Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Edinburgh Dungeons- another childhood memory shattered

I went to the Edinburgh dungeons today on a 'staff development outing' ( I know sounds scarily like something that actual proper grown ups do, but I mostly went for the free lunch)

I didn't know what to think about the dungeons. I had previously been a bit of a fan, I went to the York dungeons for my 10th birthday and thought it was just about the best thing ever. This was during my 'outbreak/horrible history' phase, very much into infectious diseases and gruesome things in general. I was fascinated by every disgusting symptom of the plague and found torture disconcerting but intreguing. I have since visited all the dungeon franchise in the uk, though not for quite a while.

Before today I had a vague notion that feminists don't like the dungeons, and thinking about it I can understand why. The glorification ( or perhaps gorification) of violence against women in the form of the horrific treatment of women accused of witchery/prostitution, seems like simple enough anti-feminism - but still it is part of our past, and it can be good to leave the gory bits in history if it's done properly.
Unfortuntely the Edinburgh dungeons does not manage this, mostly as a result of their heavy reliance on attention seeking twerpy students who shout a lot and make humourless lewd innuendos.

I mean most of the acting was bad, that's ok, I expect that - these are not ex RADA they are a tourist attraction; the first guy though was not just a bad actor, but a complete jerk. Now I know that his role was supposed to be that of the complete jerk, but there are ways if pretending to be a nasty judge ( he was supposed to be a nasty judge - judge mental I think was his character, hmm clever) without resorting to racism and sexual harassment.

It was the bit where you are supposed to be at a trial, and he calls a member of our group up to the dock, who happens to come from India. He says ' Where are you from' she says 'India' to which he replies 'Well that's enough for me, go home - you're guilty, go back to where you came from'.

I think that counts as racism, and I think he sort of realised as he said after 'well that would have been more funny if you had come from Glasgow'. Perhaps, it certainly would have been less racist ( though you know quite regionalist/classist - but that's a whole other minefield).

Throughout his act he made lewd sexual comments to the women in the audience, accused women of being skanks - kept saying 'you love it don't you, you love it' over and over and over to various different women and girls. He looked in my direction at one point and said 'you love it don't you' to which I replied 'love what?'. Funnily enough at that point he started picking on someone else.The one man he called to the dock he accused of being gay and made loads of intensely homophobic comments(before ending with some Wales sheep shagging hilarity), and he called up a pre-teen girl and called her ugly. Good work.

I know these things are supposed to be mean, but it would be possible to do this without being hideously offensive (yes I do realise the contradiction in demanding that someone offends people in a non offensive manner, but you know what I mean, nastiness that doesn't emphasise or reflect societal opression)

He could have stuck to the surreal - like ' you have really smelly elbows' general weirdness, or witchcraft and the supernatural:-

'You are a witch' ' you like to eat pies made out of poo' 'you have been stealing other people's flowers and shoving them up your nostrils' etc etc....

Still at least acting the part of 'unpleasant human being number 01' wasn't much of a challenge for him.

Most of the actors were like this, and they were all, with only 1 exception - white men. The only female actor lead us from the boat bit into another room, and didn't do much performing. I remember the dungeons used to have some historical content but that seems to have almost totally disappeared.
As with much history there was 100% male narration, with women only featuring as vampires or victims of violence.There was a bit in the anatomy part where a guy tried to force one of the other women in our group to kiss this heart thing (I tried to touch it, but he wouldn't let me, would have perhaps de-mystified the whole thing if everyone had found out it was just a bit of brown rubber) whilst repeating 'I bet you've had worse on a Friday night'.
To top this off the blackboard it said 'women's brains are scientifically proven to be smaller than human brains'.
Now I know the past is sexist, damnit I know the present is sexist - but this wasn't about showing how unfair the past was - it was about yet another unfunny joke. It may have been more acceptable if there were female actors but the only women there seemed to work behind the reception or in the gift shop.

Anyway the whole thing is a pile of crap, and I am sad to add it to the 'list of things that I actually quite enjoyed as a child but will unfortunately not be letting my children experience*' along with Disneyland, MacDonalds food and caravan sites in Hornsea.

* should I ever have any, that is one ridiculously grown up thing that will not be happening for a long while

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