Amusement Parks Damage the Brand by Bullying and Humiliating the Mentally Ill

Thoughtless? Maybe.

Careless? Definitely.

Clueless? Probably.

It seems inconceivable that there would be a holiday where people would celebrate making fun of someone struggling with a disease like breast cancer, diabetes or the result of a stroke.

But that is exactly in essence that is what Cedar Fair Entertainment has done at two of its amusement parks.

Kings Island, a park near Cincinnati, Ohio, and Cedar Point, a park located in Northwest Ohio, are using the fear of mental illness as a marketing attraction during the month of October with Halloween features like “The Asylum”, and “PsychoPath.” Both are owned by Cedar Fair, an award-winning entertainment and amusement company.

This is from one of their websites:

NEW! Torture. Suffering. The twisted and evil Dr. D. Mented” Aslym for the Criminally Insane has practiced inhumane experiments for many years. Stay away or you may become his next victim.

Cedar Point and King’s Island’s parent company Cedar Fair is represented on the New York Stock Exchange with the stock letters of “FUN”, but they have their branding really mixed up. Why would an amusement and entertainment company think that this treatment of the mentally ill aligns with their branding?

With these haunted houses featuring mental illness patients as monsters, these companies have continued to promote the stigma of mental illness and contributed to the many misunderstandings of the disease and painful feelings associated with it. Many people refuse to seek treatment for their mental illness for the fear that has stemmed from this stigma. They suffer in silence, when they could potentially be getting professional and open care from a treatment program such as Honey Lake.

If that hasn’t convinced you then substitute another illness and see how appalled you feel. The one-breasted woman! A child with a seizure?! A stroke survivor who has a paralyzed face, difficulty speaking and walking?! I am shaking my head in disbelieve as I even suggest this. These are the kinds of people who need help and support from society, who may take things like Blessed CBD oil to deal with chronic pain and mental health conditions, and who often contribute so much to society only to be mocked for their appearance and their suffering.

Images of the mentally ill have been a staple of horror movies and halloween attractions for years. I think it’s time to stop.

Mental illness is a medical condition. A treatable medical condition. A very, very common medical condition one that more than 25% of adults struggle with.

When 1 in 4 are stuggling with some form of mental illness in their family, why is it acceptable to profit from making fun of those afflicted with the disease? Especially when so many are trying to get better and improve their lives, be it with products or by other means.

Fun and Mental Illness Do Not Go Together.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that having a sense of humor when you’re dealing with a serious illness can be a very healthy thing.

But creating a product by portraying the mentally ill as a deranged and dangerous monster in order to scare, thrill and make a profit is what I consider major bullying on an enormous scale. Why is it socially acceptable for a top entertainment company to make fun of someone who is struggling with their mental health?

There are no doubts about it, living with mental health struggles can be overwhelming. Addiction for example can be particularly difficult to overcome. That being said, it is important to remember that support is out there for people that are experiencing a tough time with their mental health. You can learn more about some of the different treatment options for people living with addiction issues here:

Tell me if I am wrong

Do I have their branding described incorrectly? Is their brand positioning: encourage terror? promote fear? exaggerate an illness? Are they actually targeting individuals who are already bullies? I can’t imagine that is the case. I hope they are just thoughtless, careless and clueness.

In the old days, we used to stone or burn people who acted oddly, thinking they were witches or demons. In 2010, why is it still acceptable to humiliate them? There has to be more “FUN” and appropriate ways to make a profitable amusement attraction.

Author: Chris Brown

Business owner operating a marketing consulting firm. Online Publisher. Keynote Speaker.

10 thoughts on “Amusement Parks Damage the Brand by Bullying and Humiliating the Mentally Ill”

  1. Bad article. Citing breast cancer early on and implying that Cedar Fair made fun of people with the disease is just poor writing.

    The biggest and most telling question to ask – have you been there, or are you drawing conclusions from a 2 sentence description on their website?

