Most theme parks are built on fantasy. Disney’s Magic Kingdom, for example, is a saccharine dreamscape presided over by a giant mouse. But the theme park I took my daughter to last week has nothing to do with fantasy. On the contrary it was a harsh lesson in the brutal realities of capitalism.
KidZania is an amusement park with 19 branches worldwide, each comprising of a small, indoor city where kids perform real life jobs in return for hard cash – or KidZos, a currency which, post-Brexit, is more stable than Sterling.
It claims to be an ‘educational entertainment experience’ with the motto ‘Get ready for a better world’. But after my four hours in the bleak consumerist Lilliput, I left certain that far from being a ‘better world’ KidZania was just as stressful, confusing and awful as the real one.
The whole thing starts with a perfect reconstruction of a chaotic airport check-in desk on the first day of the school holidays. Everyone is then tagged like petty criminals before the kids are sent off into the big wide world of work. I had to question my daughter’s life choices after she turned her nose up at a career as a pilot, rejected the chance to train as a surgeon and opted instead to put a shift in as a hotel chambermaid, for which she earned the princely sum of eight KidZos. A true proletarian.
The place is like something Adam Smith and Walt Disney might come up with if they had stayed up all night together drinking and doing good quality acid. They really don’t sugar the pill of life at the mercy of the market very much at all. My daughter’s career path hit a glass ceiling when she chose not to go to the University of KidZania, a move that could have increased her earning potential by up to 25 per cent.
KidZania is an unashamed shrine to the sterile, dystopian human-made landscapes that have become the high streets of so many of our cities. All the big brands are well represented and the main difference is that the kids approach the low-paid, low-skilled work with an enthusiasm very much lacking in the dead-eyed, zero-hours, wage-slaves working there for real. Child labour is alive and well and being sold back to us as entertainment at £25 ($32) a head.
Far from being educational, KidZania is a cynical, corporate propaganda exercise masquerading as a family day out. A sepia toned, cookie cutter version of capitalism that’s fun and, most dishonestly of all, actually works. A temple to Mammon with full employment, no debt, no homelessness, no food banks, and where it only takes 20 minutes to train as a heart surgeon.
It was without doubt one of the most bizarre, crass and consumerist ghettos I have ever visited (and I’ve been to Dubai). When it was time to go we were forced to exit via ‘immigration’ ensuring we ended the day enjoying a fully immersive deportation experience. By the end, if there had been a textiles sweatshop for the kids to work in or Victorian chimneystacks to sweep, it wouldn’t have surprised me in the least. After all, that’s Capitalism kids!