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Holiday World

On a theme park.


Tucked away in the recesses of the American mind, down the street and to the left of flyover country in a cul-de-sac once occupied by Amish of German Catholic descent, past an Archabbey named Meinrad, a farm named Huber, and towns named Ferdinand and Johnsburg, one travels on winding paths or four-lane freeways which empty into driveways like some vascular system working its way through America’s heart. It is a land that, in its natural condition, is so densely wooded that it is inimical to human life. The patches of forest left behind the cleared planted field and homestead are monuments to a people who through blood and sweat managed to live on this land. (Making, as it were, a garden in the wilderness.) Through such places, if one finds the way—no easy feat given the infrequency of cellular service—one will come to the enchanted land of “Holiday World.”

Those who believe implicitly or otherwise that secular materialism is the only philosophical vision of reality that holds water have not beheld the wonders of a land where there is, to paraphrase the Prophet, an eternal fountain whose waters never end, flowing with Pepsi and Sunscreen. Modern certainties are laid, like infants, abed in this land of promise where advertisements proclaim, “This much fun could take all summer!” Visions of a social media-suffused culture that clamors for individuals to “perfect” their bodies before exposing their bare flesh give way to the reality of excess stomach fat hanging over two-piece bikini bottoms in the Splashin’ Safari Water Park. People drift effortlessly from the sunscreen station to Pepsi Oasis, running fingers over fleshy arms and rolled backs, filling cups with Sierra Mist (or, in a reflective mood, Orange Gatorade or peach iced tea). Barefoot and exposed in this unknown part of southern Indiana, men, women, and children pace through heat, through storm, through wind from water slide to water slide seeking momentary joys and escapes from the pressure. The pressure of heat and humidity, but also the pressure of being routinely excoriated by the national press for being too fat, too racist, and too religious.

People in Holiday World get it. Many of them do, in fact, “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” And for this, you might think that their betters would feel some sense of responsibility. The birth rate has plummeted to one and seven-tenths; the Baby Boomer generation accumulates endless (and mindless) wealth, sixty-five trillion dollars and counting, at the expense of a disenfranchised millennial permanent servant class; communities around the world are devastated by drone strikes in violation of international law; twenty percent of women between the ages of fourteen and twenty four are on antidepressants. Insert your favorite example. This is what our leaders have given us. Yet for this they feel no shame.

The Holiday World set, however, are ashamed. (Shame being a concept once upon a time used, to great effect, to establish and defend community standards.) All they have to do is look in the mirror after going on Instagram, or walk past the abandoned factory which once employed a quarter of the town but now operates in Guangzhou at a quarter of the costs, or look at their houses after watching the sponsored Facebook ad “Homes for Sale in Aspen Colorado.” (As an aside, Jackson, the Aspen of Wyoming, had the highest rates of COVID-19 in the state precisely because the rich insisted on leaving their cities for their “vacation residences” but forgot to leave the virus behind.)

And so they come to Holiday World in droves, seven or eight shoved into a camper, for amusement at an economical price: sixty-seven dollars for a two-day pass. There’s no Mickey Mouse, no Looney Tunes, no Marvel superheroes, no Star Wars Jedi or Harry Potter magic. Those are for coastal types, or the kind of middle Americans who have some savings and feel comfortable spending half a year’s wages on half a week’s fun. The licensing fees alone would leave “amusement” out of reach in southern Indiana. Here, the themes are as American as anything produced by the two-hundred-billion dollar Disney leviathan. Santa Claus strolls about Christmastown, resplendent in red fur coat, boots, and hat, despite the alternating thunderstorms and sweltering heat. Thanksgiving Land offers year-round turkey legs served with mashed potatoes, gravy and stuffing; the ode to Americana continues in Fourth of July Land and Halloween World. Throw in the Splashin’ Safari Waterpark and it’s all the fun a forty-thousand-a-year trucker can have with his family.

These people are not dumb. They know how kitschy and hokey it feels. They revel in it: the rides, almost all of which are wooden roller coasters; the overextended bellies from mid-July pumpkin pie lunches; the generic animal mascots like “Gerry the Giraffe,” or the kiddie “park” with a half dozen dilapidated attractions. They have seen the Disney movies, the Avengers films. They know that Six Flags offers thrills unmatched, that Universal has access to studio magic unrivaled. But while the music execs and venture moguls shuffle their children from tropical island to European landmark (including churches that might as well be archaeological sarcophagi open for viewing) and the professionals take their yearly pilgrimage to see Saint Mickey, the working class have no illusions. They know they are poor, ugly, broken, tired, and it’s all they can afford for a weekend away.

With lives and marriages often fractured, family members suffering from opioid addiction or suicide, unemployment and “at will” labor the norm and future prospects few, they seek some solace in the midst of this chaos. Their infrastructure is crumbling, roadways and bridges are long past the expiration date, the interstates built forty years ago bypassed their towns, and the universities grabbed their best and brightest and pulled them away to far off places like “Har-Vard,” “Yayle,” “STAN-ford,” and even South Bend. In the face of the totalizing and deracinating effects of global capitalism, a family of five can find forty-eight hours of respite for less than half of a single week’s unemployment check. “Why waste money on such extravagances?” asks the Mr. Money Mustache disciple. “Why not?” is the answer. What future is there to save for? What God do you worship that wants you to live forever in comfort? What world do you inhabit that you do not seek to pass swiftly like Germanicus leaping upon the Smyrnian lion?

See, at the center of Manhattan there is a hole, endlessly streaming and wet. And at the center of Hollywood there is a theater and a sidewalk of stars dedicated to known pederasts. And at the center of Washington, D.C. is a Mall with a phallic monument penetrating heaven. And at the center of Disneyland is a fairytale castle within which a barren princess and her illegitimate prince live happily ever after.

At the center of Holiday World there is a creche. And inside are three Magi bearing gifts. Shepherds and sheep. Joseph standing watch. Mary kneeling beside. The star overhead and Jesus Christ, Lord of the World, Son of the Most High God lying in a feeding trough for all to see. This too stays up year-round at Holiday World, and all who give their precious dollars for a ticket must walk past paying homage to the King, the One who came to take away the sins of our world, who would establish a Kingdom without end. The only hope these forgotten people have left.

Justin Redemer is a high-school teacher in California.

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