Candy Land

Blake Roberts

I’m interested in mapping as an ethnographic method. In Annette Kim’s Sidewalk City, ethnography is understood as something that “illuminates processes and interrelationships, particularly power effects.” Kim tried to create “a map that is steeped in a place or a people.” A map that “…has some kinship with psycho- and emotional geography map projects that present the experience of space, particularly the nonrational dimensions.”1 And an imagined world with rainbow roads and candy characters is, at the very least, nonrational.

The map I am focusing on is of Candy Land. A land that is devoid of strategy and choice, where the winner is predetermined by the shuffle of the cards. But also where there is wonder to move in what Alexander Joy calls mobility fantasy.2

From The Atlantic. Courtesy of the Strong Museum, Rochester, New York

Looking at the Candy Land map, we could perform a cultural analysis of what’s being purported to kids. First, a lot of sugar; Hyperbolic distances and scale are at odds with the drawn-size of the destinations and the children—is it really 170 miles from the Candy Hearts to the Peppermint Stick Forest?; The idea that there is but a singularly sinuous path home (with few opportunities for deviance from that path, save for the luck of the draw). But, of course, this map does not attempt to imitate a physical reality. It’s clear that tenets of cartography used in traditional mapping methods are present: units of distance, landmarks, paths, edges, to use some of Lynch’s vocabulary. Can this method of mapping an imaginary place be ethnographic? I think absolutely. Much like our icebreaker exercise in the first class in which we mapped where we came from (which wasn’t necessarily place based), ethnographic mapping opens inquiry into the phenomenological experience of the mapper. Carol McGranahan’s conception of ethnography suggests that imaginary cartography could be a method of ethnographic inquiry. It can expand and challenge our notions of normativity or naturalness, too, “telling us more than we knew to ask.”3 Maps of imagination can transcend our bodily limitations and teach us about desire, exploration, and creativity.

Candy Land, designed by a teacher named Eleanor Abbott “in a polio ward during the epidemic of the 1940s and ‘50s,” captures the ideas of a land that alleviates the external realities of physically constrained experiences. An Atlantic article reads, “Candy Land offered the kids in Abbott’s ward a welcome distraction—but it also gave immobilized patients a liberating fantasy of movement. That aspect of the game still resonates with children today.”4 And in the early histeria of polio, the article also reads, “Quarantine and seclusion were the most common preventative measures.”5 So, Abbott designed this land for escapist entertainment. But, given the uncanny parallels here to our current experiences in quarantine from COVID-19, I’m asking, in my research this semester, if we can map our imaginations and create spatio-temporalities that can be achieved both in our mind’s eye as well as in physical space. Maps that give way to iteration, physical (re)production, evolution, characters, plots, narrative. Maps that begin formalizing a corporeal world with as much fantasia as exists in our dreams.

The Candy Land map has evolved over time. The terrain has changed and the people and characters populating this place are sometimes new, sometimes reimagined: they take on new activities or physical appearances but retain their named identity of years before. The map is exemplary of evolution, which is exactly what our imaginations do as we grow and our notion of an ideal is influenced by our actual, lived experiences. The creation of maps such as this can offer insight to our own phenomena. Lucas La Rochelle’s Queering the Map is an act of mapping temporal encounters and thoughts that are queer in nature. But maps that, by way of imagination, situate us in places we cannot see or sensorially experience, could also be read as queer in nature — especially in contrast to traditional methods of mapping that attempt to “freeze geographical space in a way that can travel in time,”6 as Garrett Dash Nelson said last week. Perhaps this is psychogeography, underscored by Lynch’s imageability and the Situationists dérive. 

For Andrew Dolkart, professor of Historic Preservation at Columbia and founder of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, mapping is a way to give permanency to the past. This is a map Andrew worked on to chart LGBT landmarks in Manhattan in the early 90’s. 

From NOW WHAT?! Courtesy of Organization of Lesbian and Gay Architects + Designers (OLGAD), 1991 

While speaking with Andrew about his work with the Historic Sites Project, he told me, “I think there are several layers [to designating space as historically queer]. There’s one layer: to recognize, and there’s another layer: to preserve…where, preserving is a kind of official act.” Queering the Map certainly recognizes the substance and potential-for-changing-actualization underwriting our encounters. It celebrates history and future possibility in the same drop of a pin.

The ephemerality of our imaginations may not be considered a credible source in academic circles or even capable of preservation in a real-life, lived sort of way. But, again, I’m interested in considering the phenomonelogical interpretation of queer spaces in New York. Queer people have historically found creative, imaginary, and impermanent ways to create space in cities. And these queer iterations have been both social productions and appropriations of existing spaces that subscribe to the majority-organization of society: that of a heteropatriarchal, white, cisgendered male. Allowing queer communities to imaginatively map their own spaces, corporeal or otherwise, could be a productive practice in securing their material and spatial equity.

This is a way to lay claim to or stake out a queer futurity—envisioning a place (or places) in New York that is / are safe for queer productions of space. The San Francisco Transgender Cultural District is an example of having access to distinctly queer imageability in a city. Landmarks and nodes, physicalized by the Trans flag painting on lightposts throughout the district, confirm the identity of queer place. 

From The Transgender District. San Francisco, 2017.
From The Queer Space Studies Initiative. Image by Stefanos Milkidis, 2017.

The Chelsea Piers in Manhattan, however, now offer a more imagination-based visualization of queer urbanities. Decrepit remnants of a once-vibrant sociospatial site, jutting out of the Hudson River, serve as reminders, via Lynch’s imageability, of a queer former-place. A place that we’ve known but cannot access any longer. For some of us, have never been able to physically access as it exists in a bygone temporality. Together, the combination of imagination based on our collective memories and lived, currently-happening experiences, can be submersing. Can queer people walk down, around, up, and along the proverbial Candy Cane Lane toward a diverse and inclusive futurity that’s bright and candy-colored with agonism, sparkling with productive discourse, and girded by rebuilding with geographies of imagination?

1 Annette Kim, “Mapping the Unmapped” in Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015): 84-149.
2 Alexander B. Joy, “Candy Land Was Invented for Polio Wards,” The Atlantic, July 28, 2019.
3 Carole McGranahan, “Ethnography Beyond Method,” SITES (2018)
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Garrett Dash Nelson, (February 2, 2021).

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