The Oppressive Six Flags Economy

While I know next-to-nothing nothing about economics, I do know that after going to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey this weekend, the free market can be a cold and unforgiving arbiter of pain. As a Six Flags patron, you have to buy into the park’s insidious economy, and very quickly everything you knew about equity and price is re-calibrated. There are water fountains, but their water was almost always warm or had just been slobbered on by a child, the frequency of such made me question whether or not these were just chance occurrences or if the park was paying eight-year-olds to contaminate the only free commodity in the park. In comparison, $3.59 cold, sterile water was a deal. We bought several, and it hurt less each time. In a word combination I never thought could exist, I ate Six Flags sushi for lunch and washed it down with a Powerade for a cool $15. My friend Kelly bought a $6 ice cream cone late in the afternoon, and at that point, it seemed like a fire sale. Despite these gluttonous profit margins, the clandestine economists behind this bastion of greed did not stop at charging outrageous prices just for food. Food, as it turned out, was just the beginning.

Everything at Six Flags costs extra. Despite all of the pricy food that we wantonly kept buying, we drew the line at the $1 lockers. For some reason, after shelling out so much cash for so many things without blinking an eye, the $1 “ride lockers” were an outrage. Six Flags expected us to pay this fee every ride to store purses, coats, and bags. Out of principal, we ignored the ominous “items stored for longer than 120 minutes may be removed” and left our stuff in one locker next to the Superman roller coaster the whole day. Even though this location was not close to the entrance and we had to trudge all the way back to it just to trudge back to the exit to leave, we held firm in our belief that $1 was already too much to store our stuff. The total value of everything in that locker was over $100, and yet we left it to the mercy of Six Flags, daring them to confiscate it as they legally said they could. But we won the game of brinksmanship, and our stuff was still there at the end of the day. It was one of very few victories we had.

In this strange Six Flags society, the minimum wage labor is imported from nearby middle schools and high schools. The park is run, almost exclusively, by 14 year olds. The kid running the second fastest roller coaster on the planet was born in a post-Savage Garden world. His brain is completely dominated by chemicals that place far more importance on the Rutgers sophomore with the low-cut top in the front seat than the lives of the twenty five people sitting in the rest of the cars. I say this with authority only because I was a 14-year-old boy once, and I certainly wouldn’t let my teenage-adled brain perform harness checks with so much cleavage afoot. It’s practically begging for mass manslaughter.

By far the most egregious part of the micro-society is the “Flash Pass.” If you decide to lay down an additional $45-$120 (depending on the level of privilege), you can be the proud owner of a digital dongle that expedites you to the front of the line, passing all the plebeian saps who have to wait for upwards of two hours in the sun. “Elitists!” I shouted several times throughout the day when I saw these silver spoons sneak in front of the masses to wait only a paltry five minutes for El Toro or Kingda Ka. I’ll admit, however, that I limited my volume to the point where the bourgeoise couldn’t hear me but my brothers and sisters around me would be able to nod their heads and agree. “This man should be our leader,” they were probably thinking. In reality, I was afraid of what the Flash Passers could do to me if I irked their rage. If they could so callously drop $120 down on an already extravagant venture, what else would they be willing to pay for? A small child to kick me in the shins? Some goons to rough me up? A police coverup of my mysterious and grisly murder?

During the day, my friends and I thought up myriad names for these high society types. “Flash Bastards” and “Douche Badges” were the best we came up with, all during the morning when we still had the requisite energy to pun. But around 4 p.m. with the sun still baring down, we had descended into simply “those dickheads.” Six Flags has sneakily commodified time and comfort. You can pay for privilege of non-waiting, just as you can pay for a first class plane ticket or the laundromat to wash your clothes or an Emilio Estevez impersonator to read you the newspaper (or perhaps even the real Emilio Estevez). The stinging part of the Flash Pass is that it comes at the expense of the people who don’t opt-in, further creating a compelling sales pitch for the Flash Pass. When 15% of the ride is being populated by people who waited in line for one twentieth the time you did, there is this sinking feeling of “maybe I should just get the damn thing.” Truly, this mentality is the worst part. Even in my most vile, carefully-volumed screed, I knew that had I sprung for this privilege, I would be high-fiving my friends down these exclusive paths paid with gold, relishing in the ire of the slobs waiting for upwards of two hours. “What are they whining about? Do you think they’re hungry?” I’d ask my fellow aristocrats as we strapped into The Nitro. “Well, then let them eat cake.”

Six Flags is constantly one dirty look from devolving into complete anarchy. It’s inhabited mainly by throngs of people who have been subjected to the sweltering sun, outrageous prices, sugary beverages, and the extreme dichotomy of 90 seconds of thrilling g-forces alternated with 90 minutes of existence-questioning boredom. And the park has also subjected these people to jacked-up food, locker, and retail prices, pushing them even further to the brink. Even so much as a perceived sleight from a Flash Passer and it would be storming the Bastille circa 1789 France except, I imagine, much much bloodier.

Six Parks management is really playing with fire. How much longer can they cash in on the extra Flash Pass revenue before their parks are righteously burned to the ground? And what jury will convict common people coalescing against tyranny? None would; not in my America. Then, and only then, will we be able to rebuild amusement parks, the way they were always meant to be: for the people, and by the people. In this thrill-utopia, the cost of admission is the only cost to get equal access to rides, food is reasonably priced, and, for the love of god, the people controlling the death machines are at least old enough to vote.

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18 Comments / Post A Comment

Marissa (#467)

I once paid $6 for some soggy fries at a Six Flags. Even more offensive: they were listed on the menu as “Fry’s.” Don’t get me started on the $10 “Chicken strip’s.”

tigolbitties (#1,300)

My first job – the summer I graduated from HS – selling lemon chills and slushies at the Six Flags in Atlanta. I both loved (everyone I worked with went to school with me, and free lemonade and slushies and other sundry snack stuffs) and hated (the people, god, the people) that job.

