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Kicking The Confederacy Out of Theme Parks and Attractions

If you’ve noticed, there have been some interesting developments with attractions associated with the Southern Confederacy of the United States. No matter where you stand, this marks an interesting time in the themed entertainment industry. And if you’re not familiar with these changes, let me get you up to speed.

Over at King’s Dominion in Virginia, 2018 will bring some name and theming changes to the 43-year-old park. The newest section, known as Candy Apple Grove is getting some TLC. New paint, pavers and lighting will spruce up the area. In addition Ricochet, a wild mouse coaster which was added to the park in 2002, is getting a new paint job and a name change to Apple Zapple to better reflect the theming of Candy Apple Grove.

While there are also name changes to a merchandise and food location, fans seem to be in an uproar over Rebel Yell, Kings Dominion’s dueling wooden roller coaster that opened in 1975. The coaster will henceforth be officially referred to as Racer 75, which is a not only nod to the opening year of the iconic coaster but a tip of the hat to American Coaster Enthusiasts (or ACE) which was founded, in part, thanks to a group trip riding Rebel Yell back in the 1970s.

For those unfamiliar, “Rebel Yell” was a battle cry that Confederate soldiers used to startle their enemy.  It was also a song made popular by Billy Idol, but let’s face facts, the coaster was named after the Confederate phrase. Was the renaming of the roller coaster, Rebel Yell, a form of censorship that also incorporated improvements to the track of the ride and all the other changes surrounding it? No. Take your conspiracy theories elsewhere. Was it an opportune time to remove an association with the southern Confederacy while other theming and name changes were happening surrounding the iconic coaster? While you’re most likely never going to get anyone from Cedar Fair to admit that publicly, that answer is probably: yes.

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, on the other hand, has no major changes to their 30-year old dinner show to announce. Except, of course, that the word “Dixie” is being dropped from their title and the show is now known as “Dolly Parton’s Stampede.”  According to a press release, Dolly Parton was quoted as saying, “Our shows currently are identified by where they are located. Some examples are Smoky Mountain Adventures or Dixie Stampede. We also recognize that attitudes change and feel that by streamlining the names of our shows, it will remove any confusion or concerns about our shows and will help our efforts to expand into new cities.”

Indeed, Internationally and even in the majority United States, the term “Dixie” doesn’t resonate with folks. While the popular dinner show has changed over the years, one of the original versions of the show was rooted in a battle of the North vs the South. The audience was split down the middle and was seated in either the Northern or Southern section of the auditorium. Various fun-spirited events were peppered throughout the evening where horses and their riders tested their skills in various events in the arena.

As an aside, easily my favorite line from any dinner show attraction was from an early version of Dixie Stampede.  After the audience had their appetizer and had watched several battles between the two battling sides, it was time for the main course. The emcee for Dixie Stampede was an old southern gentleman who oversaw the evening’s festivities. At this point in the show, he would tally up the score between the two sides and inform the audience that there were going to be more exciting competitions yet to come! Then he said the following, “Whether you’re from the North or the South, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on: CHICKEN!”. And you guessed it, rotisserie chicken was then served throughout the arena to a square-dancing tune that regardless of where you stand in the North versus South battle, chicken is delicious and makes everyone feel better.

Moving on, this step away from the Confederacy isn’t exactly new. Six Flags Over Georgia made a quiet, yet clearly conscious decision to do so back in 2009. The park’s one-of-a-kind classic dark ride known as Monster Plantation needed some serious TLC. GGE was brought in to upgrade the attraction and do some much needed repairs.

With those upgrades also came a subtle change to the title of the attraction. Monster Plantation was ever-so-quietly renamed to Monster Mansion. If my sources are correct, Six Flags wanted to step away from the name plantation due to its association with slavery. While the exterior of the attraction still looks like an old Southern plantation, you could also just as easily call it a mansion. I’m even told that the name Monster Manor was considered, but later dropped.

The difference being, back in 2009, things were different and we (as a society) weren’t in this heightened sensitivity of preserving history versus progressive change to keep up with the times. Monster Mansion‘s name change slipped under the radar and there was very little backlash. As time marches on, audiences become more sophisticated and in more recently have become far more sensitive to certain issues. Justified or not, that’s where we are at in the modern society of 2018.

Of course, the question is: why make all these changes now? We are talking about attractions that have been around 30 to 40 years. These businesses don’t seem to be hurting. There are no picket lines, no petitions and you can probably even make the assumptions that no letters have been written to rename these attractions. So why bother?

You’re a theme park fan, right? Of course, you are. Why else would you be reading this? Let’s say you know 100 fellow enthusiasts and none of them are offended or the slightest bit bothered by names like Dixie Stampede, Rebel Yell, and Monster Plantation. And let’s say within your circle, you can somehow survey 10,000 people and you literally can’t find a single person who cares what the names of these attractions are as long as they are entertaining.

Ten thousand people is an average theme park on a slow day. Just one day of an entire operating season. No matter how many friends you have, your bubble is limited. Theme parks have to entertain literally millions of patrons per year. Therefore, casting a net as wide as you can to try and include (and not upset, offend or even make someone feel slightly uncomfortable) is just plain smart business. It’s also impossible. But, if you can at least attempt to not ruffle any feathers, why wouldn’t you?

Which begs the question: if no one is protesting, writing letters or making a fuss about the Confederacy being associated with an attraction, why not leave it alone? Because it could. Because it can. In 2017, headlines everywhere showed people burning Confederate flags, protests about it flying near state capitol buildings and even Six Flags removing it from the front entrance of their parks.

Warranted or not, whether you agree with it or not, or you just don’t care… as a business attracting thousands of people a day; why would you not be proactive and try to remain neutral about sensitive subjects rather than sticking to tradition? Has a group of activists come in and asked for the name to be changed for Dixie Stampede, Rebel Yell or taking down the Confederate flag? Nope. But if it happens, it will make national headlines. Sure, these changes have already made headlines (I’m talking about it aren’t I?), but it’s nowhere near the kind of coverage it would get if there were genuine protesters, which CAN happen. So why not be proactive instead of reactive? Regardless of where you sit with these name changes, I think we can all agree, no amount of delicious rotisserie chicken can overcome national negative headlines. Your thoughts?

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Images Copyright: Cedar Fair, Six Flags, Herschend Entertainment

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