Taxidermy of Time:

Hyperreal Tourist Destinations of the Southeast

 

Drew Heller

Warren Wilson College

73 Cumberland Ave.

Asheville, NC  28801

Phaedruss@aol.com

5-14-03

 

ABSTRACT

This research addresses the function of simulation and hyperrealism in the context of several tourist sites in the southeastern United States. The sites were analyzed using Baudrillard’s mapping of the simulation process. The historical narratives and underlying ideologies of each site were used to examine the role of simulation in each context.

 

METHODS

I visited Myrtle Beach SC, Gatlinburg TN, and Cherokee NC. I conducted a total of ten interviews with individuals who live and work in these towns. I also took many pictures, recorded field-notes, and used a tape-recorder to capture thoughts. 

 

INTRODUCTION

A simulacrum is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “an image or representation” or as “an unreal or vague semblance.” The subject of this research is the examination of the process by which an original becomes “an image or representation” of itself. The sites investigated for this paper employ simulation to facilitate and authenticate the experience of the participant. The experiential and physical representations of the objects and places that have been manufactured delineate the experience of the participant. For example, at the Onconaluftee Living Indian Village a wooden canoe that is perpetually being built by a “native in authentic dress” is a physical representation of a tradition that has been rendered obsolete by technological advances, while the actor who constructs the canoe represents his own ancestors and validates the actual experience of the participant. The combination of simulated places, time periods, and people bridges a gap for the participant between his experience at the point of simulation and the original reality. The totality of the simulation process is best explained by Baudrillard’s mapping of the successive phases simulation.

THE PROCESS OF SIMULATION

Baudrillard explains that simulation occurs in a four-part process (Baudrillard 1983:11). I have added a fifth part that relates directly to the simulations found in the tourist destinations of my research. Baudrillard omits any reference to the relationship between the simulation and the participant in his mapping of the simulation process. The relationship between the participants and simulation is critically important in understanding the role and function of simulation within the context of the tourist sites analyzed in this paper. The following process is the primary theory that I used in my research:

Original: Any simulation must begin with an original. In the context of these four tourist destinations the original can be put into six different categories. These are: a time period, a culture, a place, an idea, a person, or an object.

The Perversion of the Original: This perversion is the process by which the original becomes permanently altered. This perversion can take several forms. The perversion sometimes takes the form of a revolution or shift in religious, political, social, or economic structure. The perversion can also be the introduction of a foreign culture into an established or traditional culture. The perversion could also be an advance or transformation in technology or science. The permanent alteration erodes the pure form of the original out of existence. In the wake of this perversion comes an absence of the original.

The Masking of the Absence: This is the process by which the absence of the original created by the perversion, is accepted, normalized, and internalized into the prevailing culture. The new form of the original now exists in a secondary reality. It is the normalization of this new reality as the primary reality that masks the absence of the original.

Simulation: The replication, imitation, or representation of an idea of the original.

Participation: The act of experiencing a simulation. This act bridges the simulation to the idea of the original for the participant.

CHEROKEE, NC

The first site visited was Cherokee, NC. This town is located in the far western corner of North Carolina. The economic status of the town relies on gambling and tourism. The souvenir shops that dot both sides of the roads are stocked full of objects that represent ideas of “the Indian.” Gigantic tee-pees rest atop one store that is appropriately named, “Indian Store.” The Indian Store is filled with merchandise related to the idea of the generic Indian as opposed to the specific idea of “the Cherokee”. The mountain behind the store serves as a perfect backdrop for these two gigantic tee-pees. The imagination of the tourist is persuaded to picture a time when these tee-pees would have been real and inhabited by real Indians. The irony is that the Cherokee never used tee-pees. The image has been borrowed from the image of the Indian in the western frontier. The incongruence of the tee-pee image within the town of Cherokee is not of great importance to the tourist. The traditional house structure of the Cherokee would not fit the archetypal American Indian imagery theme. Nowhere among the aisles of the souvenir shops does the customer find miniature replicas of traditional Cherokee homes. Although the tourist draw to the town is the history, presence, and idea of the Cherokee Indian, the most prominent idea that is being sold is the idea of the generic Indian (Kaplan 1998:350). This is the Indian as he has been depicted in spaghetti westerns and comic books. Inside the souvenir shops, a customer may choose from a large assortment of miniature tomahawks, synthetic headdresses, and plastic bows and arrows. These are physical manifestations of various ideas concerning “the Indian.” These ideas are drawn from folk-narratives of the various reconstructed histories of the Native Americans. Thousands of paintings are being sold depicting Indians in the desert shooting their arrows at helpless settlers. There are also a variety of paintings that depict battles between cowboys and Indians. The presence of paintings that depict Indians attacking settlers and nothing of the reverse scenario sends a clear message to the observer; the cowboys are clearly defending themselves from the aggressions of the fierce Indians. This is the predominant historical narrative depicted in these stores. This imagery transmits an aura of justification for the historical acts of settlers.

