreality is basically the idea that in the modern world we have created places and situations where faked or staged images of reality mimic what our biased and stereotyped ideals of reality are.

My own experience of the hyperreality really hit in Cedar Point’s Frontier Town. Frontier Town is a small section with wooden buildings that look like something off a Western movie set. Most the buildings, like most all the buildings in Cedar Point, are gift shops and junk food shops. Only with “authentically” Frontier-ish names like “The Saddle Shop.” It’s obviously not the real frontier, it’s not a museum either, it’s only reference point is our own beliefs of frontier-ness. And of course, in a world of hyperreality everything is hyperexpensive.

Mimicry exists throughout, but is always an exterior shell. I noticed a restaurant shaped like Caribbean beach houses (selling burgers and fries) and one modeled after New Orleans architecture (selling burgers and fries.) While I did not check to see what was on the menu at the Pagoda House, I would not be surprised if it was burgers and fries there too. Every artifice is easily scraped away in Cedar Point, pointing to an interior that seems frighteningly totalitarian in its uniformity. Oh yeah, did I mention that before we were allowed entry into the park we had to stand through a broadcast of “God Bless America”?

So although I paint a rather vulgar picture of Cedar Point, to where one might reasonably ask “why the hell did you go there if it’s so bad?” Certainly. The fact is I love roller coasters and so does my dad. There’s no other reason we’d go. The experience of rocketing around at high speeds, upside down and all is a blast–even when you have to wait an hour and a half for a two-minute ride.  And it doesn’t hurt my sense of praxis either. Sure, Cedar Point is a capitalist institution, but so was the company that made the computer I’m typing on.

Upon leaving the park we went through Sandusky, Ohio. Ohio is quite a state; never been able to escape from living out its post-industrial and post-agricultural stereotype of itself. Sandusky itself seems to have gained little from Cedar Point. Boarded up buildings and those left look desperate for renovation. Most my perceptions of Ohio are intuitive, but the whole place seems sad and defeated to me, whereas in Detroit things are going to hell but not so quietly. Detroit aims to go down in flames; Ohio with a sigh. So much is old in Ohio. Scrap collectors, used parts stores, fraternal lodges, second hand shops and factories are everywhere.  Where Cedar Point presents The Past as a form of entertainment for a non-existent nostalgia, in the rest of Ohio the past is life support.

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