While driving up I-75 this afternoon, somewhere between Chattanooga and Knoxville, TN, I saw a billboard. Now, I had been looking at billboards non-stop for about 7 hours at this point but one still managed to catch my eye. It was for a Titanic "exhibition" in Pigeon Forge, TN.
Now, I have been to Pigeon Forge. In Pigeon Forge, there are no less than 20 go-kart tracks, with miniature golf courses and "old-timey" photo booths interspersed between them. Pigeon Forge is also home to the infamous Dollywood. Nowhere in Pigeon Forge did I ever see anything that resembled a museum.
I was unable to snap a photo of the billboard because I was driving, but I managed to find a similar image on their website-- now that I am safely at my hotel in Knoxville.
The billboard I saw on I-75 featured this same woman. However, she was gesturing toward an image of the ship as if to say, "Welcome aboard!" with a big, toothy grin... something similar to this:
There are so many things I find appalling about this (both the billboard and the "exhibition") that I think it would be best to just make a list.
- Who is Steve Casuco? I too saw the Titanic exhibition in Chicago, and much like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., it combined educational tactics that can engage visitors of all ages and education levels with a general sense of reverence and respect for the massive loss of life that the exhibition commemorates. I can certainly acknowledge that there are other aspects to a Titanic exhibition than tragedy alone. There are great feats of engineering, environmental issues, social stratigraphy, and marine science that all warrant discussion within the context of such an exhibition. However, these things must be approached with a certain amount of sensitivity, and the exhibition that I visited in Chicago achieved this with resounding success. As a child, I was engaged (as was my father, who was with me) by holding on to a "boarding pass" throughout the exhibit, which allowed me to become invested in the life of an actual Titanic passenger. This boarding pass is the only thing I could possibly cite as a "gimmick"
- Why is the woman on the billboard smiling? She is dead. This woman is dressed as a maid of some kind, and thus most likely did not survive the sinking of the Titanic. Although I am fairly certain that this was not the intent of the designers behind it, this ad strikes me as a kind of mockery. Imagine a theme-park modeled after a Katrina-stricken New Orleans, in which you would be greeted by a woman standing on a rooftop, smiling and waving towel to greet you. I find this kind of characterization-- turning a shipwreck victim into a mascot-- to be completely tasteless and lacking in any kind of educational value.
- Some of the "activities" that accompany this "exhibition" seem highly inappropriate. Weddings? Really? If that's not enough, you can also "Send an SOS signal from the ship's wireless communications room". I could even get behind a hands-on component that deals with Morse code and early wireless communication... but does it have to be an SOS? Something about that strikes me as being a mockery of real events.
I see this as being a "lowest common denominator" issue. When groups of kids are visiting the "exhibition" with teacher guidance, they are presented with opportunities for reflection, critical thinking, discussion, and sensory engagement. Yet, when the same "exhibition" is marketed to the general public, it is portrayed as a kitchy, fun, day trip that has no connection to the catastrophic event on which it is based.
I would like my peers' input on this. Am I being overly critical of a simple roadside attraction? Or is the Pigeon Forge Titanic a prime example of what can go horribly wrong with "blockbuster" museum exhibitions? Also-- thoughts on this?