Imagery of the spiritual Indian is also quite common in these stores. Dream catchers are not only sold in every souvenir shop but in every gas station as well. The customer can purchase a wide variety of velvet paintings depicting shamans dancing in front of a fire while eagles and wolves inhabit the background. I have noticed that the reproduction of the spiritual Indian is also found in bookstores all across America. Most new-age/spirituality sections have dozens of books that instruct the reader how to conduct their own vision quests. These books also explain how Native American rituals can be enacted in everyday life. The reader can practice Native American spiritualism at home, work, or in the car. The assimilation of Native American spiritualism into the mainstream exhibits the function of simulation outside of the context of a place-specific locale. These books and practices can be bought, sold, and practiced anywhere in the world.   

Consumerable imagery of the Indian is scattered all over the town (Dorst 1989:108). Replicated totem poles, black bears, wolves, horses, tee-pees, and most importantly Indians frequent the landscape. Indian statues made of wax or plastic seem to reside in almost every souvenir shop in Cherokee. In one store, a plastic life-size Indian robot sits near the entrance to greet the customers. As long as he is plugged into the wall his head moves slowly back and forth while his eyes wiggle around robotically. A small sign that is posted next to the robot reads, “Hi, I’m Chief Sitting Bull.” This robot sits in front of a display wall that sells chess-sets, western jewelry, plastic guns, t-shirts, knives, nail-clippers, Indian themed beach-towels, and whoopee cushions. The image of the Indian has become a commodity in Cherokee. The mannequin becomes an advertisement for the paraphernalia that he is surrounded by. If the customer enjoys the Indian robot, then why not purchase a beach towel with a similar image?

In front of the same store that houses the Chief Sitting Bull robot is another mannequin. The scene displays a female Indian sitting in a plastic lawn chair in front of a gigantic tee-pee. There is an empty lawn chair next to her. This is set up so that the observer can become a participant. There is a donation box next to the scene so that people who take their pictures with her may tip her for the photo opportunity. In this setting the participant is able to interact with an image of the past. The photos are recorded on film and then reproduced as an image on paper that can be brought anywhere. The perversion of the original Indian invalidates the authenticity of the Cherokee that live here and facilitates the avoidance of interaction between tourists and local Cherokees. While some tourists may take photos with living Cherokee people, purchasing a doll or taking a photo with a mannequin is a much more accessible form of interaction.

The disappearance of the original Indians is ironically emphasized in the co-existence of reproduced imagery of taxidermized animals. These synthetic wall-mounted animal heads emphasize the absence of the original. Elk, bison, and wolves share the same spaces inside the gift shops as the Indian mannequins and robots. These animals, although they exist in other regions of the country, no longer inhabit the mountains of North Carolina. Comparably the taxidermized Indian is presented as a being that once lived in the Appalachian Mountains but no longer in its original form. Only through simulations of the past can the Indian once again exist in this location (Baudrillard 1983:18). Even in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Cherokee are represented by wax figures and holograms. The faces of the wax figures in each vignette are replications of living local Cherokee people. The image of the Cherokee that the tourist remembers is not the face of the Cherokee man or woman that sold the tickets at the entrance, but the faces of the local Cherokee that have been replicated inside each historical scene of the museum. The living Cherokees have been transformed into caricatures of themselves (Baudrillard 1988:28). These caricatures play the part of their long-deceased Cherokee ancestors.

