A Sweet Emptiness

Oct 26, 2018 | Features

B efore you embark upon the Candytopia “experience,” even before you enter the building, the museum and its crew already expose their own impermanence, their own frivolously simple purpose.

“If you want to sign up for the Sugar Rush”—a strange kind of plus-package that allowed for vague bonuses—”just go to the website on the poster over there. Oh, wait. When you sign up and confirm, you’ll get an error page, but just check your email and it should be there,” said a greeter dressed in a ridiculously white jumpsuit with a black, leather-looking belt.

He stands in front of a column upon which a woefully simplistic painting of a unicorn, doing what could only be described as excreting rainbows, shot up at at least 20 feet in the air, presumably through the force of the multicolored expulsions. “Wait. Also, you’ll have to take a screenshot of the email. The WiFi isn’t great down there.” 

Candytopia is one of the latest attractions in the saga of popular “pop-up museums.” They’re a colorful, and—loosely—themed series of rooms in the format of what are essentially photoshoot sets: they exist solely for the picture, for the social media post that will inevitably come later.

“It’s not a museum; it’s an Instagram backdrop.”

Anthony Perry

Spanish Teacher

Although loved by the Gen-Z, millennials, and Instagrammers alike for their bright, post-worthy backgrounds and “exhibits,” their critical reception was not nearly as positive. The Chicago Tribune referred to them as “more museum-lite than museum,” while The New York Times decided that they were “an existential void…the total erosion of meaning itself.”

In turn, pop-up museums are one of the latest attractions in the series of physical trends, created solely “for-the-gram.” In other words, trends that used to just be hashtags and maybe the occasional low-maintenance picture can now create entire economies.

The slime craze, sparked by a YouTuber and Instagrammer who uploaded “satisfying” videos of slime about two years ago, for instance, saw the selling out and then mass production of Elmer’s school glue. It saw sponsors, eager to get their brand in front of the millions of children and teens, sometimes paying six figures for an ad in a slime DIY video or post, as the New York TImes reported. To give some context, a 30-second ad on national television costs an average of $123,000 as of 2016, according to Fit Small Business. Or take the ice cream roll fad about a year ago—where videos of the ice cream on big, metal plates being rolled up went viral on Instagram.

“an existential void…the total erosion of meaning itself.”

The New York Times

Shops that only sell this have popped up all over nation; downtown San Mateo acquired its own several months ago, San Francisco has three, and Greater New York City has a grand total of 10.

Pop-up museums are one of the most recent destinations for those who want to add another flattering photo to their carefully curated feed. Their purpose is solely to provide a quick, aesthetic backdrop for a quick, double-tapped photo.

So far, there have been countless museums all around the nation where children with their parents, teens, and media-literate adults still young at heart, go to drape themselves over plastic thrones, 

pose with their friends as confetti rains down over their heads, and, at the end of every pop-up museum, sink into a pit full of a random object seemingly in line with the theme of the museum. (Theme is a strong word; the only real indication of such a trope is in the name.)

As Anthony Perry, upper school Spanish teacher and a one-time visitor of the Museum of Ice Cream, succinctly put it, “It’s not a museum; it’s an Instagram backdrop.”

Similarly, Kate Erickson (10), who went to Candytopia last week, said it was “frivolous” and that posting about it felt “a little like bragging.”

“It was a nice picture spot, and there were nice sweets. I don’t regret going.”

Amanda Wang

Nueva Student

Tenth grader Amanda Wang agreed. “It’s just pretty…it doesn’t serve a great purpose,” she said. “You take pictures and they give you candy you can get someplace else.” She went with a large group of friends in May, and said that the experience, although fun and exciting, was a bit hollow. She explained, “People go almost just so that they have something to post.”

Essentially, the thousands of people flocking to these museums are, in large part, only going for Instagram.

As for the actual experience—typically a whopping $35 dollars for a paltry 45 minutes and six pieces of standard, store-bought candy—and whether or not it’s worth the double-taps you’ll get later, the general consensus is divided. Perry recalled that he received “an average amount of likes” on his post from his trip, and says that his husband had purchased the tickets and he wouldn’t have paid to go himself.

“We did it because someone was visiting,” he said. “We wouldn’t have gone otherwise.”

Chelsea Denlow, upper school history teacher and visitor of the Museum of Ice Cream, agreed, rating the experience a “three out of ten.” Her ticket costed around $40 dollars, and had she not gone with her family, she would have considered the experience worth about five dollars.

However, many students who went had a different take on the experience.

Wang said that although it was “overhyped, [it was] a solid 7 out of ten.” Nevertheless, she said, “It was a nice picture spot, and there were nice sweets. I don’t regret going.”

A group of sophomores who went in October, including Erickson, mostly agreed—saying that it was both “lamer” and better than they thought. Of the four who actively maintained their Instagrams, three said that they would post. All six said that they didn’t regret going; it was a fun experience, but one that they wouldn’t repeat.

But that’s the whole idea of these trends, these pop-ups anyway—to provide a quick, pretty photo that can garner likes on social media, that can keep up with the fast fads of today’s internet. It’s fun, it’s mindless, it’s cool; we should expect nothing more.