By Kimberleigh Forbes
Prior to moving to Mississippi, I generally thought I had no reason to visit whatsoever. I have no family ties to the state, so why would I?
I had long ago checked off Mississippi as a state that I did not have to visit. Besides, from the stories I’ve heard, I thought there was only red dirt, bugs, heat, and more red dirt. I wasn’t interested. Mississippi also has a sordid reputation of intolerance and hatred, so I really saw no reason to bother with it at all.
When my boyfriend was offered a job in Clarksdale and wanted me to move with him, I was faced with a hard decision. How could I move to a place that I have heard nothing but negative things about? I had to, at least, see for myself, before I took to the plunge into a possible abyss.
When I arrived on Mississippi soil, I was pleasantly surprised. Our first and main stop was Oxford, and I was enamored. I thought it was a delightful, little, quaint town. The Square looked like something I’ve seen in a movie depicting a small town.
The first restaurant I went to was Ajax, and I was even more enamored. The rustic décor complimented the delicious Southern fare perfectly.
Overall, my experience in Oxford was pleasant, which surprised me considering all the negative preconceptions I had. When I returned home, all my family and friends urged me not to move down to Mississippi, because they had the same misgivings I once had. Most of them had never been there, or had a very negative experience.
The information each one of my family and friends had was almost solely from the media. Even I had preconceived notions that were only eradicated once I traveled to Mississippi.
The media portrays Mississippi as this extremely rural, hot, poor, backwards place that is only beneficial for white families with old money. In almost every movie I have seen about the state, that has been the narrative. Living here three years has shown me there is more to the state than its negative reputation. Though there are some truths to these stereotypes, it is not by any means the whole story.
Mississippi is a beautiful state that has a rich culture in the arts, and is home to some of the greatest musicians, artists, and authors of our time. Living in Clarksdale, the home of the Blues, has opened my eyes to how influential the Blues has been to iconic bands like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and music in general.
The traditional Southern food that is locally-sourced and served by some of the most wonderful locally-owned restaurants is by far at the top of the list of favorite things about Mississippi.
Though Mississippi may be infamous for certain events like desegregating the University of Mississippi, few people may know how rich the state’s creative culture is. The goal for my marketing campaign would be to promote the arts as a selling point for people to visit Mississippi.
Visual art, music and food would be my primary focus. Each region has a claim to fame, and their particular strong point would be exemplified.
The medium I would use for my marketing campaign is television. Instead of a traditional commercial, I would create a reality TV show. It would feature four people – an artist, a singer/musician, a writer, and a budding chef, and it would show how the three of them are striving to make their dream a reality in the state of Mississippi.
Casting would be done at Mississippi-based colleges and universities, and they would be selected by region. The show would depict them living their everyday lives in their respective fields and the struggles and the successes of their journey.
This would offer an interesting view of the state through creatives’ eyes and would be interesting to watch. The show would be called Creative Culture. The view of Mississippi would be through a purposeful, non-traditional eye, giving a perspective of Mississippi from a much younger and diverse viewpoint.
Diversity would be pertinent in this project to get a wide spectrum of how Mississippi is viewed. Representation and perspective is important and must be represented to dispel any negative connotations Mississippi may have.
When these topics and situations inevitably come up, the hope is for the conversation to be as raw (genuine) and candid as possible. For change to occur, open and honest conversations must be had.
Though Mississippi has its traditions, a new era of understanding and creativity is replacing the past. Tolerance, peace, and acceptance is being ushered in by Mississippi’s creative culture. People are being brought together by art, food and music.
Negative stereotypes would hopefully be exchanged for favorable truths. A reality show would be a way to show the whole country why Mississippians love their home state so much – to see the beauty through their eyes.
If more time was allowed, every season would feature a completely new cast with new ventures and occupations. That way, more diversity would be introduced. If the show was successful only in certain regions, tweaks could be made to reach as many demographics as possible.
In life, perception is key. How someone judges a particular event or incident is often not solely based on fact. Generally, it is based on how that person perceives the facts. Therefore, we must change how people perceive Mississippi in order to promote it.
People are more likely to visit if they think a town is charming and whimsical than if they think it’s small and boring. The devil is in the details and this marketing campaign’s main goal is to shine light on Mississippi’s most brilliant and beautiful details and show that the state is progressive and constantly moving forward.