Thursday, October 15, 2009

Branson, Part two

I got to thinking about Branson Missouri again this afternoon. Yes, there are a huge number of people who visit there, and drop tons of money. However, I would guess that the average median age of the visitors is a lot older than one might think. The kitschy "hillbilly" references across the city cater to how those of us in the Ozarks are perceived by outsiders. Baby boomers remember shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies", and comic strips like "Lil' Abner", that painted us as hayseeds, without a clue as to how the world worked.

Back in the late 1960's the notion came up that hill folk were somehow "cute" and an idea was born to take some land on Highway 7 South of Harrison Arkansas, and turn it into a "Hillbilly Theme Park". Al Capp, creator of "Lil' Abner" was brought in as a partner, and "Dogpatch" was born. People came from all over to marvel, and laugh, at the actors and actresses dressed as quaint hill folk. The park was littered with old cabins brought in from around the state, and it looked like a mountain village with rides, right there on the side of the road. The problem is that the whole idea was rather demeaning to people from around here. We were perceived as slow, illiterate dolts, who did nothing more than drink moonshine and sleep all day. Funny, huh?

Over the years, as the crowds of visitors got younger, they failed to see what their parents and grandparents saw in the place. It didn't help that "Lil' Abner" was no longer in the comics section. Young people just didn't get it, and by 1994 (I think) the park closed for good. Now it sits there, as before, looking like a small mountain village that has been abandoned, and left to the ravages of time.

Oddly enough, that same theme is echoed in Branson, just North of the Arkansas border. Sure there's entertainers there too, but none of the kids of today can identify with them. This got me to thinking, "What will happen when all the older folks that went there, are replaced by the younger ones? Will Branson still keep it's image as it does today, and will today's youth give a care in the future?

Even some of the shows that feature performers from the 1960's hold nothing for the youth of today. America is changing, yet Branson is still rooted in the past. It's doubtful there will be a Snoop Dog's "'Fo Shizzle Theater" on the strip any time soon! Nor will there be gambling, another lure for the younger set. The city is a sitting duck for the same thing that happened to Dogpatch.
It will be interesting to see if the city, and venues adapt to the changing age of the visitors, or fade from the scene, discarded by those in search of something new. I'm making no bets on the outcome, but I'm going to watch with a great deal of interest!

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