Children “In Tears” at Disastrous Wonka Factory “Experience”

Hundreds of families got the short end of the snozzberry after being duped by AI images advertising what turned out to be a disastrous Chocolate Factory experience last weekend in Glasgow, Scotland.

Colorful website illustrations for “Willy’s Chocolate Experience,” a two-day event capitalizing on the fervor surrounding the Wonka (2023) film released last December, promised live entertainment, immersive experiences, and endless candy for £35 (~$44) a head — only it seems that was strictly a world of pure imagination, as the real deal left parents fuming and children in tears, and brought the police onsite.

To be fair, since many artificial intelligence softwares haven’t quite nailed human language, the illustrations actually promised a “pasadise of sweet teats,” “cartchy tuns,” “exarserdray lollipops,” and “catgacating.” Reasonably executed generated images depicting candy forests and Wonka’s imagination enticed over 900 families to buy tickets for their children, but the text was riddled with spelling errors and lacked any real specificity, as did the website.

At this point, you must have seen the photos as the fiasco went viral instantaneously, but there was nary a sweet teat in sight — and hardly any sweet treats, as various attendees reported that their children were only given a couple of jelly candies and a quarter cup of canned lemonade. Almost as quickly as it opened, the sparsely decorated space was shut down and then completely canceled after irate parents lined up to have a go at the creator, who has since promised to refund everyone who purchased tickets.

Eventgoers and ticket holders have connected about the event over a public Facebook group to share their outrage and put their heads together to hold the creator accountable. The entity responsible for the Disaster Factory, a company called House of Illuminati, was created last November itself by a man named Billy Coull.

Many have called it Gen Alpha’s “Fyre Festival,” and I’d even hazard to say that it’s on par with the infamous DashCon of 2014. Several parents noted both to Hyperallergic and on social media that the event had not only been repeatedly pushed onto people’s Facebook feeds, but also picked up by a couple of mainstream local websites, which led them to believe it was a legitimate “immersive experience.”

Shiona Morrisson, a mother who brought her two young children to the event, told Hyperallergic that her husband had purchased the tickets for the family after they saw the event pop up a few times on Facebook, thinking that it would be a fun outing for the whole family that wasn’t just an ordinary day at the park.

“At one point, I turned to someone and said ‘this is like Willy Wonka from Temu,’” she said, only to find out that she was right on the money as someone found the exact event backdrops on the e-commerce site. “I had a strange feeling about this event in the days leading up to it. Something didn’t sit right about the images used — a sort of creepiness about them as well as magical and enticing.”

Having only recently learned about how AI tools are so publicly accessible now, Morrisson told Hyperallergic that the generated images “opened [her] eyes to how we can be scammed in this day and age, especially with the more frequent use.”

On the other hand, Coull has self-published over a dozen novels on Amazon that are evidently made up of AI-generated text, and members of the Facebook group who claim to have come across his antics before shared that this is just one of several “scams” he’s done in the past.

Coull did not respond to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment.

It’d be unfair to paint this as a Glasgow-coded experience, but then I recall my experience doing a semester at a certain Scottish art institution in 2018 … Which leads me to say that getting trapped in a freezing cold ancient elevator with a barely functional accordion door between floors was my personal “Willy’s Chocolate Experience.”

Sadly, I can’t blame Billy Coull’s AI-generated grifter scheme for that. Nor was I offered a refund …

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