things to think about

today i am thinking about: THE WORLD’S LARGEST KALEIDOSCOPE
August 3, 2009, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The World’s Largest Kaleidoscope is in Mount Tremper, New York. It was a project of love built by a German immigrant in the 1920s in his farm’s barn and families used to take their children there to look at the beautiful hand-stained glass kaleidoscope. It stayed like that until the 1990s, when an EVIL CORPORATION bought the farm the kaleidoscope was on. While they maintained the kaleidoscope, they decided it needed an update.

And so came THE ERA OF THE COMPUTER GENERATED KALEIDOSCOPE. Instead of beautiful abstract designs, there was a computer-generated animated history of America — yes, a history of America — with Washington and Lincoln and Rosie the Riveter and Jimi Hendrix and marijuana, all turned into the most ridiculous tacky computer show imaginable. With pictures of eagles kaleidoscoping. And stars and stripes. And the sound of eagles screaming. A 9 minute ridiculopathy of tacky-ass entertainment.

When I went to the world’s largest kaleidoscope I expected something beautiful and pastoral. A holy piece of history, something beautiful that someone from long ago had created. Instead I found something tacky and plastic in its place, fakey fakey and weird. There was a large glass wheel next to the exit from the kaleidoscope show, from the original barn kaleidoscope. How sick, right? To take down history and replace it with some bizarre computer generated marketing team version of what a kaleidoscope might be good for. I left feeling gross, like someone had ripped down my family tree. Like finding your great-grandparents’ home, only everything is neon plastic from the 1980s. Fake, false, tacky, and gross.

Except guess what, friends.

That isn’t the true story! I MADE THAT STORY UP. TO TELL MYSELF. Miss Sugardish and I were in the Catskills this weekend, making a tour of tourist attractions, and when I saw the world’s largest kaleidoscope listed somewhere, in passing, I knew we had to go. I didn’t do much reading on it, just found the address and concocted a story. FINALLY! A ROMANTIC BEAUTIFUL OBJECT WITH A BEAUTIFUL HISTORY FROM A BEAUTIFUL BRAVE IMMIGRANT.

Only here’s the real truth, courtesy of Roadside America (the best website ever if you love visiting weird things):

The $250,000 Kaleidoscope was designed by ’60s psychedelic artist Isaac Abrams and his son Raphael, opening in 1996. The elder Abrams calls it the “first cathedral of the third millennium.” It is the brainchild of Catskills developer Dean Gitter, a local P.T. Barnum. Visitors walk through the mall to get to the Kaleidoscope, while their senses are assaulted by scented candles and Space Age Bachelor Pad music. The merchandise-to-attraction ratio is high — the trademarked words “World’s Largest KaleidoscopeTM” appear on a plethora of gifts and souvenirs.[…]The show is ten minutes of frenzied fractal imagery, very loosely based on the history of America. We see the faces of Civil War soldiers, Lincoln, Stalin, Marilyn Monroe, Native Americans, kaleidoscopic patterns of American flags. Loud synths and corporate guitar riffs blend one era seamlessly into the next. The presentation finally finds its rhythm with a whirling pattern of marijuana leaves and audio snippets from Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream.”

It is amazing sometimes the fiction we tell ourselves. I was SO MAD about this! SO MAD. This is what I told my friend Q:

world’s largest kaleidoscope was a SHAM. it was once this amazing obsession project by some guy. then this luxury resort bought the land, including the kaleidoscope, and turned it into NO SHIT a COMPUTER GENERATED KALEIDOSCOPIC HISTORY OF AMERICA SHOW. by which i mean kaleidoscoping pictures of revolutionary war generals and abraham lincoln and POT LEAVES AT THE 1960S WITH JIMI HENDRIX COVER BANDS and oh god it was the most horrifyingly tragic and tacky shit ever. i wanted to watch it 5 more times. i couldn’t stop laughing. they had the original kaleidoscope disc and it was amazing and yet they made it into this shitty computer animation of rosie the riveter and DID I MENTION THE POT LEAVES. it was like going to your great grandparent’s house in the old country and finding out they turned it into an amusement park with rides like THE SHOAH: A ROLLER COASTER and IMMIGRATING TO THE NEW WORLD COTTON CANDY. do you know what i mean?

I am so ready these days for more stories about destruction. I live in New York, a land where it is guaranteed that pretty much everything you love will get ruined for something more marketable. I kind of assume at this point that most cool things are either staged or on the verge of destruction. Of COURSE the World’s Largest Kaleidoscope started off beautiful and individualistic and ended up a marketing trick. The idea that it was always a marketing trick is infinitely harder to digest for some reason — maybe because I feel like a sucker or maybe because it just isn’t that interesting any more. The real story is in the perversion of the beautiful thing.

There’s a real story here, though. The real story is that THIS is the thing that someone thought was marketable. “I know! A large kaleidoscope telling a story about American history!” Someone still sat down and worked this out, and even if that person was not doing it for a romanticized love of art it is still something someone made. Moreover, it is an INCREDIBLY HORRIFYING THING that someone else made and, in fact, felt that it would be a draw.

What do you think they were thinking? Stories, please. Make sure you turn the sound up.