The photo book ‘Paarse krokodillen bestaan niet’ (There’s No Such Thing as A Purple Crocodile) immerses the viewer in a real-life world of fairy-tale amusement.
The term ‘disneyfication’ describes the process of creating or modifying objects, systems, locations or cultural phenomena in order to make them resemble the amusement parks, films, merchandise or image of the Walt Disney Company. A key characteristic of disneyfication is the emphasis on escapism, fantasy, consumption, wholesomeness and an idealised representation of society. This is a phenomenon which has had a huge cultural impact on Western countries such as the Netherlands: every experience has become a product with a market, a target audience and huge economic interests.
This process also played an important role in the family I was raised in. My father worked all week and didn’t have much time to spend with his children. Whenever there was something to celebrate, we would all go to an amusement park in the weekend. This way, my father was able to compensate for his absence, to redeem his feelings of guilt by purchasing an expensive ticket with a guaranteed return in terms of experience and amusement through immersion in a fairy-tale illusion. This allowed my father to show how much (money) his family was worth to him, and we could all share an experience without him having to make any effort in terms of imagination or organisation. Though none of this was particularly helpful for the emotional bond with my father, I do have pleasant memories of these family excursions, which is quite illustrative of my love/hate relationship with this phenomenon.
A business by the name of xxxxxxxxxx (censored) is now cleverly cashing in on the very same guilt and disneyfication, by transposing these to the private setting of children’s birthday parties: making extensive use of the Disney archetypes that are etched into our collective memory in order to create a megalomaniacal theme party. The experience is mostly defined by the perfect styling, in which the narrative elements of Disney films and the imaginative mind of the child are reduced to mere window-dressing.
The parties also rely heavily on traditional gender-confirming roles and subconsciously enforce beauty ideals, while blurring as much as possible any remaining boundaries between reality and the world of fairy tales. The parents are reduced to mere spectators standing on the sidelines, waiting for the end of a party in which they have no meaningful role to play: indeed, no interaction whatsoever is required between the parent and the child. Everything starts and ends on time, managed by staff members who build up the setting, execute the predetermined programme and then pack everything up again. Children’s parties are thus reduced to exorbitant status events in which parents can profile their self-chosen image.
As an observing outsider, I was able to photograph a world which is usually only accessible upon invitation. With my flash, I hoped to reveal a reality that remained hidden underneath all the ornamentation, and only once in a while became briefly visible through a crack in the surface, in the face of a lost child or a grown-up in the background.
Website Goed Folk (Folkert Koelewijn)
Nominations: 2017 Threshold Award (Drempelprijs)
Cover image: Lolly Pop, Princess party, Hotel, 2017