This article examines a representation of convict leasing in an unexpected and seemingly inconsequential place—an amusement park. Located in Branson, Missouri, the popular 1880s-themed Silver Dollar City proudly claims to offer historical education and entertainment through “realistic” constructions of the past. One of the park’s oldest and most popular attractions is the Flooded Mine ride, where park guests travel in “mine carts” through a depiction of a flooding mine, trying to “help the sheriff” by shooting laser light guns at kitschy animatronic convict laborers who are trying to escape. We first examine the Flooded Mine as a unique form of penal spectatorship, arguing that riders are able to enjoy the lighthearted mockery of the convict laborers’ suffering through a process of moral disengagement. Second, we use the lens of collective memory in an endeavor to expose the processes of remembering and forgetting at work in Silver Dollar City. We argue that the simulations of the past constructed in the park are not an apolitical platform for entertainment, but rather work to produce a narrative that perpetuates a kind of white nostalgia that erases black suffering. While ostensibly displaying a story of convict labor, the Flooded Mine depicts all the prisoners as white men, effectively performing an historical erasure of chattel slavery and its transmutation into convict leasing. By obscuring the incalculable pain produced by convict leasing and incarceration, the dissimulation allows riders to avoid any ethical engagement with these systems of racialized control.
Crime, Media, Culture: An International Journal – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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