    IT IS A HAUNTED HOUSE. People enjoy being scared and entertained – it is fun, and that is the core of the CF brand. Have you ever watched criminal minds, csi or any other crime drama? All of which depict mentally ill people – for entertainment. CF is not singling out any one type of disease, the focus is on an insane asylum as a setting. Besides, it wouldn’t be such a popular haunted house theme if wack jobs weren’t so freakin’ scary.

  2. Charlie:
    Obviously I disagree.

    My concern is with their marketing and their branding. I can draw a conclusion from the information on their website because that is their marketing and branding.

    Calling someone with a mental illness a “wack job” is exactly the kind of bullying that I am talking about. I think attractions like the one I described from CF encourages people to use language like that. It certainly does not provide respect or dignity of someone who is ill.

    If some people enjoy making fun of other people, does that make it right? Is it good marketing for a company that promotes “fun” to make fun of someone with a disease?


  3. I would have to agree with Charlie on this one, Chris. I think you are taking this a little out of context. To say that they are deliberately poking fun at the mentally ill is a little off base. True, its probably not the most PC name for a haunted house, but I think they are trying to be creative. A little disappointed that you are spinning this topic this way.

  4. Eddie:
    Thanks for your comment. You’ve commented before and left an email etc. unlike Charlie who commented anonymously with no email or other way to contact him.

    Point taken. I’ve softened my statement from “this is exactly” to “in essence”.

    Deliberate or not, it is still kicking someone when they are down. Many people aren’t aware of some of the mortality statistics about mental illness until someone close to them commits suicide. Even then, there is such a stigma about someone struggling with their mental health that friends are often left wondering why didn’t they say something to me?

    Yes, maybe you think it’s a long leap between a haunted house and someone taking his or her life. But by not making it socially acceptable to recognize mental illness as an illness, it stops people from seeking help.

    Maybe I’m picking on Cedar Fair and should broaden the subject to all of the companies that thoughtlessly market their business by making fun of the mentally ill without “the most PC names” or themes. But marketers do more than reflect current culture, I believe that that their goal (our goal!) is to persuade, communicate and influence others to form opinions. It can be used for good, or thoughtlessly to encourage or reinforce.


  5. I would also guess the haunted house is not full of people with torette’s or depressed people moping about, etc.

    i think the essence is serial killers and similar are scary. (hint: They kill people) I would guess most people link serial killers with mental illness etc. I dont think it’s a stretch to see why this would be part of a haunted house.
    I don’t have a problem with “making fun of” people that kill people.

  6. Hi Gnipgnop:
    (Is that really your name? It’s unusual.) I agree that serial killers are scary.

    My concern is that promoting the fear of mental illness makes it harder for someone with a mental illness to seek help before their disease progresses to the point where the person can’t control their behavior.


  7. Miss Brown:

    I realize that this article is now beyond immediate relevance, but I have a few thoughts to share:

    While the motivations of your article are certainly good, I believe your criticism to be slightly misguided. It is possible, and indeed probable, that a public perception of mental illness as a black and white scenario can be damaging. It becomes far too easy to say “I don’t have a problem, I certainly don’t behave like THAT” when being constantly fed television and pop culture stereotypes of mental illness. However, I highly doubt that mental illness is presented in this manner at the King’s Island and Cedar Point halloween events. The attractions in question are typical of amusement park “scare mazes”, popularized in the nineties and now an annual staple of amusement park business. Most consist of temporary scenery and set pieces set up over an area of the park and seperated by narrow, winding passages. Often times costumed park staff will be stationed at certain points along the maze path to jump out and frighten or interact with guests; mazes may be rated for different levels of “fright”, some being more family-friendly than others. These halloween events are an import late-season attendance draw for amusement parks, since without the added scary attractions many guests might not come out or spend as long in park in the colder fall weather.

