The nightmare of the permanent theme park

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It was a small town, an old locality divided into 19 small entities, which one day became a region in its own right. Capital of course, but of a small country, a bastard and complicated kingdom that did not recognize its true value and underfinanced it accordingly. Tightly bounded, this city-region was populated by many fiscally unprofitable Lilliputians, consuming a lot of welfare and letting their homes fall into disrepair, while it attracted hundreds of thousands of workers daily from other parts of the country where they returned each night to sleep and pay their taxes.

Faced with so much ingratitude and smallness, the elected officials of this town had ended up cultivating a deep inferiority complex, which over time turned into a spirit of revenge and dreams of greatness: convinced that their small territory would eventually radiate throughout the world, they proclaimed it the capital of a whole continent. The reality was more cruel: if they had succeeded in attracting the headquarters of international institutions, these institutions did not pay taxes, their workers benefited from tax advantages and the buildings were gradually eating away at the landscape. No matter, the region now existed on the world map. It boasted the best waffles and fries in the world and was one of the top cities for international conferences. Close to climbing the heights, she only had to show herself more attractive every day.

Generation after generation of elected officials were more numerous and motivated to serve the ambition of their region. Some, always at the forefront of creativity and dynamism, were more zealous than others. This was the case for the elected officials of the city-commune, which was the cradle of the city-region, bore the same name and attracted the majority of tourists thanks to its historical sites. Aware of its assets, this municipality behaved in certain matters like a small state within the state. In the past, it had never hesitated to annex entire sections of neighboring municipalities when its economic interests so dictated. A champion of modernity, it had made a specialty of importing « city marketing » concepts invented abroad and subcontracting them to private partners. But it also knew how important the « typical » character of certain neighborhoods was for its image. The harmony between modernity and tradition was thus the object of a constant and meticulous research in the service of tourism.

One day in 2012, however, this subtle balance wavered… The Alderman of Tourism of the said municipality had a brilliant idea. He often had them. Despite his young age, the man was well versed in the mechanics of power. It was even whispered that he was a sort of shadow vizier. However, he had forgotten how narrow the minds and attitudes of his fellow citizens could be, while looking to the future and prosperity. As soon as he announced the replacement of the traditional Christmas tree with a 25-meter high electronic installation, the wrath of public opinion fell upon him. The sacrilegious object, called « XMAS Tree », provoked a volley of green wood. The most publicized criticisms were expressed in the name of Christian values, with some suspecting that the operation was aimed at removing this symbol of Christmas « to spare other faiths » — that is, « under pressure from Muslim fundamentalists ». A Catholic town councilor spoke up: « What happens next? The suppression of Easter eggs because they refer to Easter? » A petition « For the respect of our values and traditions » was signed by some 25,000 people. The change of name of the Christmas market to « Winter Fun » had already scalded the minds of the signatories. Moreover, the case was not isolated: at the same time, in a large secular neighboring country, the decision of a city to rename its Christmas market as « Winter Fragrances » had triggered the ire of a certain press that saw nothing less than the capitulation of the Republic to Islamic obscurantism. Gosh.

On other occasions, the proud Alderman would have brushed off the criticism with a wave of his hand. He was never afraid to use force, for example, when residents spoke out against his plan to build a new mega-commercial and business complex that they considered socially, environmentally and economically dangerous. But this time, the stakes were much higher. The reputation of « Winter Fun » was at stake. Even the tourists were looking in vain for the pious fir tree, which had been replaced by a scaffolding of sound and light sponsored by a multinational electricity company. To calm this storm that he had not anticipated, the Alderman argued on the grounds of « audacity » and « innovation » rather than alerting himself to the racist nature of the controversy. With the solemn tone imposed by this thorny situation, he explained in an open letter the « avant-garde » nature of his approach: « to stand out from other major capitals », « to create a buzz », « to break our image of a boring city » in order to better « position ourselves as a city trip destination ». Even the Mayor had to come to the rescue, stating firmly that « nothing and no one » would change this project, but specifying to « calm the fears » of his fellow citizens that this metal sculpture was « an ode to the tree ». The proof? It was bought from « Alsatian architects from the small town of Guebwiller where the tradition of the Christmas tree was invented ».

The elected officials promised that the real tree would return the following year. So the story could end there. But this was without counting on other enemies of modernity who in turn unleashed their evil tongues. Thinking they were living a bad dream rather than a Christmas tale, they wondered if it was really necessary to spend 40,000 euros on a conifer, even a techno one. They emphasized that the « work of art », built illegally, was above all an opportunity to add one more lucrative attraction (it cost 4 euros to visit it) to a Christmas market presented as « magical and fairy » — but where thousands of tourists jostled between industrial mulled wine and souvenir shops lit up with the colors of the electricity producer sponsor.

These grumblers were not only dismayed taxpayers: they saw in the gleaming illuminated LED sign an umpteenth luminous manifestation of the policies of « benchmarking », privatization and invasion of public space by advertising. After the balloon and roller skate parades, the waiters’ and girls’ competitions in high heels, the sponsored cows and other sculptures of mussels or giant cabbages, they deplored the fact that there is now an event program for each season, a theme for each year, a color for each shopping district. They warned that the authorities want more and more hotels, offices, towers, stadiums, shopping malls and international events to attract more and more tourists, businessmen and wealthy residents. They hated the transformation of their city into a permanent theme park, of its avenues into ramblas without sea, of its breweries into museums, of its popular cafés into trendy bars, of its streets into artificial ski slopes, of its industrial canal into an Eldorado for designer lofts, of its quays into junk beaches,…

It is not known whether these heretics were burned alive at the stake or whether they awoke from this nightmare. In any case, the rest of the story remains to be written, fortunately…

Gwenaël Breës

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