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(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Show: Defunctland
Where You Can Stream It: YouTube
The Pitch: What begins as a fairly standard YouTube channel about theme park history (focusing on closed attractions and experiences) eventually evolves into something richer, deeper, and more complex. Defunctland isn’t just a series about the history of closed theme parks and rides – it’s a series about societal change, how those changes influence leisure, and the politics that power the ways we enjoy ourselves. It’s also really freaking funny.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: YouTube is littered with channels dedicated to theme parks and I’m subscribed to an unhealthy number of them. For regular vlogs about what it’s like to actually experience a park, I enjoy The Tim Tracker and Ordinary Adventures (the latter of which is the work of /Film’s own Peter Sciretta). For straightforward theme park history, I never miss an episode of Expedition Theme Park. For basic news and rumor reporting, I subscribe to Theme Park Stop. However, no one is doing things quite like Defunctland, the rare theme park series that really wants to dig beneath the surface to discover what makes this unlikely industry tick. It’s the kind of channel made by someone who clearly loves theme parks but is also knowledgeable enough about them to be brutally honest.
While you can certainly enjoy the early episodes of Defunctland, I’ll be the first to admit they’re fairly boilerplate recaps of attractions that have been long shuttered. And a cursory search will reveal that dozens of people make content like this and dozens of people are really good at it. But series creator and narrator Kevin Perjurer quickly finds a voice and tone that differentiates his work from the pack. The episodes eventually get longer and more complex. The subjects become both broader and more specific. Eventually, Defunctland starts to stand apart from everything else on YouTube.
Although episodes can be enjoyed individually, I do recommend trying to watch them in order if you can. Running jokes and thematic entanglements are common – the chosen order of attractions and events covered is no accident. However, if you want a taste before diving in, here are some episodes that should get you hooked.
“The War for Disney’s America” is an epic examination of Disney’s almost-built third North American resort, which didn’t encounter obstacles on its way to cancellation as much as it slammed into a series of brick walls. The information alone is fascinating, but the faux-Ken Burns presentation is hysterical and on-point.
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A recent standout is “The History of Coney Island,” which has a little bit of everything. Like many American industries, the amusement park was born out of corruption, depravity, fortune-seeking, and a collection of very bad folks trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. The episode dives into the muck and it is gloriously weird and deranged.
And then there’s my favorite episode of the series. “The Craziest Party Walt Disney Ever Threw” lures you in with a title that promises amusing scandal and ends up being one of the best breakdowns of Walt Disney’s war against unions (and his own animators) that I have ever seen. It’s funny and sobering and ends up explaining how Disney’s backwards war against his own studio led to him creating a ground-breaking theme park in the first place.
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