Instead of having a human guide lead a tour of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a hologram representation of an ancient Cherokee man leads the participant through the various scenes and narrates what the participant is seeing and experiencing. The 3-D Indian hologram is a Cherokee actor that is dressed in native costume. The hologram appears to react when the participant walks near him as if he were a real person (Kaku 1997:96). To the observer, the man is approximately one-foot tall. The backdrop around the hologram implies that this is a feat of time-travel. From the setting of the past, the hologram guide speaks to the museum visitors in the future. Only through a simulation of the past can the visitor experience a valid representation of the real Cherokee.

The function of hyperrealism in Cherokee is consistent with Baudrillard’s mapping of the simulation process. The original is the Native American. The perversion occurred in the initial colonization, removal, and genocide of the native peoples. This perversion permanently alters the original and creates an absence of the original. The secondary reality that has been created by this perversion is slowly normalized into the prevailing American culture. The secondary reality eventually becomes the primary reality thus masking the absence of the original. The idea of the original Indian remains but only in the form of simulation. These ideas are only reproducible through the employment of simulation.

 

Historical Simulation

 

Place is a construction within the physical constraints of a given space. A historical simulation replicates three things: a place, a time, and an experience (enacted through the participation in the given place). The place is a medium for the construction of an experience (Dorst 1989:108). The Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, NC, simulates place, history, and interactive experiences all at once. This replicated village was constructed on the same ground where the ancestors of the Cherokee Indians once lived. The advertising pamphlet for the Oconaluftee Village explains,

“In this vibrant 20th century community, the Cherokee people still hold a strong identity with their proud heritage. This is realistically portrayed through the Oconaluftee Indian Village. Learn how the red man actually lived over 250 years ago as Indian guides in native costumes lead you to primitive cabins and rustic arbors. See Indians making a dugout canoe with fire and ax. Watch Cherokee women stringing beads, molding ropes of clay into pots and weaving baskets. Observe the ancient art of finger weaving. Inside the seven-sided council house, learn the Cherokee history, culture, and social backgrounds handed down from generation to generation. Observe the timeworn methods of chipping flint into arrowheads, carving wooden spoons, combs and bowls, and pounding Indian corn into meal.”(Author’s emphasis)

The text clearly refers to this historical simulation as replicated place, history, and experience. The replicated “seven-sided council house” on the site allow tourists to interact with a simulated historical setting. Authentic Indians portraying their ancestors build baskets and canoes in simulation of activities that have been rendered obsolete by industrialization and the Cherokee’s general removal from their land during the 19th century. Presently, Cherokee do not build baskets and canoes to actually use them for utilitarian purposes. Instead they build them so that tourists will pay to come and watch them be constructed. The craft has been transformed from product to the idea of the product. The “Indian guides” dressed in “native costumes” that lead the tours simulate the authentic Indian that only existed in pure form before the settlers had affected the native way of life. “Real” Indians actually do live and work in Cherokee. The irony is that the Cherokee employees at the Oconaluftee village or The Museum of Cherokee History actually reinforce the idea that they no longer exist in authentic form (except through simulation and replication).  The true “authentic” and the true “real” can only be simulated. Within this logic, all that is real is must be a replication or capable of being simulated (Baudrillard 1983:19). The idea of the origination and history of a culture, person, time period, or place is usually more important and legitimate than it’s own contemporary existence (tourist do not flock to ancient Cherokee village sites that are now covered in asphalt, McDonald’s, and strip-malls; nor do they view the Cherokee man working in the gas station as being “as authentic” as the “native guide” at the Oconoluftee Indian Village.

