A year after moving to Europe, I went back to Los Angeles to finally pull the plug on my American life, giving away or selling anything I couldn’t fit into my carry-on suitcase back to France, including my truck of 14 years. I was pretty successful at Marie Kondo-ing my life, with the exception of one treasured item of joy—my Dukes of Hazzard trash can.
Before moving abroad, I bounced all over the U.S., from ski towns in New Mexico and Wyoming to concrete jungles like NYC and LA. For all of those years, I was a pretty die hard minimalist out of necessity, especially during the six I lived in the back of my Toyota Tacoma. I’ve rarely owned much more than my hiking gear, clothes, a few books, my truck, and this dumb trash can.
The Dukes of Hazzard (DOH) was my favorite show for a good portion of my childhood (before Knight Rider came along). Maybe it’s some weird metaphor that the only tangible thing left from my adolescence is a garbage receptacle. But instead of selling it on Craigslist like everything else last summer, I spent a stupid amount of money mailing it back to my parents’ house, where it will likely stay until they (or I) die.
Since moving abroad, I’ve become more and more aware of just how fucked up and amazing the U.S. is. What a fascinating, intense country of extremes! While we have too many guns, shit health care, even shittier food, crushing student loan debt, and zero social safety nets, we also have some of the most ambitious and creative freaks on the planet. How else do you explain phenomena like Apple, Facebook, and Google, or more bizarre creations like the Jesus-themed amusement park, a hospital that delivers Cabbage Patch Kids from the vagina of a magical tree, and some of the most random museums in the world, my favorite being the one dedicated to The Dukes of Hazzard. I’m not saying other countries aren’t bizarre too, but America has a Go Big or Go Home approach to almost everything we do, even our weirdness.
Full disclosure here: I’d been to The DOH Museum three times already, once in Gatlinburg and twice in Nashville, when I decided to go again on my recent trip home to Nashville to visit family. Located near the famous Grand Ole Opry, The DOH Museum shares a building with the Willie Nelson Museum, which I’ve also been to and wasn’t all that impressed by. When you first pull up, you see a massive headshot of the least important character on the show and apparent owner of this “museum,” Cooter, above the official name, Cooter’s Place. Parked out front is not only Cooter’s tow-truck, which no one cares about, but the famous orange car whose windows Bo and Luke Duke constantly jumped through. As soon as I walk up and read the sign in the dashboard saying you have to pay five bucks to get a picture with it, I’m immediately reminded of that harsh reality so many of us who loved this show try to forget—how goddamn racist this car is.
If only I’d realized in the moment this was some serious foreshadowing of just how racist this whole museum was going to be. Trashier than even my trash can.
A giant confederate flag is painted on the roof along with the car’s name, The General Lee. In case you forgot, that’s the dude who led that war that almost destroyed America just so some rich white racists could own and torture millions of human beings. I know, I know, you can’t hold today’s standards of social justice against yesterday’s, but still. Why is this flag still okay to be flown anywhere at any time, now or even back in the 1980s? I mean, if there was a swastika painted on the hood of the heroes’ car along with Hitler’s name, it wouldn’t have been okay on any TV show, like ever. But for some reason, people (including some of my relatives) are still obsessed with The Old South and its delusional Gone With the Wind version of history—that slaves just loved their masters and all was FINE until them Yankees had to march on down here and fuck it all up. Then again, if you read the same textbooks I was forced to in high school, you might see why people in these parts believe such horseshit.
But I digress.
Once I finally walk through the front door, I’m thrown right back into my blissful childhood ignorance. To the left, there’s a kid’s bedroom display full of DOH merchandise I not only forgot existed but that I’d actually owned—handcuffs, signed headshots of my idol, Daisy Duke, lunchboxes, toy cars, thermoses, and even the giant plastic Boss Hog hat. Even by today’s Disney princess and Star Wars standards, this DOH merchandise is a bit overkill. In fact, that’s why the original Bo and Luke Duke left the show for a while and were replaced by their lame cousins. They were pissed they didn’t get a cut of all the merchandise sold with their faces on it.
None of this old stuff is for sale of course, as they’re all collector’s items. But you need not get your Daisy Dukes in a wad because there’s plenty of stuff for sale that Cooter the entrepreneur has slapped the show’s (or his own) name all over. Jelly, dog leashes, bibs, onesies, birthday party plates and hats, lip balm, bubbles. You name it. Cooter is milk’n this nostalgia cash cow Hollywood has us all suckling off of for every Confederate dollar he can get.
Right before I walk into the room with all the glass cases, I notice a bunch of baskets on the floor full of rebel flags. Because why not sell a racist symbol of hate (or Southern “pride” depending on who you ask) next to DOH-themed sippy cups?
The glass case room is basically a shrine to each of the show’s characters, only with the same filler merchandise they had in the kid’s bedroom up front. Some cases have random items specific to a character, like Daisy has a bobble head and several pairs of her famous short shorts strewn across the room on a line like a Tibetan prayer rug. Uncle Jesse’s water pitcher (that no one has ever noticed or cared about) is displayed with a certificate of authenticity as well as the original door from his shack of a house. I’m pretty sure these two dumb items are the only actual props from the show at this “museum.” The rest is just a shit ton of DOH merchandise you could once buy at any Kmart and is now buried somewhere in the attic of a Gen X-er’s parents.
