I thought I’d post my, thus far, unanswered email to Thorpe Park about their Asylum Maze for your perusal. The Asylum Maze, which apparently pays homage to the horror film, though judging by it’s ridiculousness I’m judging it’s a homage to the more recent flop horror, than to Cushing’s 1972 horror. The maze takes you through their idea of what a psychiatric hospital looks like. The walls are covered in bloody hand prints, women stand there pretending they’re locked in adolescence- I presume as a result of childhood trauma, people jump out at you and grab you in hospital pyjamas, and “actors” repeatedly bang their heads against the wall, messages of self-hatred appear on the walls written in blood, a commode lies on the floor supposedly knocked over by a “lunatic” and a “patient” chases after you with a chainsaw. It is a spectacle of stigmatization. An anachronism in our current climate of fighting against past-stereotypes of psychiatric illness. Thorpe Park have been unapologetic in the face of criticism, stating that people who had actually experienced the ride wouldn’t be offended. Well, I have, and I am. But Thorpe Park’s statement is rather lazy. Those who are most likely to be offended are those most likely not to enter it, and those who do so may feel too vulnerable to complain. Meanwhile, Thorpe Park continues to sell the idea of psychiatric patient as homicidal killer and further entrenches this belief in the mind of the clientele.
I visited the park on the 11th October with three other guests. I would like to raise two issues with you as a result of my visit regarding the Asylum maze. I went into the maze with my friends, though I had my reservations I went inside as I was part of a group who wanted to go into the maze. I was very upset by my experience. I wasn’t going to complain but when I saw Thorpe Park stating in the newspaper that those who had experienced weren’t offended I felt I had no choice. Three years ago I spent a month in a psychiatric hospital for an eating disorder, depression and self-harm (all as a result of not coping with physical illness). Whilst there friends came to visit me and in hushed tones said to me “aren’t you scared?” as if I was somehow different to the others who were in there. Their implication being that people with mental illnesses are frightening. It is the public portrayal of psychiatric hospitals that creates this stigma. Many campaigners and patients are fighting hard to destroy this stigma, but many are too frightened to admit in public, to their friends, and even to their doctor that they are struggling, precisely because of this stigma. This is directly leading to the deaths of people who are struggling with untreated psychological illnesses in silence. I find it very hard to see how Thorpe Park are justifying this maze in this day and age. Whilst Tesco and ASDA both took their “mental patient” costumes off of the shelves with apologies, Thorpe Park have done far worse than this and yet remain unapologetic. I found the bloody handprints on the wall particularly distasteful, having been a self-harmer myself I found it very hurtful that the symptoms of great mental anguish, that which I have experienced, were being used as a form of both fear and entertainment. Whilst one in four people in this country suffers from mental illness, can we reasonably justify stigmatizing it in this manner?
Secondly, and I believe the worst of my two complaints, before I entered the maze I was assured that the “actors” would not touch me because I am a wheelchair user. As such, I entered the ride with my arms (which have significantly tender pressure points at the inner upper arm) relaxed and unguarded. As I went through the ride an actor grabbed me quite hardly around my arms and I yelled in pain, this didn’t stop the actor and indeed they grabbed my arm a second time. I then had to suffer with the pain at a high peak for a couple of hours and it really dampened my enjoyment of the day. I hope that the ride operators and actors will be spoken to regarding this and reinforce the message that you should not grab people in wheelchairs. Relatively common reasons for people to be in wheelchairs such as MS, ME, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia lead to pressure points and tender spots on the body; it is therefore better that the risk is not taken.
Oh and here is a handy little petition if anyone should want to sign https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/thorpe-park-close-down-the-stigmatising-asylum-maze?utm_source=action_alert&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=38312&alert_id=wOIbSkjjlL_qAoIbhqaJx