Myrtle Beach, SC

Unlike Cherokee, Myrtle Beach, SC, is not a tourist destination as a result of site-specific historical events or native culture. The attractions of the town are explicit in their fantastical simulation. Souvenir shops line both sides of the main drag but there is not a consistent theme in each shop. While there are mannequins of Native Americans, there are also mannequins of Elvis Presley and the world’s tallest man. The different seasons of the year are marked by distinctly different overall auras. From March to June, Myrtle Beach is inhabited almost entirely by college and high-school students who are on Spring Break. The streets are filled slow moving cars that circle the strip endlessly. Many nightclubs advertise their affiliation with the popular sex-reality video series, “Girls Gone Wild”. Vacancy in any hotel near the strip is difficult to find during this time of the year.  During the summer months, Myrtle Beach is transformed into a slightly more family-oriented tourist destination. The fall and winter season here is a dramatic change from the warm months. During the cold months, the streets are empty, most of the souvenir shops are closed, and even the McDonalds is shut down until the start of the spring break season. A local woman who was interviewed explained that there are no jobs in Myrtle Beach during the off-season. She informed me that being a stripper is the only occupation during the off-season that handle to the cost of living. She said that the town is not worth living in during the cold months. Evidently the town dies a virtual death without the tourists. 

The souvenir shops here sell lots of merchandise with vice related themes. Examples include posters that display every known beer company on earth, shirts with animals having sex in every possible position, and novelty hats that allow beer to be stored on the head and drunk through plastic tubes. The sites of attraction that are not consumer oriented gift plazas are overwhelmingly sites of explicit simulation (Eco 1983:40). Gigantic karaoke bars are positioned right next to theatres that specialize in look-alike performers. For twenty dollars a customer can see Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, Garth Brooks, and Frank Sinatra all perform together on the same stage. In Myrtle Beach the death of a performer does not mean that his likeness will not be replicated and sold as an authentic replication of the original.

 

Ripley’s Aquarium is advertised as being “South Carolina’s Most Visited Attraction.” The advertising pamphlet proclaims that the aquarium is, “entertaining, educational, interactive, and fun.” Inside the aquarium a simulated ocean has been constructed. The constructed ocean is filled with real fish, sharks, dolphins, stingrays, and turtles. The animals live in this artificial world while tourists watch them play the role of their real counterparts that swim free in the inaccessible ocean. These animals play the same role as the “native guide” at the Oconaluftee Living Indian Village who acts the part of his real ancestor in a controlled tourist environment. Visitors are given the opportunity to pet crabs and other sea creatures in an educational exposition in the middle of the aquarium. This education takes the form of an employee teaching the visitors about each creature and then giving them the opportunity to touch and interact with the creatures. This simulation of wild ocean creatures within a controlled environment internalizes the human domination of the natural world. The process of simulation is clear in the context of this tourist site. The original creatures of the ocean have been removed from their natural habitat and placed into a new one. The new reality must be an exact replica of the ocean environment for the creatures to survive. Therefore the absence of the original environment is masked by the functioning replica of itself. In this new simulated ocean environment participants are given the opportunity to interact and observe the creatures in a way that would be impossible in the original environment.    

          Strangely, the functioning replicated environment is mixed with historical themes. The aquarium has an exhibit that features the imagery associated with the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. Various airplanes and boats that have mysteriously disappeared in the Bermuda triangle have been reconstructed inside the aquarium to simulate the scenario of a crashed vessel. The aquarium is used as a background setting to simulate a completely separate region of the earth. The crashed planes and ships simulate a specific narrative concerning the history of these disappeared vessels. Similar to the reconstructed village at the Oconaluftee Living Indian Village, the aquarium is used as a physical landscape to simulate historical events.

 

MT. ATLANTICUS

 

Most mini-golf attractions are designed with their quality of simulation as being their highest selling point. The mini-golf establishment that has the most realistic dinosaurs or the biggest artificial waterfalls tends to have the longest line of patrons waiting to play a game. Mt. Atlanticus Miniature Golf is a gargantuan tourist attraction that uses a fantastical historical narrative to provide explanation for the simulated environment that has been constructed. This site is Myrtle Beach’s largest and most outlandish mini-golf establishment. From the road, an onlooker can easily see the giant rivers of green-blue waters, the gushing three-story high waterfalls, and the dozens of faux-bamboo structures whose roofs are made of faux-straw. Plaster creatures of gargantuan proportions are fixed into the landscape.  The ideological logic behind the construction of this place and the creatures therein can only be understood by participating in a game of golf.