    Knowing a little more about the situation of these attractions, it becomes more difficult to believe that they characterize mentally ill patients in any negative light. A more careful reading of your selected quote suggests that the brand managers at CedarFair have, in fact, carefully shifted the focus from the patients to the “Mad Doctor”, and his “experiments,” suggesting that any perception of mental illness in the parks’ displays or character actors could be written off as the fault of the Doctor’s experiments and not an underlying social or psychiatric issue. If it is the setting you take issue with- (after all, as a medical facility an Asylum should not be spoken of less than seriously, right?) – please recall that for the better part of human history an asylum was a very, very frightening place indeed. Furthermore, I believe the term you mean to use is “make light of” as opposed to “make fun of.” In today’s society I’d like to think it is almost impossible to mock a person recognized as having a mental illness for their handicap. “Haha, look at the crazy person” and “You aren’t sick- REALLY sick people eat their children and murder people with chainsaws” are not the same thing; wile they can both be very dangerous, I suspect that if Cedar Fair were openly mocking mental illness they would already have been sued for it.

    So, to sum up-
    1: I don’t think you have accurately assessed the content of the attractions- picture Frankenstein’s monster, not a man in a straightjacket.

    2: I don’t believe you understand the context mental illness may (or may NOT) be represented in- more likely than not park guests would only have a few seconds of contact with a “patient”, when the costumed actor jumped out to scare them. It wouldn’t matter much what they were wearing, the scare factor has little to do with the thematic depth of the character.

    3: I doubt that Cedar Fair or their parks are actively mocking mental illness or its sufferers. I am disappointed that our cultural standards still allow them to /make light of/ certain conditions, but the special events managers at Cedar Fair are certainly not denying the existence of mental illness.

    4: Finally, I don’t believe that words like “psycho” and “crazy” are as firmly tied to mental illness in the mind of the general public as they used to be. I told you that my 6-year-old nephew was acting crazy last weekend, you would probably assume he had had too much sugar. Much depends on the context and inflection when using these words; crazy can be used to mean chaotic and exciting as well as abnormal and disjointed. “PsychoPath” is a play on words that reflects the maze-like character of scare attractions and probably the content as well: however, it elicits a different expectation than “Clinical Psychosis Path” would. “Psycho” leads guests to expect the usual pop-culture chainsaw-murder tripe, but if you named the maze “Multiple-personality disorder path” instead they would be very unlikely to expect the same gory stereotypes. While “psycho” does still ellicit images of sociopathic and frighteningly abnormal (often homicidal) behavior, no one associates “psycho” with the more realistic pictures of friends and family members who suffer mental illnesses.


  8. I’ve read your comment several times since you’ve posted it and started to reply each time.

    This time I’m going to hit submit.

    1) It’s easy to picture the monster. But the point you’re glossing over is “Man in straight jacket” … picture 20 minutes before the straight jacket. Frankenstein – or a “madman?”

    2) Agreed. I don’t have an issue with the jump out and scare factor. My issue is with marketing using sensational tactics that exploit someone with an illness.

    3) I don’t think they are mocking mental illness, but instead capitalizing on the fear of mental illness. Which serves to perpetuate the stigma of mental illness. Mental illness needs the light shined on it, not hidden in the dark. Using one or more mental illnesses as a marketing tool to scare people helps to increase the stigma, not eliminate it.

    4) Slang names for a group of people typically hurt feelings. I won’t go into a bunch of slang and derogatory names here because you can imagine some. I’m for eliminating labels that hurt. Cedar Point’s Halloween marketing promotion was one that continues and exploits those characterizations.


  9. Chris:

    You made fun of this person’s name by calling it unusual…
    ‘Hi Gnipgnop: (Is that really your name? It’s unusual.)’

    A comment like that throws out your entire argument and makes you look distasteful. Your action is disrespectful. No one, especially regarding something as personal as a name, wants to feel bad about themselves or their abilities.

    Shame on you.


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