Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Where Can Wonder Take Us?

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Where Can Wonder Take Us?

Article excerpt

Greeting to all. Aloha mai kakou. Salve.

Thanks to Veronica Schanoes for her over-the-top introduction. I treasure her as a scholar, writer, and friend. Thanks to the IAFA Board for the invitation; to Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Holly Black for inspiration. And my gratitude to so many of you here from whom I continue to learn.

Where can wonder take us? Everywhere and nowhere, of course. The theme-park version of wonder invites us into such spaces, not places, to purchase rides and thrills. Thanks to the economic trends that sociologist Alan Bryman claims have resulted in the "Disneyization" of society, (1) this kind of theme-park lure extends to other aspects of everyday culture today, and not only in the USA. Here are two recent examples of fairy-tale theming: the Taiwanese government built a gigantic church in the shape of a Cinderella glass slipper, specifically for wedding ceremonies and photo shoots in a scenic coastal area (Chen and Tsoi). And Arabian Nights-themed shimmery ballet flats are part of a prize package in a "magical giveaway" that seals the partnership of an American company of designer shoes and Disney's Aladdin on Broadway. (2) In its suggestive--and Orientalist--power, this Arabian-Nights themed luxury combination exemplifies yet another aspect of Disneyization, that is, hybrid or de-differentiated consumption, whereby products that are conventionally in distinct spheres of the market (apparel and entertainment) become associated with one another. Women in both of these examples are romanced as target consumers, based on the assumption that their/our desires will be sparked by dazzling fairy-tale footwear and lead to experiences of wish fulfillment in the form of luxury weddings and expensive shows.

All too often, then, fairy-tale wonders in our society today promote a heteronormative and capitalist promise of happiness. Countering this, the "bemusement park" Dismaland opened in August 2015 in Somerset, England, as "a family attraction that acknowledges inequality and impending catastrophe" (Banksy and Mills). (3) How Dismaland could avoid colluding with corporate wonder as entertainment was to remain a temporary art installation or event. Dismaland had announced itself by calling out Disney as its model experience, (4) one that it emulated, parodied and criticized, as seen in its YouTube preview. Apparently, the ideological and economic irony of this contradiction was not lost on British artist Banksy, the artistic creator of Dismaland. After only six weeks and 150,000 visitors, the park closed, and its structures were donated to a refugee camp near Calais (Thompson; Chester).

It struck me when I heard about Banksy's action that earlier in 2015 Marina Warner, fairy-tale scholar and winner of the Holberg Prize, had decided to use some of this award to help "create communal cultural spaces in refugee camps" that otherwise provide "only 'food, shelter and water, the basic necessities, in a minimal way'" (Reisz). In doing so, as a cultural critic increasingly interested in forced migration, (5) Warner was upholding the humanistic promise of on-site storytelling practices as a resource for survivance, a weapon against propaganda. Refugee camps become places in part because of the stories--personal, historical, fictional--that haunt and enliven them, the "invisible luggage" (xiv) as Angela Carter referred to it, migrants bring along, exchange, and adapt. Not all stories move across borders freely, but nonrealistic ones have an easier time doing so, and about fairy tales in particular, Warner writes, they "migrate on soft feet, for borders are invisible to them, no matter how ferociously they are policed by cultural purists" (2014, xv). The question "Where Can Wonder Take Us?" acknowledges the moving force that the experience of wonder exerts on us humans, but elides its narrative and situated aspects, and so does not take into account how wonder tales speak to locating ourselves in an always already animated world. …

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