Mt. Atlanticus uses the geographical space (the external) in the validation of the fantasy that is being suggested in the place (the internal). After paying for a round of golf, the patron walks into a giant room. The walls are covered in murals and diagrams. The ideology of Mt. Atlanticus is constructed with an alternate history of the place that is now called Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Along with an alternate history to Myrtle Beach the history and evolution of the human race is visually and textually explained. The first mural at Mt. Atlanticus shows a giant circle of creatures. The first humans in this succession are dark-skinned and hairy, and use all four limbs to walk. As this visual metaphor for the evolution of the human continues, the creature (which happens to be male) becomes more and more fair-skinned. His furry nakedness is transformed into a clothed state. The final image is a hairless Caucasian male dressed in a mode that reminds the onlooker of the dragon-slayers and princess protectors of Nordic fairy-tale lore. The man could as easily be Sir Gawain as he could be Beowulf. The text under the final image reads: HOMO SUPER SAPIEN. It is with this first mural that the racist ideology of the entire establishment starts to become clear.

It is worth pointing out that the ideology of a given place does not necessarily have a stated purpose or goal. The first goal of Mt. Atlanticus is commerce. Whether a person reads the plaques, looks at the murals, or even plays golf is of no real importance. The first action and most important solitary action is the exchange of currency that occurs when the patron hands over the seven-dollar entrance fee. The importance of this act applies to almost all tourist destinations.

Money aside, the implicit ideology of Mt. Atlanticus has come into view in the “Homo Super Sapien” mural. This site is not the first to combine the myth of Atlantis with racist ideas. Hitler was obsessed with the story of Atlantis. During World War Two he ordered archeologists to travel to Iraq to search for proof of the existence of the “lost city.” The word “Super” that is written in-between “Homo” and “Sapien” might be a reference to Nietzsche’s theory of “super men” which was later used by Hitler to justify his racist ideologies.

The neighboring section of this room continues with the same evolutionary theme, yet with a more coherent narrative in relation to the external world (Myrtle Beach). Next to the second mural is an educational text that explains the relation of the myth of “the Lost City and People of Atlantis” to the ocean shores that are now called Myrtle Beach. According to the text, the highly advanced people of Atlantis built an aircraft to explore the world around them. By accident their spacecraft crashed right off of the coast of what is now Myrtle Beach. According to the text, it is unknown exactly what happened to the inhabitants of the spacecraft. A giant mural opposite the text might explain one possible scenario. In this mural, a crowd of approximately 60 people occupies a beautiful stretch of beach. Their skin is dark. They are clothed in simple fabrics. Their arms and hands are pointed to the sky as if in prayer or worship. The object that these “natives” on the beach are interacting with is a giant flying saucer in the sky above them. There are clearly visible images inside the saucer that depict several structures identical to the physical bamboo and straw huts that fill the landscape of the golf course. Ten feet to the left of this image is the third and final mural. A giant god-like light-blue Aryan man with a kings’ crown is emerging from the sea. His head is high above the clouds and his arm is outstretched. In a fatherly fashion, he holds a man with an incredible resemblance to Jesus in the palm of his hand. The Jesus characters’ hand is outstretched to another Aryan looking man who stands on the shores of the beach. From a shell in the beach-Aryan’s hands comes a heavenly blast of enlightenment. Within this gift that has ultimately come from the light-blue god, are the signs of civilization. In the beams of light there are assorted images including: a microscope (science), a lute-like instrument (music), a molecular compound (medicine), a tableau and paintbrush (fine-arts), a book (literature), and even images of the futuristic cars and devices (progress).

