Thursday, June 30, 2011

Lasers and the War of Northern Aggression

A couple weeks ago, the Tofu Muchacha had a "work thing" in Atlanta which ended on a Thursday. For whatever reason, we both concluded that this was a good opportunity for me to take a couple of days off and join her in the hot, muggy South for a few days of exploration.

I'd say that aside from likely permanant crippling at the hands of Raccoon Mountain, it was a delightful time full of beautiful scenery (you know all those signs as you're driving South on I-75 through Tennessee that say "See Rock City"? Well... you really should. It's pretty beautiful... in fact, oh... what the heck:
Cool, huh?

Anyway, we spent some time in Chattanooga, and then headed back South toward Atlanta with a slight veer to the East and stopped at Stone Mountain. It's hard to explain Stone Mountain, really...

On the one hand, it's this kind of amazing natural landmark. It's this giant-ass rock, really. Which doesn't sound all that interesting, but believe me.... Go stand next to an 850 foot rock some time, and tell me that shit doesn't blow your mind. It's FIVE MILES around. There's also this kind of incredible complex of trails and campgrounds and man-made lakes. There's the quarry where all of this awesome granite was... um... quarried for decades. It's really a beautiful place.

We get there, and we see also that you can ride this gondola up to the top of the giant rock (by "gondola" I mean this big almost train-car sized box that can accommodate probably close to 40 people at once.

So... We're riding the first car of the day up to the top, and over to the right side of the car (facing the mountain) is this HUGE relief sculpture carved into the side of the rock. I don't want to exaggerate this, but it's fucking big. And to myself I'm thinking "Weird... why do they have this sculpture of conquistadors carved into this mountain in Georgia."

My mental question was quickly answered, though, as the "Conductor" started his bit giving out info and trivial tidbits about things, and he says:

"Folks, if you'll look over, you'll get a great view of Civil War Heroes Robert E. Lee, Jefferson David, and Stonewall Jackson."


That's right. I unwittingly found myself at the fucking Confederate Mt. Rushmore. (Alternatively called "The Redneck Mt. Rushmore")
So yeah.. this is the view from the gondola, and there's the fucking "conquistators" who ended up being just this grand monument to racism and war.

Just fucking great.

So, you know... the rest of my day was sort of clouded by this odd realization that all of this money, and all of this energy was put toward the glorification of the wrong side of the Civil War. The place has a "Confederate Memorial Hall", for Dog's sake. Did you know this was the most visited single attraction in Georgia?

On the one hand, I get it.. you've got this incredible place that features views like this:

On the other hand, if you look closely at that picture, you'll see this long lawn area and a really beautiful old building there at the end of it? That's the fucking confederate hall. It's like they reel you in with this amazing place, and then they remind you how the whole thing is all about how bummed everyone is that there ain't no slaves no more.

The worst part... well... one of the worst parts is how popular the place seems to be among minorities. It was so eerie! One of the most racist, horrible places I've ever been was also one of the most diverse.

You'll ask me.. "How can it be all bad if there are so many minorities enjoying the place?"

I thought about this for a long time, and I think it's actually this that makes me feel like it's a totally irredeemable place. If they had just been all "Hell Yeah! Fuck you Yanks! Let's hear about the War of Northern Aggression!!! YEeeeeeeeee Hawww" well... I think this would have been better. Not good, certainly, but more honest at least.

Instead, we have this neutered little theme park with train rides and games and 4-D movies that all sort of pay only the tiniest bit of attention to the main point, and focuses instead on the glittery, shiny things all around the main point. They have this huge gravestone, essentially, even down to the granite relief carving, and it's honoring the men who are symbols for the last stand of the pro-slavery movement. The succession movement. These men aren't heroes. It's the same as honoring Mussolini or Franco after they'd been deposed. Didn't the Italian people drag Mussolini through the streets on a pig hook? They sure as hell didn't carve his face into the side of Mt. Vesuvius.

So it's this cute little friendly racism that is all "in the past", so now it's adorable instead of deplorable. It made me feel gross..

Of course, nothing made me feel more gross than the famous daily occurance...

The Mother Effing Laser Show.

