There is nothing more dehumanizing than a carnival. I know this because a) I’ve experienced identity loss at multiple carnivals, and b) I’m staring at a carnival right now, and all I see is a faceless, technicolor mass of little children indoctrinated in depravity. That carnival intelligentsia are wily enough to purposely rob children of their humanness is dubious; at most, one could propound that those in charge of carnivals—and in this specific, empirical case, the Central Park Carnival—are tangentially aware of this phenomenon. However, it is reasonable to assume that, in the long and celebrated history of mass entertainment, more than one individual approached a carnival administrator and said, “You know, this entire idiom of entertainment is soulless, malevolent, deplorably inhuman, and speciously recreational. Get the fuck out of my town.” It follows that said carnival administrator probably replied with something like, “Care for some cotton candy?” or, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. I was tending to my storehouse of misappropriated Christmas spirit.”
Carnivals are anti-fun. Even discounting any malicious intent or effect, they’re simply idiotic. Kids line up for rides that have absolutely nothing to do with the base instincts for fun and games—the kids hardly run or move around, they often have to wait in adult-sized lines, they rarely get their first choice for where they’d like to sit on a particular ride, and many times they have to surrender their shoes at the door. And when I was a kid, I loved my shoes. I got one pair a year, and I wasn’t keen on contributing them to an amorphous heap of footwear that may or may not still be there when I was done. In this sense, a carnival is not just anti-fun, but it’s anti-kid; technically, if you’d reduce each carnival activity to their purest, unadulterated essences, none of them convincingly correlate to things that children enjoy.
From the opposite perspective, one might be tempted to use all the evidence cited above as proof that carnivals provide an early lesson in maturity and delayed gratification. Yes, the kids have to wait on line, but—one might argue—that’s the way the world works. They might be limited in mobility, but most working adults are similarly constricted. Waiting in line for a pleasurable experience, moreover, is an early childhood metaphor for resisting instant gratification. Taking your shoes off is rife with life lessons: being sanitary, devaluing materialism, uniformity, and egalitarianism (if everyone takes off his/her shoes, then everyone is equal. The kids with the more expensive sneakers can’t pull rank on those without). Carnivals are exercises, one might surmise, in structured, rules-based fun, and that can’t be a bad thing. A bit of a drag, perhaps, but the kids don’t seem to mind.
However, anyone who thinks that is a profound dumbass. Carnivals are not pint-sized life lessons; they’re fucking carnivals. They should be about having fun, pooing your pants, being young, and thinking about how happy you are that you’re not in school. Suggesting that they subliminally embed profound, Zen-type truths about pleasure and healthy living is about as inane as suggesting that ferris wheels rock anybody's world, or supposing that kids who are all psyched up to pound cotton candy and fart on each other’s faces are in any mental place to absorb a Taoist ethos about patience and fairness. Thus, the one possible purpose that carnivals might have served has gone the way of Linday Lohan’s liver, and we are left to ponder, yet again, exactly what it is that carnivals do.
The answer: they destroy souls. They dehumanize. They are anti-kid, yet, because they fail to teach kids anything about the real world, they are also anti-adult. They are anti-fun, yet, for the same reason, they aren’t patently serious. Carnivals exist in an existential vaccum, in the non-space that lies between meaningfulness and purposeful nothingness. If carnival organizers openly professed either a mission statement or, conversely, something like, “These mean nothing, and that’s the point. It’s just for fun,” that would be fine. Then carnivals would either be meaningful or, purposefully, zero. Yet carnivals come with the societal idea that kids should be there, that kids must attend them when they’re young. It’s the same thing as emotionally abusive parents forcing their sons to play sports and their daughters to play violin and do ballet—a carnival is a mandatory activity that, in and of itself, means nothing at all. As inherently meaningful events, carnivals don’t even register.
And that is why carnivals are dehumanizing. Kids walk in under the impression that they have to be there, but are ultimately presented with something that has no character. Kids rely on adults to guide their development, yet time and again they’re herded onto carousels and Fun Slides and, sadly, leave with nothing. They don’t develop, and their souls rot. If kids aren’t growing, they’re receding. And in a place that’s anti-kid, anti-adult, and spiritually non-existent, you can bet your ass they're not growing. They’re being forced to play in a place with no intrinsic value, and they’re being taught that a place with nothing to teach them is a necessary place to be.
So please, Carnies everywhere: shut down your machine and give kids their souls back. And then embalm yourselves in feces.
Stay Slippery, Fun Slide