Very well said! This exactly sums up my Six Flags experience. I’ve been considering ways to smuggle in decent drinks and food if I go again this year. The fact that I would be considering the smuggling move just attests to how truly oppressive the inhumane Six Flags regime is. I used to be mortified when my parents brought lunch into Disney World (which compared to 6F, is a classy haven of illusory dining choices and democratic Fast Passing). I vowed never to become like them. Alas…

hopelessshade (#580)

@Scarlton Banks Food Allergy. Friend of mine got in a whole duffel bag of sandwiches for her and the group. She does actually have a hideous nut allergy, but if I recall they took her word for it sans evidence.

@hopelessshade That’s actually brilliant. These places don’t mess with allergies. I asked for lactose-free ice cream at Disney World once and actually had to wait 10 minutes while they procured a waiver for me to sign. Thanks!

DickensianCat (#971)

So I take it by the need for lockers that you don’t have the requisite “queasy friend” who hates rides but hates the thought of missing an outing even more, thereby becoming the “holder of all the bags” who spends much of the day sitting on benches trying to be a good sport while the rest of you go on coasters. This kind of friend is a MUST for theme parks! That’s my only $ saving tip for these joints.

JR 2001 (#1,301)

Free market does not relate to the price. You had free will to go or not go. You chose to go. They’re lucky to be open 12 weeks. The rides are rather expensive to build, purchase, maintain etc. Add in the I’m assuming rather hefty liability insurance premiums, etc. etc. Oh my the injustice of it all. Were there any obese people the funnel cakes with gobs of sugary syrup and drinking the diet cokes. Aren’t you worried about them and how much it will cost you when you have to pay for their heart bypass or diabetes meds.

@JR 2001 You sound like a lot of fun.

@JR 2001 Amazing that roller coasters were able to exist for more than a hundred years before the advent of the Fast Pass.

I can only assume that pre-Fast Pass era theme parks were the the charitable ventures of kind-hearted steel tycoons willing to take a loss for the fun and enjoyment of their inferiors.

having grown up in NJ with parents that made us buy hamburgers and put cheese slices on to make cheeseburgers, I can say you’re doing it wrong if you’re complaining about food prices. either pay up and shut up or bring a cooler with ice and cold drinks and sandwiches. go out to the car and eat some ham and cheese and save a few bucks for funnel cake.

it’s really a lot easier than whining about the fact that some people make more money than you.

@forget it i quit How much would they have to pay to store a cooler of food and drinks? How long does it take to go out to the car? Would you rather eat in a hot paved parking lot or a shady/air-conditioned area in the middle of the summer? I often bring my own food too, but you’ve got to factor this stuff in. Also, I missed the part where the author brought up anyone’s income.

@forget it i quit And that’s assuming you can bring in a cooler of food. According to the park’s website, “Food, beverages or coolers may not be brought into the park.” Now, there are some tricks in the above comments on how to get around that, but still.

@whateverlolawants I used to get embarressed when my parents made us do it. Now that I’m older, I call it tailgating. Same thing, different venue. If you get there in the morning with a cooler full of ice packs, ice and cold drinks, the sandwiches will still be cold and edible.

The income thing refers to FastPass. Calling people douches because they had the disposable income to jump to the front of the line? Some people have more disposable income than others and decide to spend it so they can enjoy the ride and not have to wait an hour. Why begrudge them?

It always boggles my mind how young the kids working at theme parks are. They’re younger than most fast-food employees. Most of them wouldn’t be old enough to work at the mall. But there they are, pushing all the buttons on the death machines. I probably have more faith in teenagers than the average adult, but it still makes me nervous.

If you’re in the midwest and might enjoy a smaller, less exploitative theme park, go to Holiday World. It’s in the middle of nowhere (Santa Claus, Indiana) and doesn’t have as many rides as a Six Flags, but its awesome coasters win lots of awards, they have free soft drinks and sunscreen, and the massive water park doesn’t cost extra. (Just beware drowning in the wave pool… it almost happened to me at age 18, and I can swim.)

crickethill (#1,332)

Perhaps the most ethically ambiguous thing I’ve ever done is accept an offer of a primo Six Flags Great Adventure Flash Pass from a friend who worked in the marketing department of our newspaper company and diverted said passes (with permission, allegedly) from a contest in which a whole slew of them were being given away as prizes. It was during Fright Fest, too—the October days when you ride coasters in the dark and people dressed as zombies chase you with fake chainsaws and the temperature is perfect. You guys. It was awesome. The evil looks we got as we walked in the exit lines and hopped right on Kingda Ka burned small holes in my soul, but seriously. If you ever get a chance to do it, do it.

Consolation to anybody who’s had to wait while a Flash Pass jerk boards in front of them: Riding seven roller coasters in two hours makes you feel fucking terrible. Imagine a bad hangover mixed with unshakable carsickness, plus a nagging fear that maybe you did something bad to your brain and could drop dead of an aneurism or something any second.

Matt, I really enjoyed your article – it is a humorous rant with which no sane person could disagree.

Criminal (#5,677)

This comment is extremly late but some of these comments and the things in the artical are outrageous, for one thing no ride operator/attendant is under 16 and 95% of the operators are over 18, many of ride attendants(the people who check restraints) but they know how to do there jobs. I worked In food serv at the 6f New England park and yes the food is outrageous in price so go tailgate in the parking lot and come back in! That’s usually wht I do!

Also I’m 17 and the vast majority of my co-workers both above and below me keep there quaility standards very high.(with the exception if the foreign exchange students that work there)

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