Outselling Jesus and the prophets for fun and profit
from the 5-23-99 Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune
I've finally figured out
this rockin' hard place. Spanish explorers left a major clue when they named
her "Snow Capped."
Nevada is indeed pure on
top but otherwise underneath. She is simultaneously Snow White and wicked
witch, both natural beauty and whited sepulchre. She stands demure and debauched,
honorable and corrupt, seductive and repulsive.
We are her codependent
cohabitants. Her cold contradictions captivate us.
If you would understand
our fickle landlady, you need look at only three qualities.
Our homeland is equal parts
cowboy myth, armorer's trust and country cousin.
THE COWBOY MYTH.
Three-quarters of our state budget comes from that federal government which
we've been carefully conditioned to hate. We remain in fact no more than
a mouthy welfare queen, biting the hand that feeds us in a pathetic attempt
This goes a long way toward
explaining our constant longing for the storybook hero who never returns
our worship. John Wayne instead forever rides toward the sunset, forsaking
our company for smelly cattle and a home on the range.
Nevada not only got her
name from the Spanish, but also lifted her central mythology from them. Their
vaquero was anglicized into the cowboy who soon morphed into the most potent
marketing tool in history behind the likes of Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed.
But they've been selling a lot longer.
None of the prophets could
make us buy cancer to burn in our mouths. But the cowboy did.
No preacher convinced people
that weapons are a solution rather than a problem. But the cowboy did.
Rather than remedy our
moral obtuseness, we assume an air of superiority and manufacture imaginary
rights to govern the wild west which never was: the right to work, to smoke,
to drive drunk, to shoot anyone on our property.
THE COUNTRY COUSIN.
We are, at bottom, uncomfortable with who we are. Down deep, we know that
we live on welfare from Washington. We are embarrassed lest anyone find
When we try to fend for
ourselves, our self-respect is immediately diminished because of the few
options available for gainful employment.
Las Vegas is so embarrassed
at living off the wages of sin that local officials have for decades promoted
the myth that the city boasts "more churches per capita than any in the
Alas, a reporter from a
London newspaper asked them to document that assertion about 10 years ago.
Hasn't hurt the myth a
bit. Gomorrah South promoters simply shortened the claim to simply "more
churches per capita."
So said LV Mayor Jan Jones
on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" during the grand opening of the
Luxor pyramid casino a few years back.
We have become so afraid
of being found out as uncultured louts that we manufacture junk art and label
it world class. You don't need to visit the real Eiffel Tower or Statue of
Liberty. We'll give you two for the price of one and throw a dry towel and
a wet girl into the package.
On the rare occasions when
our rich vicemongers acquire the real thing, they stick taxpayers with the
tab. Steve Wynn buys a Van Gogh and charges it off as educational expenses
against taxes which would otherwise go to school kids. It's just no fun without
such an angle.
As casinos pillage our
metros, mining plunders our countryside. Whether selling bodies of ore or
bodies of girls, we live with this vague uneasiness that our price is too
cheap and maybe there's something wrong with how we make our living.
Such fears are put to rest
by the soothing philosophy of the man in black. Fire for hire. Have gun,
THE ARMORER'S TRUST.
The great British playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote a splendid work entitled
"Arms and the Man." Its most interesting character is one Andrew Undershaft,
merchant of all materials military.
Arms dealer Undershaft
espoused a cold steel philosophy of doing business which he codified as the
armorer's trust: to sell his deadly wares to whomever could pay the price,
no questions asked.
The armorer makes no moral
judgments. He simply provides the product for which there is a demand.
Shaw was light years ahead
of modern marketing's versions of the idea. "Guns don't kill people. People
kill people, right?"
How about "our tobacco
company provides a legal product for adults who freely choose to smoke. What's
wrong with that?"
Nevada understandably has
spawned its own latter day Andrew Undershaft. His name is Harvey Whittemore,
the Darth Vader of vice lobbyists, the most ruthless of juice peddlers. Harvey
pimps for gambling, booze, tobacco and sundry other forms of destructive
He performs direct hits
for whomever hires him. Morality has no place on Harvey's balance sheet.
The body politic is now
so infected with Harvey's Disease that Gov. Dudley Do-Right sees no contradiction
in earmarking millions from the national tobacco settlement to go toward
college scholarships. But the cash flow depends on hooking new generations
of smokers from among the very students he intends to educate.
That may not make moral,
ethical or parental sense anywhere else. But it's merely business as usual
given the skewed sensibilities and twisted morality under which we live here
in the High Desert Outback of the American Dream.
Be well. Raise hell.
Barbano is a member of CWA Local 9413. He is a 30-year Nevadan, editor
of U-News and head of
Casinos Out of Politics
(COP). In 1998 he served as gubernatorial campaign manager for
State Senator Joe Neal, D-North Las
Since 1988 Barbwire by
Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks, Nev., Tribune, where an earlier
version of this column appeared on 5/23/99.