You’ll Dream What We Tell You To Dream and You’ll Like It

a close-up image of red, orange, blue, green, and yellow balls
Somehow, fun and unfettered imagination always equals "ball pit." Photo by Julie Kertesz via Wikimedia Common (CC BY 2.0)

The Dream Machine is the latest must-visit location for the Instagram-addicted influencer who’s already taken a selfie at the Museum of Ice Cream. But are you really dreaming when you’re in a space designed by someone else — and when you’re waiting in line with 100 other InstaFans? At The Baffler, Zach Webb looks behind the Dream Machine’s whimsical facade to pick apart its seamy underbelly. (Spoiler! It’s capitalism.)

But herein lurks an irony: by immersing yourself in a temporary reality of populated meme-crap, you are purchasing a reprieve from the Bad News World. “Dreams are an escape,” claims founder Johnson in an interview with amNewYork, and “with the world we’re living in and the feeds that inundate us with bad news, we don’t really [get a break]. We wanted to have a space that is a respite.” In practice, however, the Machine both assaults and abets this idea of the apparatus as a break—a relief from life and labor. It is, for one, just as overcrowded and saturated with sweat-air as the city outside—perhaps more so. Further, the user is not absolved from labor by any means—its evidence merely eludes the frame. They work diligently and without shame in the staging of themselves and their companions for photographs. (Almost no one travels to the Dream Machine alone). On the other hand, a frolic through these vistas requires not an ounce of critical engagement from the user, which is all to say that the Machine is exactly like the “real world”—only worse.

Read the essay