Mickey Mouse museums

The word ‘Disneyfication’ is usually pejorative, implying noise, trashiness and escapist superficiality. Not any more. It was only a matter of time before ‘difficult’ history and learning were sweetened to something more palatable and instantly gratifying. Serious cultural commentators are now using this word to describe a useful policy designed to increase the appeal of museums and historical sites.</strong> Boring ruins, they say, should be reconstructed into what we think they might have looked like. It doesn’t matter if it’s, well, a bit wrong. In this new world nothing will be left to the imagination. In <frameset rows="100%"> one instance the laughable Dulux job worked on Knossos by archaeologist Arthur Evans receives commendation. As a 20­year­old undergraduate I stood laughing in this famed Minoan palace: the painted murals, based on the faintest possible scattered fragments, were more Hollywood than belonging to the cradle of western civilisation. For me there was more truth in the few uneven shallow steps around the apron stage of a small outdoor theatre: 40 years on this contemplative place of escape remains vivid in my mind’s eye. As Knossos so plainly demonstrates, Mickey Mouse is not the answer.</p> <p>Disneyfication has already gone quite far enough. Museum shops, for example, used to be places where you could expect a decent stock of theme-related non­fiction. They now hawk fudge by the ton in the belief that the population is addicted to it. Museums seem no longer to want to educate us properly, prefering to fill our minds with the sentimental equivalent of, yes, fudge. Insulting our intelligence they assume that we prefer entertainment, some sort of untaxing ‘experience’ between expensive snacks.</p> <p>Potentially serious museum content is routinely reduced in thematic museums to buttery sentiment dished up for those who enjoy easy listening, easy reading, easy everything. No effort required here, they announce: we’ve done your thinking for you, so hurry along. Everything easy, so it can be easily forgotten. As in schools, subjects must be made digestible so that no one is made to feel thick, and if understanding can’t be made effortless then a flanking manoeuvre and ‘a form of words’ must be found to circumvent it. Effort has become the enemy of the state.</p> <p>Recently I visited two mines in Wales. Both are as visually eye-opening places as the most breathtaking natural phenomena. The first, Parys Mountain in Anglesey, overlooks the town and former port of Amlwch on the island’s north coast. It is manned by a single volunteer, a knowledgeable geologist and industrial archaeologist who works in what looks like a converted caravan at the edge of a makeshift car park. It costs nothing to enter but this extensive, fascinating site occupied a full afternoon with time flying. The second was a slate mine at Blaneau Ffestiniog in Snowdonia which had been Disneyfied to near death by those sticklers for historical truth – yes, Disney themselves. It cost the business end of forty quid for a family to enter and the ‘galleries’ were the mere prelude to a ‘Victorian’ street selling tat.</p> <p><a href="http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Parys.jpg"><img class="alignleft size-medium wp-image-473" title="Parys" src="http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Parys-300x225.jpg" alt="" width="300" height="225" srcset="http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Parys-300x225.jpg 300w, http://www.thejackdaw.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/Parys.jpg 800w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" /></a>At Parys the top of a Pre-Cambrian mountain was removed, like the top of a boiled egg, in search of copper and other valuable metals. Though there had been mining here since the Bronze Age, following Agricola’s subduing of the Ordovices in north west Wales in the mid-first century AD mining began in earnest. Alternate periods of desuetude and reworking over the intervening centuries, often caused by lucky speculative strikes, produced craters and spoil heaps rich in oxide colours and unique lichens acidic in hue. Visitors take themselves around the site aided by a map and an information leaflet in which each area and process in ore extraction is explained. When the Victorian mine was at its height the experience of workers, dangling perilously on ropes and climbing up a linked succession of high ladders burdened with sacks of rock, must have been indistinguishable to the modern mining photographs taken in Africa and South America by Sebastiao Salgado where similar conditions are still in operation. The horrifying casualties in Angola, Congo and Brazil must have been replicated here in Parys.</p> <p>Nothing is required here of visitors except their attention. We must stand and work