In relation to Mt. Atlanticus, the simulation process can be constructed as follows: The original history of the Native Americans occurs. The perversion occurs later when myths are created that provide alternate versions of the original history. Selected narratives are agreed to be the closest to the true history are chosen to be replicated in textbooks and are validated by archeological research. The normalization of these histories into the prevailing culture via textbooks and television shows masks the absence of the original history. The dominant narratives that are reproduced in textbook form are controlled by the prevailing culture. In the case of Mt. Atlanticus, the narrative that is told on the wall is in contrast to the accepted textbook history of the colonization of America. The alternate history masks the violent and imperialist nature of the original history. The simulation is constructed at Mt. Atlanticus in several ways. The mural that represents the story from the plaque is the first form of simulation that the participant observes. The second is the interaction with the physical manifestations of the imagery from the story. This interaction takes the form of a game of mini-golf.

 

 

RIPLEY’S HAUNTED ADVENTURE

Along the main drag in Myrtle Beach, in-between a souvenir shop and a 3-D movie theatre, there is giant haunted-house that is owned and operated by Ripley’s. The house has been constructed to simulate the look of a dilapidated old mansion. False rust covers every metallic surface and the wood looks as if it has completely rotted out. A replicated hearse carriage sits next to the ticket window. A sign on the hearse reads: Do not touch or you might ride next! A recording plays ominously from hidden speakers. The recording alternates between dripping sounds, footsteps, people screaming, babies crying, and steam whistles. After paying ten dollars the participant is led to a gigantic elevator. An actor whose face is painted with fake blood tells the participant, “If you don’t touch anybody, nobody will touch you!” The participant rides the elevator to the third floor and pushed into a dark room. As soon as the door of the room is closed, the noises of cars and tourists are eliminated. The outside world has effectively been eliminated for the participant. A new guide that is dressed similarly approaches the participant and explains that the trip through house should take thirty minutes to get through. A door mechanically opens and the participant is commanded by the guide to enter. As soon as the participant has entered this dark hallway, the door behind him shuts automatically. What follows is a series of mechanical simulations and interaction with human actors that play the role of the aggressors. The first vignette that the participant approaches is a human actor behind a table. The actor is dressed in a butcher’s apron and is covered in blood. He saws a knife into a simulated corpse that appears to have been killed only moments before. A noise from the previously traversed hallway causes the participant to run into the next scene out of fear of what might be chasing him. In the next room there is no apparent door to leave. Blasts of air noisily come out of holes in the wall. The feeling of this air on the participant causes the sensation that someone is touching him. Suddenly an actor who is dressed in all black whispers something menacing in the ear of the participant. The structure of the experience follows this pattern until the participant finally exits the last door into the outside world again.

One scene inside Ripley’s Haunted Adventure is a torture chamber. The walls are lined with cells that have robot prisoners who mechanically bang on the walls and beg for release. Sounds of prisoners being tortured are emitted through hidden speakers. At the far end of this room a simulated man sits strapped in an electric chair. He is begging for his life. His request is not granted and he is electrocuted and collapses limply to his death.

The application of the simulation process is as follows: The original act of violence, torture, or murder is the point of origination for the simulations inside Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. Myths and urban legends are constructed from the original. The process of turning an act into a story abstracts the original act of violence. Eventually these myths are reproduced as films and television shows. This reproduction incorporates the myths into pop-culture via film, music, and art. The grand act of simulation is the construction of a controlled environment where any willing participant is given the opportunity to experience the fear that might have been felt by the original victim.

Although the House itself cost over two million dollars to construct and is filled with high-tech robots, the real simulation occurs between the actors and participants. The House is a controlled environment where actors use the backdrop of the simulated corpses and monsters to physically chase and threaten the participant. The line between fantasy and reality is effectively blurred in Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. The senior actor at the Gatlinburg branch of Ripley’s Haunted Adventure explained that participants often forget that what they are experiencing is simulated. He said that he has been punched, kicked, slapped, and accosted with knives and guns. He has been forced to call the police on several occasions to have people arrested for their violent behavior. When a participant begins to become violent, the actors can call for help and the lights go on and the robots are turned off. He called this, “the kill-switch.” He described one incident when an angry man broke into the house and found the actors cleaning the make-up off of their faces in a dressing room. The man pulled a gun out of his pocket and threatened to kill the actors. The man eventually calmed down and left the building and was arrested on the street. Another actor that was interviewed had had several similar experiences. He expressed that he was constantly astonished by the behavior of the participants that pay to be scared. He wondered why anyone wouldn’t understand that the experience inside the building is an explicit simulation.

