Halodoc wrote an article yesterday morning about the “normalization of deviance”. I encourage you to go read it, if you haven’t.
I can wait.
Now that you’re familiar with the concept, I wish to introduce you to one of the greatest examples of it: Action Park, in New Jersey.
Opened in 1978 and closed in 1996, this was the theme park I wanted to attend as a child. My parents never took me, and in retrospect it was likely one of the best decisions they made regarding my safety. But what kid wouldn’t want to go to a theme park that offered cliff diving?
The rides were oriented toward speed, height, and general thrills. The owners wanted to make the experience as exciting as possible. The earliest of them was a two-thousand foot slide, down which people would ride on carts. Each cart was equipped with a hand brake to control the speed.
Problems quickly arose, as the cheap design of the brakes and the wear on the poorly maintained carts resulted in the loss of any graduated use of braking. Most carts were capable only of full speed or slow crawl within the first year.
The slide was made of concrete and fiberglass mixed with asbestos for fire prevention, resulting in severe abrasions when people fell onto the track at high speeds. Or they flew off the track, which is why hay bales were stacked at the most dangerous corners… eventually. After the first few dozen accidents.
No protective gear was required. None was encouraged. What was encouraged was the consumption of alcohol beforehand; beer was available for purchase at various locations around the premises.
While it’s not uncommon for theme parks to rely heavily upon teenaged staff for their hiring, there is typically oversight of the teens and mandatory training about ride operation and visitor safety. Action Park bypassed such concerns by buying extra ambulances for the local hospital to deal with the increased traffic in severe and sometimes fatal injuries.
Part of the issue may have been that, as exposed by the eventual investigations into the place, the teenaged employees were often allowed to consume the aforementioned beer before and during ride operations.
The website Dailymotion put out a short documentary on the park.
In the end, less than ten deaths were directly attributed to the park, with an average of five to ten emergency room visits daily. With over a million customers a year at the height of its popularity, that means the vast majority of attendees escaped with no significant injuries.
It was, truly, the “texting while driving” of theme parks, a perfect example of the dangers of normalization of deviance.
Question of the night: What’s your favorite theme park?