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Back in the 1990s, L. Douglas Wilder, the governor of Virginia and the nation’s first black governor since Reconstruction, was at my apartment in Fredericksburg, and we were drinking heavily. As I wowed the room with ethnic jokes, he had an epiphany. The nation needed a slavery museum, and it had to be located in Fredericksburg, Va. (Note: there is a good chance that was actually an acid trip and never happened in reality.)

Flash forward a few years and wealthy real-estate developers decided there was money to be made exploiting the suffering of African-Americans. Fredericksburg’s premier outfit, The Silver Cos., donated a 38-acre site to the museum because they thought it would be a great anchor for a tourism district.

Unfortunately, they overlooked the fact that the white liberals they assumed would fund the museum’s construction are only generous with other people’s money, and they prefer to spend their own cash on designer clothes and over-priced Starbucks drinks. Plus, slavery is a downer, and no one wants that guilt trip.

Now, the museum is bankrupt, all work has stopped, and even the granite statue of a freed slave that was meant to welcome visitors to the site is obscured by weeds and trees. Seriously, I had to beat off a possum just to get a picture of it last night, and you can interpret that any way you want.

I realize the museum has hit a rough patch, but it can still be saved. It just needs a better approach. Nowadays, if you want to catch people’s attention, you need a built-in audience. If you want to make a slavery museum, you can’t just make it about slavery. That’s so 18th century. You need to link it to something hot, and what’s the hottest book right now? That’s right, 50 Shades of Grey.

That book is already one of the best sellers of all time, and it’s all about an innocent young woman who is seduced by a powerful man who’s into bondage and submission. There’s plenty of that in slavery, and that needs to be their hook.

The slavery museum needs to go after that affluent female bondage audience and really play up the shackles and whipping angle. They should hire attractive, muscled actors to act out the scenes, and if done correctly, I bet there won’t be a dry seat in the house.

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