We’re reading a book by Aaron Ketchell called Holy Hills of the Ozarks which is about religion and tourism in Branson. I’m not sure why, but I never thought about Silver Dollar City as an inherently religious place growing up. Sure, I knew they had gospel music shows and the huge Christmas festival (one of my favorite parts of the season), but I never thought of it as a specifically religious (read: Christian) place. Of course, I wouldn’t expect to go to Six Flags and see a gospel quartet, but somehow it never seemed “strange” at SDC. Why is that? Was I more focused on the rides and therefore less likely to notice? Or does it have more to do with growing up in the Ozarks.
Charles Reagan Wilson, the all-star of Southern history and culture, gave a talk on campus tonight and he mentioned how thoroughly the Ozarks is permeated with all things religious. If that’s true, then it makes sense that SDC wouldn’t seem “weird” to me; I (and many other natives) are simply used to the permeation, like it or not. But I think there is something else to it. When I go to Silver Dollar City, or to Branson in general, I expect to see elements of Christianity at every turn, regardless of whether or not said elements are tasteful. I know what I’m getting into when I go to Branson. Whether it be amusement theme parks, variety shows, or restaurants, the entire town is marketing nostalgia couched in Christianity.
But apparently, some people find Branson offensive, which I can understand. What I can’t understand is that some people seem to be surprised by Branson’s in-your-face embrace of Christianity. Believe it or not, there is a group of people in America that want to see Kirby van Burch make a helicopter appear and then talk about Jesus. They also want to see public displays of the 10 Commandments draped in American flags and hear about how awesome George W. Bush is. Branson, if a city could do so, is fulfilling many of those desires and more. Is that wrong? Is that something to be offended by?
Just as many fundamentalists will never go to Vegas, many non-evangelicals will probably never feel much affinity for Branson. That’s ok. Let’s just not be any more surprised to see Christianity in Branson then we would be to see Judaism in Miami. Rather than throwing up our defenses when encountering something different and uncomfortable, let’s try to reach a point of understanding; it’s a lot friendlier than being immediately offended.