AN INCIDENT AT RIPLEY’S HAUNTED ADVENTURE

My first research trip took place in the middle of October 2002. Myrtle Beach during this time of the year is completely deserted. At first I was disappointed by the lack of tourists and the inaccessibility of many of the attractions that had been closed until the spring. I then realized that the off-season might provide a glimpse of Myrtle Beach that I would have otherwise missed during the tourist season. Other than the bars and strip-clubs, the only other places that were open were Ripley’s attractions such as Ripley’s Aquarium and Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. My friend Jake and I decided to buy tickets to Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. We were told that the attraction closed at 9 PM and that we could use the tickets anytime we wanted before closing. We did not make it over to the attraction until approximately 8:50 PM. The man at the ticket window was in the process of closing down the attraction. Several of the actors were standing outside of the entrance smoking cigarettes. Jake and I begged the man at the ticket window to let us in. We pointed to our watches and argued that he was closing too early. After some arguing he agreed to let us in. He told the actors to go back inside. They did not seem happy that they had to work for an additional 30 minutes on account of a couple of pushy tourists. As we boarded the elevator that took us to the 3rd floor, an actor stepped into the elevator with us. He explained the rules to us in a rude fashion and then dropped us off at the top. We were pushed into a room and the doors automatically shut behind us. Jake said that he thought that they were mad at us for making them work another 30 minutes. I tried to assure him that the manner in which they were acting towards us was simulated anger. I thought they were being so mean to us to try and scare us and give us a more realistic scare. In one of the first rooms that we walked into, an actor threw a cup of water in my face. I then realized that maybe Jake had been correct in assuming that the actors were actually mad at us. In one of the next rooms that we entered, a group of actors surrounded us. One of the actors was uncomfortably close to me. I wanted to try and ease the situation so I pretended to push the actor a little. I told him jokingly, “Don’t flex!” He immediately broke out of his character and told me, in street language, “Don’t fuckin’ talk bout flexin!” At this point Jake and I decided to get out of the room. As we turned our backs to the actors and began our departure into the next room, the actor that had threatened me picked up a chain-less chainsaw and turned it on. Jake and I started to run. As I ran, my tape-recorder that I was using to take field notes fell out of my pocket. The darkness of the hallways made it impossible to run fast enough to get away from the chainsaw wielding actor. The actor cornered me and ran the chainsaw up and down my shins. He stepped back and we continued to run. As we reached the end of a hallway and boarded an elevator that would take us down one story, the actors caught up with us. I began to tell them that I had just lost my walk-man. I explained where I had dropped it. They did not respond. The doors of the elevator shut. We eventually made it out of the attraction.

Once we were back outside I approached the man at the ticket-counter. I told him that I had lost my walk-man and that I would like to get it back. He told us to wait outside and that he would go look for it. We stood on the street for 15 minutes and he never came back out. The lights were turned off. An actor on the 2nd story where I had lost the walk-man shouted down to us on the street. “We got your walk-man!” After a few more minutes of waiting I decided to go see if there was a backside to the building. Sure enough I found the actors in a parking lot behind the building. The actor that had accosted me was in the middle of a fistfight with one of the other actors. I waited around in peripheral of the area until the fight broke up. Determined to get my field-notes back, I tried to politely ask if anyone had found my walk-man. No one would even acknowledge my presence. After asking several times I was able to get a response out of the actor that had chased me. He said, “Somebody might have took that.” Realizing that it was a lost cause, I left the parking, found Jake, and then went to the beach to mourn the loss of my field-notes.

The simulation that occurred during our experience in Ripley’s Haunted Adventure was complicated. Although the Haunted Adventure is supposed to be a controlled environment, the boundaries between simulation and reality were broken down.  The actors were being paid to be our aggressors. Their anger towards us for causing them to work late affected their performance as simulated aggressors. When I mistakenly offended one of the actors with a verbal comment, he forgot his role as an actor completely. He co-opted the role of the aggressor that he was being paid to simulate. Thus he became a caricature of himself. I, playing the simulated role of the victim, actually became a victim to a minor physical assault and theft. In effect, we were all transformed into the roles that we were supposed to only be simulating.