There’s a TV in the corner cycling through episodes of the show, so I stop for a bit to watch. Other than the confederate car and it’s “rebel yell” horn, the show doesn’t seem to be purposefully racist so much as goofy. Then again, they have zero people of color in a show that takes place in The South and I’m a white woman who might not always pick up on everything. The longer I watch this episode, the more I realize my hero, Daisy, is just a little too fuckable for my liking. She drives a jeep and I love that, but she kicks bad guys delicately with her high heels and flirts as a way to solve mysteries and help The Duke Boys get the bad guys.
As a Southern woman with a large percentage of my family members living on farms out in the sticks, I promise you—ain’t no farm chick wearing high heels around gravel parking lots and cow pastures. Farm chicks aren’t usually hyper sexual bimbos whom their hot cousins wanna fuck, either. The Duke Boys even allude to how much they wish Daisy wasn’t their cousin. For a show that was a big hit in The South, they sure did make fun of us a lot! From incest-y tropes to a stupid sheriff who gou-gou-gou’s instead using actual English vocabulary, it makes you wonder if the writers of the show even knew any Southerners. It’s not just Daisy I find unbelievable. Boss Hog wears all white and drives a Cadillac with bull horns, something I’ve never seen any Southern person do ever. This ain’t TEXAS. The South and Texas are not the same, which is why this was called The Dukes of Hazzard, not Dallas.
The next room is filled with two DOH replica cars. One is that “Gou-gou-gou” sheriff’s car, the other Boss Hogg’s Cadillac with the bullhorns. Over the speakers they’re playing a modern, country version of that Zippidy Doo Dah song, which makes oddly nostalgic references to the “old cotton fields” back home. Near the cars is a guest sign-in book that says “Whaere y’all from?” at the top. Either they don’t proofread their stuff or they are (again!) purposely making fun of Southerners for being stupid. In addition to this here 41-year-old liberal Southern chick now living in France, people who’ve signed into the museum today come from Missouri, Canada and... Bologna, Italy!
The last room, called Daisy Land, is dedicated to my former idol. The first thing I see is her famous Jeep roped off in the corner. I was so obsessed with Daisy and her Jeep that I tried to convince my mom to let me buy one when I was in high school so I could go mud’n with my guy friends (she said no). After I pay an employee five bucks to take sexy-ish photos of me pretending to drive her Jeep, he informs me that this is the original Jeep and that Catherine Bach drove it down here herself when they opened Daisy Land. Apparently all the other cars here, including The General Lee, are fakes! He’s a bit surprised that I’m from Nashville when I tell him because I don’t sound like it (and never have for some odd reason). Even as a teenager working at Ruby Tuesday’s, my tables would say, “You a Yankee?” when I’d serve them. I’ve always been accused of being an imposter. “I may not have a Southern accent,” I say, “but I got all the Southern charm.” We make small talk, then he ends our transaction with his favorite joke.
“You know the one sure way to make a Tennessean fight?… Insult Dolly Parton.”
I fake laugh at his joke then we part ways. I’m kinda over The DOH Museum to be honest, but I take a quick look around Daisy Land for good measure. And that’s when I notice that, other than the enormous lego portrait of Daisy on the wall across from the Jeep, this room has nothing to do with her. In fact, maybe this room should be called “White Supremacy Land” instead, since it’s only consistent theme is the Civil War and Yankees not being welcome here. In addition to stickers and souvenirs, the room is going for a racist Bed Bath and Beyond look, carrying Confederate flag-patterned home decor—pillows, clocks, comforters, alarm clocks, bath slippers. Then there is the parking sign that says “Parking for Confederates only. All others go back North.” There’s a whole collection of stickers that praise Dixie as its own nation under God, Southerners being proud descendants of Confederate war heroes, and The Civil War being America’s first war on terrorism from hostile Northern aggressors. At this point, I’ve had enough. This museum isn’t cute or funny. It’s gross.
On my way back up front, I notice a familiar hat in the case with children’s toys—a Confederate soldier hat made specifically for kids. I also notice several copies of Cooter’s book around the store. This guy is just too much. This museum is less of a homage to a kids’ show and more of a racist southern dude trying to promote himself, his book, and a mythical version of Southern heritage based on white supremacy. If you don’t believe me, google the dude. He constantly defends the use of the Confederate Flag, even after Dylann Roof’s hate crime forced the South and Hollywood into a moment of reckoning with this symbol of hate. While there is still a lot of debate over how racist DOH was, it’s pretty obvious its least important cast member turned congressman sure acts like one! He ain’t going anywhere and even organizes an event called Cooter’s Last Stand.
This is definitely the last time I’ll be going to this museum. The flag and Confederate soldier crap really ruined it for me, though maybe it says a lot about my own social justice learning curve that I didn’t notice this stuff before now. I guess if I want a reminder of my childhood, I can watch one of the five thousand remakes of the other 1980s shows I loved. Or I can fetch my DOH trash can from my parents’ attic.