I tend to use this blog to blow off steam…to rant/pontificate/lecture about politics and policies that set me off. And generally, or so I would argue, the topics addressed raise important policy questions.
In the scheme of things, today’s rant is about something that is pretty trivial–at least in the overall scheme of things. Unless you agree with me that esthetics and the built environment are important elements of our common life, and American consumerism has gotten out of hand.
Yesterday, my husband and I packed, threw our stuff in my car, and left for a long weekend near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Our granddaughter is visiting from England, where she has lived for several years, and cousins and other family are getting together with her in a large cabin–excuse me, chalet–that our daughter rented outside Gatlinburg.
The closure of I65 through most of downtown (in order to fix problems that were inexplicably not fixed during the last shutdown) was a minor irritant, but no biggie. The mysterious six-mile slowdown on I75 south of Lexington was more annoying–we inched along at 4-5 mph, surrounded by trucks and SUVs, with no sign of the cause of the slowdown. Suddenly, we were moving again, but there was still absolutely no sign of the impediment that caused the problem. Okay, these things happen.
But then. Then we entered Pigeon Forge.
If you have never been to Pigeon Forge, you won’t believe what I’m about to tell you. Las Vegas is tacky and ugly, but next to Pigeon Forge, it’s a model of urban charm.
We were in a line of incredibly slow-moving traffic on the main drag, so we had ample opportunity to see it all: the signs inviting us to a fun dinner and show featuring the Hatfields and McCoys, and others promoting the wonders of the mind-reading pig; the huge upside down house (purpose unknown) open for touring; the replica of the Titanic, also open; and a truly indiscribable construction representing several New York buildings, with a gigantic King Kong hanging from the apex and holding a biplane. Or something.
It evidently housed a Cracker Barrel.
In between these unnatural wonders were strip centers of every variety. Tattoo parlors competed with drug stores and discount warehouses–Manny’s of the Mountain, anyone? There were waterparks. Dollywood. And of course, motels. Everywhere. There were cutesy inns, there were massive, cheap-looking ‘lodgings’–all vying for the tourists for whom this entire embarrassing landscape was created.
Then there were the signs. Neon lights, LEDs, and huge billboards. Everywhere.
If you don’t believe that scale is important, you should come to Pigeon Forge–then contrast it to Gatlinburg, where many equally tacky buildings are rendered inoffensive because they are densely packed into a walkable, urban-scale village. In Pigeon Forge, nothing is walkable–hence the four-lane, treeless main street and the widely-spaced insults to architecture.
The effect of all this was profoundly depressing, and not just because there was no evidence anywhere that the place had ever been visited by anyone having the slightest bit of taste (good or bad). It wasn’t even because the layout and traffic were designed–if that’s the word– to create gridlock. It was depressing because this ‘business model’ evidently works. People come here–lots of them, from the looks of it. They get their tattoos, go to dinner to gape at the Hatfields and McCoys, visit Dollywood and for all I know, have their fortunes told by the mind-reading pig.
I’m not sure what the existence of Pigeon Forge tells us about America, but it can’t be good.