Last summer, I made my way from Yankee territory and into the land of cotton to review Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. A kitschy dinner theater show best summed up as “Springtime for the Confederacy,” guests at the wildly popular staple up the road from Dollywood were treated to a “friendly competition” between the North and South while marveling at racing piglets, a bizarrely executed Native American history segment, and Gone With the Wind-levels of Old South nostalgia. Even when the show premiered in 1988, the concept of a family attraction painting the Civil War as a benign rivalry would’ve been a tone-deaf experience. But seeing it in 2017, just a week after protests over Confederate monuments led to the death of an innocent woman, made it especially shocking.
I articulated this sentiment last August, and my review stirred up no shortage of debates over history, Dolly, and Southern pride. Later, Dixie Stampede’s public relations director responded to my request for comment, stating that “… We will evaluate the information provided by Ms. Harris in her Slate.com article in regard to our Pigeon Forge and Branson operations.” And on Monday, it was revealed that Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede has officially been renamed Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Could it be that I was not the only one disappointed by the show’s icky premise, and my piece made Parton and her collaborators rethink their hokey, kinda racist spectacle?
Perhaps. In the press release, Parton at first suggests that the change is motivated by plans to expand the show to other parts of the country. “Our shows currently are identified by where they are located. Some examples are Smoky Mountain Adventures or Dixie Stampede.” (The former is apparently based on how her parents got together, rather than how the North and South just like to playfully antagonize one another.) But then:
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.
And Jim Rule, CEO of World Choice Investments, which produces the Dolly-themed shows added:
There is interest in several parts of the United States and internationally to host one of our unique dinner attraction shows … We continually listen to our guests and our desire to expand coupled with our desire to stay relevant in today’s changing world led us to simplify our shows’ names.
Got it. “Dixie” is now too complicated to invoke by name in a production meant to be wholesome, mindless fun, and is thus probably bad for business in 2018. This is a good thing! It suggests that a sizable portion of Parton’s audience and would-be audience sees that the show as it existed last year is problematic. But what about the performance itself? The release doesn’t mention any changes to the actual script—or the “Southerners Only”/“Northerners Only” bathrooms—and as of now, the site still promotes that “friendly and fun” North vs. South rivalry. As with the case of the Confederate monuments, erasing “Dixie” is a step in the right direction. But it will only matter so much if the fantasy of the Lost Cause continues to be played out on stage.