And Now For Something Completely Different….

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.


  1. OK Sheila, what tattoo did you get? Now that you have described Pigeon Forge, I must go there with my camera. The people who are attracted to such attractions would be as interesting as the structures. Here’s a question for you–does Miley Cyrus live there? Were there any snake handlers?

  2. The size of Dolly’s boob’s on those bill boards.
    Probably creates a few fender benders.

  3. We were going to try that trip before we left the Indy but by your description, I’m glad we had to pass. We’ll have to see the Smokey’s some other day. Thanks for making me feel we didn’t miss much. Have a good weekend with your family!

  4. How very sad that a beautiful part of this country has been defaced but; it is a good example of the priorities and mind-set of too many people. You probably understand why I still get upset over the demolition of the English Hotel and Opera House to erect a J.C. Penny Department Store with a Woolworth’s 5-10 cent store on the corner. Gatlinburg is – or was – a place of historic value in American; as was the English Hotel and Opera House. During the mid-1970’s my husband and I visited New York City; we were appalled at the gaudy, ugly cheapness of Times Square at that time. Esthetics are important because they advertise the values and morals of any area.

  5. These are the peop0le who vote red even though it’s against their financial interest. They swear by guns and God. They give donations at the local fish fry to help someone afford an operation, never pausing to think that healthcare could be a right – and that we’d never again take up donations to give to a “good cause” – a neighbor needing a heart transplant. And they never ever want to eat at a local non-commercialized restaurant, even if a local recommends it – heavens, they wouldn’t know what to do if there weren’t free rolls slathered in butter and tons of fat dripping on the plate. Oh yeah, they’re my relatives.

  6. You bring back wonderful memories, actually. There’s a road that goes off to the right, before you get to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg — a beautiful country road that winds up and around to Townsend, a little town that has a tag line, something like “the Softer Side of the Smokies.” There’s even a back entrance to the park. I do remember persuading Dan to drive through PG and Gburg, just once, for the experience. We decided that was a mistake.

  7. ZONING & Why we need it.
    Drive SW from Indy down Hwy 67 and see what can occur locally when there are no zoning laws in place. Nice House, Trailer, Car Lot, etc.

  8. Have you been to Branson, MO? Just as bad and ALL of it has an overly Christian tone. So sad.

  9. Amen to your experience. Coming into that from the Smokies, a National Park without a scrap of advertising is going from the sublime to disgusting. My wife and I sometimes refer to situations as a “Gatlinburg Experience”, calling up the awfulness of it. As I recall, once you come into Gatlinburg from the park, they have engineered the streets so you have to go down the main drag, and what a drag it is. Once was enough for us. And apparently, Gatlinburg is not so bad, compared to Pigeon Forge. Sort of telling about Tennessee.

  10. Sheila, I must whole-heartedly agree. Years ago, my young daughters and I were traveling home from a brief vacation down south. When we drove through Pigeon Forge, I was speechless!! I could not believe that assault on all of my senses. I was so taken aback, I turned around and drove through the main drag a second time, just to be able to take in all the absurd ugliness. I knew I would NEVER return and I wanted the experience seared into my brain. I’ve traveled a lot, but driving through PF is indeed one experience that is unsurpassed in classlessness.

  11. Red George’s comment reminded me of an incident in Chicago in 1996. The men’s clothing store, Bigsby & Kruthers, used the side of their building overlooking the Kennedy Expressway for murals depicting celebrities modeling their clothing. When they chose the ever outrageous Dennis Rodman (periodically changing his hair color) it caused major traffic jams – even by Chicago standards.

  12. Beth knows whereof she speaks: Townsend, TN, is delightful and completely un-Dollywood and un-Pigeon Forge, and un-Gatlinburg. Take in Lee Roberson and his gallery of charming artwork! He and his place are just plain fascinating!

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