6B - Thursday, September 25, 2008
The Michigan Daily michigandailycom
As amusements parks continue to close,
the American Dream fades away
By David Watnick I Daily Music Editor
D etractors, both domesti-
cally and abroad, have long
accused America of being
devoid of culture. And while the
United States certainlyhas awealth
is one problem it does not have.
Culture oftenrevolves around
leisure, and by that token it's easy
to identify one of the great main-
stays of American culture: the
amusement park. It's a European
invention, but it was perfected in
America and it's a staple of our
nation's entertainment. It serves
up Coca-Cola, hot dogs and cheap
thrills - hallmarks of the United
States, for better or worse. It may
not be classy or clean, but it's
Sadly, the last few decades have
seen a rash of small, independent
park closings as the economic
landscape has shifted and large
corporate parks have grown in
favor. Local parks like Wichita's
Joyland and Memphis's Liber-
tyland recently closed and their
classic wooden roller coasters
now stand on the brink of liqui-
dation. But the situation turned
much more tragic Sept. 7 when
Astroland, at Brooklyn's famed
Coney Island, closed for good.
Thankfully, the renowned
Coney Island Cyclone will con-
tinue to operate, as will nearby
Deno's Wonder Wheel. And
Nathan's Famous hot dog stand
will still serve up their popu-
lar product daily and encourage
gross overeating every 4th of July.
But when the largest set of attrac-
tions on the boardwalk shut down
before summer had even ended,
the flagship of one of America's
great cultural creations dropped
a massive sail.
Nobody has proven a greater
megaphone for American cul-
ture than Woody Allen, so let
Allen's usage of amusement parks
in his films serve as a reminder
of the centrality of the amuse-
ment park to a healthy American
life. When he wanted to invoke a
happy nostalgia of childhood in
"Annie Hall," his character Alvy
Singer reminisced and revisited
his boyhood home beneath a run-
ning coaster. Conversely, when
he wanted to communicate the
gloomy reality of a humble adult
life in "The Purple Rose of Cairo,"
he had Mia Farrow attempt to
live out her childish, impossible
dream of running off with a movie
character at the foot of a derelict,
abandoned roller coaster.
of course, the ride featured in
"Annie Hall," the Coney Island
Thunderbolt (it really did have
a house beneath it), eventually
closed, too. It was finally demol-
ished in the early 'part of this
decade so that the land it occupied
could be redeveloped. Therein lies
the issue with amusement parks:
"I am a big fan of Ferris wheels. Big fan."
Unlike most other elements of our
culture, amusement parks occupy
physical space - a scarce resource
in many parts of the country.
When they fail to produce finan-
cially, they're scrapped.
Imagine if every copy of a
seminal American album was
destroyed so that nobody could
hear it again. It would be a cul-
tural loss equivalent to the clos-
ing of Astroland. Certainly Bruce
Springsteen's Born toRun, a clas-
sic American album if there ever
was one (and coincidentally, it is
steeped in the exact boardwalk-
amusement-park world that
Astroland embodies), no longer
sells enough copies to justify the
endless time and money that were
poured into its conception over 30
years ago. But having once been
a universal success, it's virtually
guaranteed to survive through
its millions of copies no matter
how unpopular it should someday
become. Amusement parks will
never enjoy such a luxury.
Amusement parks offer ver-
sions of the "American Dream"
far more magical and inclusive
than the suburban vision of the
"Dream" usually propagated.
Besides, status, quo suburban
life is unattainable for some and
undesirable for others. Dreams of
the first drop on the roller coast-
er, of walking the boardwalk on
a windy summer night, of falling
in love and sharing a first kiss at
the top of the Ferris wheel, know
no age or class boundaries. Any-
one, rich or poor, young or old,
can dream of them even if they're
impossible - after all, the best
dreams rarely come true.
The beauty of American amuse-
ment parks is that their gifts are
available to nearly everyone.
They can make anyone with an
open mind feel like a kid again
and they're a reminder of some
of the best parts of being Ameri-
can. They will always endure in
the memories of their patrons, but
they're most valuable when they
create new memories.
Grand Opening Celebration
Thursday Sept. 25th 5-8pm
4 Eleven Lofts Leasing Center & Model
400 E. Washington (@ Division)
I I l I i i iI I I i (
Pretty much like any ride on an AATA bus.
From Page 4B
products of that very generation.
"Well, I think that, um, Chuck's,
Chuck is just ... he gets into the
underbelly of Generation X. He
just kinda understands this gen-
Some Palahniuk readers will
immediately recognize the
author's fascination with Genera-
tion X. There's a general rejection
of pop culture ins his work, as well
as a distrust of the nuclear family.
"It's his specialty," Rockwell said.
"It's kind of like Holden Caulfield;
Victor is raised by his free-
wheeling single mother - a
product of 1960s drugs and activ-
ism - and their relationship is
"It kinda sorta reminds me
of the classic sort of mother-
son things, like 'Glass Menag-
erie,' yeah, 'Hamlet' maybe," said
.Rockwell. "It's kinda that classic
mother-and-son relationship you
know ... from those strange, kinda
Freudian mother-son relation-
ships." Sounds about right when
you see Victor and his crazed
mother break into a zoo to free
But that's not to say this is
eccentric, mommy-issue stuff
from a misogynistic viewpoint.
"Choke" is supposed to be good,
"It reminded me a lot of cin-
ematic prototypes, like um,
stuff that I'd seen like 'Harold &
Maude,' and 'The Fisher King' and
uh, Jack Nicholson's character in
'Five Easy Pieces,"' Rockwell said:
Sam Rockwell has played his
fair share of gonzo jerks, but at
least they're always interesting.
"Chokq" is no exception, and in
the end, you might just wind up
liking the guy.
Thornton on 'Eagle Eye'
From Page 5B
well-written," Thornton said.
"When it's well-written you have
something to start with, since you
don't want to go do some bone-
headed action film."
As for working with Hollywood
up-and-comer Shia LaBeouf,
Thornton had only good things
"Shia is a great kid, and he's a
very mature actor for his age,"
Thornton said. "A lot of older
actors don't have their chops the
way he does. I really hope for big
things for him."
Thornton has been known to
shy away from technology and,
therefore, he believes strongly in
the issues faced by the characters
in "Eagle Eye," who are hunted
through the vast array of technol-
ogy around them. What's more
terrifying is that the characters
are stalked with technology taken
for granted every day: cellphones,
the Internet and television. While
Thornton acknowledges the
importance of technology, he also
owns up to his owsi'shortcomings
"I only got a cell phone two
years ago, but I don't know how
to use it. I think there's way too
much access today and it's kind
of scary. I think technology has
stolen our privacy," Thornton
Adding to his already impres-
sive resume, Thornton is also an
accomplished director, Academy-
and musician. He sees the future
holding more for him than just
"I'm looking to direct again,"
Thornton said. "There are movie
offers out there, of course, and a
couple more records coming out."
However you want to define
Thornton - actor, director,
screenwriter or musician - one
thing is certain: The man cannot
be pigeonholed and he's perfectly
content staying that way.