That's right. At 9:30 every night these fools put on a laser lights show that talks all about Confederate history or whatever. Apparently I'm not the only person ever to think maybe the place lacks a little taste, because I've read that they added mention of Martin Luther King to bow to the rage of this small group of protesters.

I'm not a huge fan of laser shows or fireworks or whatever anyway, because I dislike crowds, but it would have barely mattered. We moseyed on down from our dinner (At the "Plantation" or something like that) about 90 minutes before the start of the lasers, and we saw this:

This was 90 minutes before the damned show. (Yes... they project the lasers right on The Redneck Rushmore itself).

We didn't stay for the lasers.

Look... I don't have anything else to say... Isn't it obvious anyway?

I'm sorry... am I wrong to be grossed out by this place? Am I wrong to wish they'd just left it this beautiful natural wonder and state park?

Next time: Indulging our Cats


Laurie said...

No, I don't think you're wrong to be grossed out by it.

I've never been there, but I have lived in the South most of my life. And, I'm not surprised to hear about the other visitors not noticing the general kind of celebration of racism. Part of the reason for it is likely ignorance. Another part is probably desensitization.

Although I live in a part of Florida most people would say is "not really like the South," I see Confederate flags fairly often--on license plates, on hats, on t-shirts, etc. Search for "'confederate flag' tampa" and you'll see that my general part of Florida had--I'm almost sure it's gone now--a HUGE Confederate flag flying near an Interstate.

Of course, ignorance and desensitization don't excuse anyone, neither those who glorify the racism of the Confederacy nor those who keep quiet when they witness it.

Beefy Muchacho said...

Laurie- Thanks for commenting.

I think your specific region of the South is especially interesting socially speaking. Of course, the North (or at least the Midwest isn't immune either)...

I remember when I was a kid, we used to drive North from Cincinnati to Columbus and we'd go past this old farm. The roof of the main barn building had a giant confederate flag painted on it, and there were charred crosses in the field by the highway.

I'll never forget that.

Mary said...

I agree with you, wasn't it just 2-3 years ago some southern courthouse was flying a confederate flag??? I equate flying the confederate flag to sporting a swastika.

Anonymous said...

The civil war was about a lot more than slavery. Perhaps some of those other things are what southerners are proud of.

Beefy Muchacho said...

You may be right, that in the hearts of many the Civil War was about "fighting for a way of life" or about "keeping the hands of the government out of the business of the individual states" or about "gentility" or whatever.

I'm sure some Southerners have this romanticized view of the honor of the glorious dead, and how the brave boys in grey were protecting the "Southern way" against the heavy-handed advances of the Northern, industrialized society.

Sadly, though, the fact is that while there were other (lesser) issues at play, without the central issue of "slavery" the Civil War wouldn't have happened.

Of course... that's not the point of this blog at all.

The point is that the overwhelming and lasting point of view is that the South had racial motivations, and thus MAYBE they shouldn't be glorified for a broader population.

I hate to invoke the lazy "Nazi" example, but while there were some relatively positive things about Hitler, yet a national park in Germany with Pro-Hitler statues would likely not be well received (over-all) and would be considered to be in poor taste.

Would your defense be the same if, next to Robert E Lee and Jefferson Davis, there was a statue of the "great civil war general" Nathan Forrest?

Jess said...

Sorry if this is a bit random (or late). I clicked over from whatiwore2day.

I've never been to the place, but from what I know (and that's only from what you write), I have mixed feelings. I understand your sentiment completely, how even though the North (minus a relatively small party which believed that slavery was wrong) was just as self-serving and racist as the South--talking about a "natural genocide" for the supposedly inferior race--and how even though the war was so much much more complex, it now overwhelmingly has become a story of right vs. horribly wrong. On that account you're right.

On the other hand, I study history, and I believe that history shouldn't be squandered away, hidden. It's real, and it deserves to be remembered and learned. I see the memorial as just that, a place to learn about what happened and honor the fallen. Plus, those thousands who died were men fighting for their country--in the same vein, just because I denounce the current war doesn't mean I don't feel truly grateful and respectful toward those who serve in it. Nor do I feel that we shouldn't mourn the dead.

Then again, I haven't been there, so if the memorial is in any way imparting prejudice rather than dedicated to history and remembrance, then I agree with you on all accounts.