Banksy’s “Dismaland” is the culmination of years of Disney-directed critical art. But is its satire effective? Or is the target too familiar to have any bite?

These days, it seems like there are two kinds of humor: 'Netflix and chill' memes and Disney-bashing, the latter of which has become America's new favorite pastime. From 2013’s controversial “Escape from Tomorrow” to today’s “Dismaland” and the numerous artistic barbs and parodies in between, Western culture’s marriage to The Mouse is one defined ever more by masochism.

Long nursed by the fantasies of “The Lion King,” “Aladdin,” and “Mulan,” we grown-up tourists now walk through Banksy’s Stygian castle to find our magical carriage overturned — Cinderella’s body maimed and drooping out of the window like a rotten peel. And we love it. We take pictures, just as the artist intends  — the room already strobing with the automated flashes from a huddle of sculpted paparazzi.

This Dismaland installation, a Disneyfied reference to the Princess Diana tragedy, is designed to reveal the ugly side of fantasied glamor, to satirize our role as spectators and consumers. Simply put, it’s designed to make us feel bad about our culture and, perhaps, do something about it.

But, as mentioned, Dismaland isn’t the first satirical art project to target the mega-corporate giant. Nor is it the first to “reimagine” these nostalgic characters in order to send a message. Every week, in fact, there seems to be a new page, circulating on Buzzfeed or Facebook, that reads something like this: “An Artist Brilliantly Reimagined What Disney Animals Would Look Like As Humans” or “Artist Imagines What Disney Princesses Would Look Like If They Were Disabled” or (personal favorite and, yes, like the others this one’s real) “An Artist Brilliantly Reimagined What Disney Princesses Would Look Like As Raptors.”

With the exception of a few (the latter one, for instance, which seems to have been done just for the hell of it), these reimaginings usually change the original look of Disney’s characters either to provide social commentary or to take shots at Disney’s political incorrectness. For instance, artists will often change the racial or physical appearance of characters to make them more diverse or realistic — these alterations implying a mockery of the source material, so that titles might as well read, “Here Is What’s Wrong With Disney’s Depiction of Women” or “Here Is What’s Wrong With Disney’s Depiction of Race.”

Just Google “artist reimagines Disney” and you’re bound to get a myriad of art showcases like these on popular viral umbrellas like The Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Yahoo. Frankly, the mountain of art that does this is staggering. It’s absolutely everywhere. Apparently there are hundreds of artists stroking their chins over new and pointed angles regarding the whole reimagining of Disney thing.

Why? Well, because art that critiques or alters Disney is popular. It generates hits and therefore is a virtual hot commodity. And the online purveyors know it, even packaging this art-as-product in a familiar, proven consumable fashion (notice the frequency of that word “reimagine” if you performed said Googling).

Banksy, as the Oscar-nominated film “Exit Through the Gift Shop” makes clear, is very wary of this relationship between art and the marketplace. After all, as a graffiti artist, he favors counterculture, his work often eliciting some anti-consumerist or anti-capitalist message. Much to his chagrin, his art has attained incredible value in our minus “anti-” world, despite the goals of his medium, as he discussed in a 2013 interview with The Village Voice:

But there's no way round it—commercial success is a mark of failure for a graffiti artist. We're not supposed to be embraced in that way. When you look at how society rewards so many of the wrong people, it's hard not to view financial reimbursement as a badge of self-serving mediocrity.

It’s a paradox that Banksy is very familiar with: How do you protest the system when the sign you’re holding up is highly valued within the system? Less figuratively, how can satire be effective when it enacts the very problem it’s satirizing? This brings us back to Dismaland and the final question: How can Dismaland effectively satirize Disney/Disneyfied culture when it employs a kindred strategy — that is, taking a popular form of art (Disney-mockery) and commodifying it (tickets are being sold, and Dismaland is so far a smashing success)?

In “Exit Through the Gift Shop” (referenced by Dismaland’s actual exit), a similar problem occurs. Banksy sets up a mock artist, Mr. Brainwash, and has him making mock art — basically slapdash versions of graffiti pop art. The art is removed from its source in counterculture and becomes formulaic — whatever’s familiar, whatever sells, that’s what Mr. Brainwash creates. And when Banksy publicly endorses Mr. Brainwash, the art-buying masses go nuts, shelling out thousands for “art” that was just shit out without any real thought or creativity. We are then led to wonder if what is valued (money-wise) can even count as art at all (at least in terms of art that can spur social change). After all, aside from making money, what is Mr. Brainwash’s art actually doing?

This is not to say that Dismaland contains a bunch of hack art. No. A lot of the pieces, just like the Cinderella one, are genuinely striking. However, Dismaland is capitalizing on a tried and true artistic target. One wonders if an equally sized Banksy-led undertaking would have been so sensational if it didn’t contain the familiar Disney satire element. So that, just as with some of Mr. Brainwash’s work, here we might ask, “Isn’t this all just a little too easy?”

Then again, Banksy asked that question first. He’s probably still asking it. And it may be that there’s no better answer than that which lies in the performance of the question. Dismaland is a topsy-turvy world, where the characters of consumerism are distorted (see its version of Ariel) while the system of consumerism is maintained. You still get your tickets at the door. You still exit through the gift shop. Perhaps one of the artwork’s intentions is the realization that its world, dystopian and dirty, is not so different from the real one after all.