10. Unarius Academy of Science
When you hear the term “UFO cult”, it evokes images of mass suicides, broken families, and mind control. However, the Unarius Academy of Science—that's “science” in only the most minimal sense—puts a friendly and extravagantly tacky spin on the whole affair. Founded by Ruth Norman, the spiritual love child of Liberace and Tammy Faye Bakker, Unarius began as an organization preparing for the arrival of alien ambassadors from 33 planets in 2001. That obviously never panned out, so now the Academy is basically a place for aging hippies to discuss run-of-the-mill New Age woo woo.
However, just because Unarius struck out with their E.T. predictions doesn’t mean their headquarters in El Cajon, California, isn’t worth a visit. There, you’ll find the UFO cult equivalent of Thomas Kinkade artwork and some of Norman’s most fabulously extravagant outfits—all in a building that looks like it was decorated by the Russian aristocracy of the 1980s.
9. Showboat Branson Belle
As any ironic gay man worth his salt will tell you, there’s not a happier place on earth than Branson, Missouri. While some may flock to Silver Dollar City, the delightful backwoods simulacrum that’s just barely not racist, the real fun is on the Showboat Branson Belle. If you’ve ever wanted to be trapped on a river with strangers, all while being subjected to family-friendly entertainment and what passes for fine dining in Missouri, then this is the place for you. Parties of two may be seated with other groups, so bring your boyfriend and watch good, God-fearing folks try to explain your existence to their darling children.
Las Vegas is for kitsch amateurs—everyone knows that the trashiest gambling takes place in Tunica. If you thought the oppressive heat of Nevada was bad, just wait until you’re rolling dice in Mississippi, where literally everything is categorically oppressive. Sure, there’s no
legal prostitution and you constantly feel like you’re about to stumble upon a Klan rally, but there’s not a better place on earth for a Southern queen looking for a weekend getaway to get rich quick. A word of warning, though—judging from the smell of the casinos, there’s obviously a law that says patrons must be holding a lit cigarette at all times. So, stock up on Virginia Slims beforehand.
Dollywood is a gay oasis in the Westboro Baptist Church protest that is Tennessee. While it may present an excessively sunny portrayal of old-timey Appalachian living—I’m assuming there was a lot more diphtheria and incest—gay men will gladly throw money at anything remotely associated with Dolly Parton. Whether you came of age with the “country queen” Parton of the 1970s, dreamt of being a busty secretary for a rich man a la 9 to 5, or simply cheer Dolly on because it’s your lawful obligation as a homosexual, there’s a place for all of us at the rainbow that is Dollywood.
6. Precious Moments Chapel
If you’ve ever wished that the horrors of Evangelicalism could be cross-bred with the horrors of populist art, then the Precious Moments Chapel is the place for you. The Sistine Chapel ain’t got nothing on the bug-eyed, hydrocephalic monster children that grace the ceiling of this shrine to American Jesus.
While owners had to downsize attractions in 2007 due to financial difficulties, the chapel, visitors center, and gift shop (because of course) are still open to the public. Unfortunately, “wedding island” got the axe during this purge, so your dreams of a Precious Moments-themed gay wedding are all but dashed. But let’s get real, this nonsense is in Missouri, so the chances of two dudes getting hitched on such holy ground were slim to none to begin with.
If you’re going to be in Tennessee visiting Dollywood, you might as well swing by Graceland, too. While there’s nothing particularly gay about Elvis, his home and final resting place look like an assisted living facility for the terminally homosexual. Just be wary of the shag carpeting in the jungle room—it’s been known to swallow visitors alive.
4. Mall of America
Once you finally get over the nauseating fact that the Mall of America is our most garish shrine to consumerism, you can start to appreciate the fact that it’s our most garish shrine to consumerism. From the water park, where you probably won’t catch Giardia from an obese Midwestern child, to the high-quality stores for the white and trashy, the Mall of America has everything.
Our more advanced kitsch practitioners, however, may want to ditch the MOA for the countless outlet malls that litter its periphery. Proceed with caution, though—the sight of tourists buying last year’s fashions has been known to cause spontaneous combustion in some gay men.
3. Leila's Hair Museum
Kitsch maintains a very close relationship with the grotesque, and nothing says that better than a museum full of hair—some of which is literally hundreds of years old. Not even the most impoverished of drag queens would imagine swiping locks that have been around since the Spanish-American War. If you were to let down your irony defenses even for a moment, you might actually be in awe of the history on display here. However, that’s a lot to ask when you’re surrounded by ancient weaves curated by an old Missouri woman with a face that screams, “I’ve seen some shit.”
(image via colleen_deboer)
2. Creation Museum
The Creation Museum of Petersburg, Kentucky, is the perfect ironic gay man destination for two reasons. For one, creationism is sort of the comic relief of the culture wars—if Evangelicals are screeching about Young Earth theology, that leaves them little time to screech about the evils of homosexuality.
Two, it is a confirmed science fact (by creationist standards, anyways) that ironic gays need to make fun of stuff for survival. When you’re dealing with a museum that’s all about how humans and dinosaurs co-existed, you don’t even have try to make jokes—just repeat what you hear verbatim.
1. The Holy Land Experience
The Holy Land Experience is basically a live-action, family-friendly snuff film disguised as a theme park in Orlando, Florida. That may sound excessive, but the whole place shuts down at 4:00 every day for an 85-minute (85!) reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus. No matter how tempting it may be, don’t skip out on it! The looks of confused terror from children make the whole ordeal worth it.
If you’re worried that belittling the central event of Christianity is in bad taste, keep in mind that the place is owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network—they’re not so much concerned about respecting Jesus as they are monetizing him.