During my second visit to Ripley’s Haunted Adventure in the month of March 2003, I interviewed several actors. I hoped to find out information that would aid my analysis of the incident in October. Each actor that I interviewed told me that real violence commonly occurs inside the attraction. Each actor described different accounts of being attacked by men, women, and children. No actor ever mentioned any case of the actors lashing out at the customer. 

When I spoke with the actors at the Gatlinburg location, I learned a lot about the Haunted Adventure in Myrtle Beach. The senior actor in Gatlinburg was the employee that had opened the Haunted Adventure in Myrtle Beach. He told me that he had a lot of problems training the actors in Myrtle Beach. They had been difficult to work with and did not follow the rules of the establishment. He said that the turnover rate is abnormally high at the Myrtle Beach Ripley’s Haunted Adventure. He heard that many of the actors at the Myrtle Beach location have drug problems. A female employee who was listening to our conversation added some comments. She said that she had visited the Haunted Adventure in Myrtle Beach during a South Carolina vacation. The actors had locked her, by herself, in a cage for fifteen minutes. I told them the story of what had happened to me in Myrtle Beach. They were not surprised.

After the interview at the Gatlinburg location was over, I was given a free ticket on account of my status as a researcher. The experience inside the Gatlinburg location was starkly different. I was never touched or threatened by anyone. The experience was still frightening, but I never actually felt threatened.

CONCLUSION

Most simulations seem to follow a similar structural pattern and a similar purpose. Replicated objects, places, time periods, and people are used to construct historical narratives. Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Mt. Atlanticus Mini-Golf, the Oconaluftee Living Indian Village, the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and Ripley’s Aquarium all present narratives concerning historical events. Each site presents the simulacrum as an educational opportunity, an entertaining experience, and as being authentic. Certain devices of simulation are employed at each of the sites of this research. These devices are: mannequins and robots, reconstructed domestic and institutional settings, and the use of actors.

Robotic mannequins and taxidermized creatures are on display in every site that I visited. In the context of these tourist destinations, these simulacra are used to depict historical figures. Regardless of the validity of the historical narrative, the simulations function identically. Images from the past are presented as frozen in time or in living simulation.

Historical settings are constructed to create a backdrop for human actors and simulated actors (mannequins and robots). The simulacra enact ideas concerning events of the past that can be experienced by a participant.

All of the simulations serve to internalize ideas about history and culture. The visual narratives in each setting are presented as valid. The visual narratives are presented as entertainment or alternately as being educational. The participants desire a tangible and reproducible history and are willing to pay money for the experience of the simulation. The participants desire is not for the original reality, but for the reality that is in simulation (Zizek 2002:10). The simulacra researched for this paper are simulations of fragmented ideas of original realities. The Haunted Adventure has violence but no pain. The Oconaluftee Living Indian Village has peaceful hard working Indians but no indication of the complexities of the contemporary Cherokee. With the use of selective replication, the simulacra of my research present idealistic representations and experiences that are mainly used to pacify historical injustices, internalize the domination of the natural world, and to normalize institutional violence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     Baudrillard, Jean

       1983 Simulations. New York: Semiotext[e].

     Baudrillard, Jean

       1986 America. New York: Verso.

     Dorst, John

       1989 The Written Suburb. Philadelphia: University of PA Press.        

     Eco, Umberto

       1983 Travels in Hyperreality. San Diego: Harcourt.

     Kaku, Michio

       1997 Visions. New York: Doubleday.

     Kaplan, Robert

       1998 An Empire Wilderness. New York: Random House.

     Zizek, Slavoj

       2002 Welcome to the Desert of the Real. New York: Verso.

    

    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                                          Taxidermy of Time:

Hyperreal Tourist Destinations of the Southeast

 

 

Drew Heller

Warren Wilson College

73 Cumberland Ave

Asheville, NC 28801

(828) 255 7879

Phaedruss@aol.com

05 - 14 - 2003