One of the conceits of our globalised word is that we feel able to duplicate places. It is a sensation that perhaps arises out of easy and frequent travel, out of instant communication, out of the inescapable torrents of images that passes for contemporary culture. It’s an idea that a place might be franchisable – duplicated, copied, and repeated in distant locations, multiplied over geography. Sometimes this occurs as image, sometimes as organisation, and sometimes as characteristics of massing, density or other qualities might be encoded into urban replicants. Just think of the number of projects that begin with a reference to Barcelona’s urban plan (see also ‘Tuscan hill town’ and many other popular precedents that populate the rhetoric of urban design). Its part of the tactic that’s become knows as ‘Placemaking’ (or, as we might call it here in an effort to acknowledge the role of simulation, ‘Placefaking’). As Starbucks succinctly puts it “Geography is a Flavour”.
Right now, across Britain, there’s been an outbreak of a particular kind of place-based-hallucination: a series of Laplands – essentially Christmas theme parks – which have taken over decidedly English landscapes in attempts to manifest some kind of non-specific winter wonderland.
Its when they go wrong that it gets interesting. There has been a flurry of stories about many of these Laplands being closed down by environmental health and trading standards officers on account of their utter rubbishness. Not so much Laplands as Craplands.
The BBC report on Lapland New Forest where a security guard resigned because because he was “ashamed to work there”:
“Santa got attacked, one of the elves got smacked in the face and pushed into a pram. I was punched in the forehead in the ticket office by an irate customer. I was ashamed to work there, really, really ashamed.”
The Sun reports on the weird effects of iconocgraphic doubling: “Children queued on a muddy hillside for TWO different Santas at the same time — ruining any sense this chap was the real deal.”
Another story on Lapland West Midlands from the Times is titled ‘ No snow, no Santa – must be another Lapland’:
” THERE should have been huskies, real snow and an ice rink, but yesterday the families turning up to the opening of a Lapland theme park were met by empty marquees, a muddy field and trading standards officers.
Lapland West Midlands, based in a field close to one of Britain’s busiest motorway junctions, had been abandoned not just by Santa and his elves but by its organisers, too.”
” “Lapland” was flanked by a shooting range, a grey icy lake and mobile phone masts. Even the birdsong from the nearby woods was drowned out by noise from the nearby M6.”
Beautiful, in its own way, no? It sounds like the ideal place to spend a completely contemporary Christmas: Geography in bad, festive drag.