The Long History of Disneyfication


The site of Tintagel in Cornwall has seen some controversy recently. A local councillor has complained about the decision by English Heritage to commission a carving representing Merlin on the cliff near a cave entrance linked to the legend of King Arthur. This carving, apparently amounts to “Disneyfication” of the site. The first thing to say is that early photos released of the carving seem to have made it look much bigger than it actually is. The second point is that Tintagel’s new carving actually taps into an artistic practice that goes back much further into history than the Disney company. Leroi Gorman has suggested that stone-age people often used caves as dramatic galleries for their art. In two cave systems in France, there are a series of cave paintings and sculpture that follow a difficult river route. The idea is that the struggle necessary to get through the cave to see the art was part of an overall emotional effect. There are suggestions that this kind of “cave experience” was used as training or an initiation ritual. Maybe the best way to view Merlin’s carving at Tintagel is as an echo of those cave experiences created by man thousands of years ago. English Heritage says the carving is part of a planned scheme for a number of artistic installations to explore the history of the site. Ancient cave art was similar in its aims.

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