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 at self-respect.

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 out.

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 country."

Alas, a reporter from a London newspaper asked them to document that assertion about 10 years ago. They couldn't.

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, will travel.

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 greed.

He performs direct hits for whomever hires him. Morality has no place on Harvey's balance sheet. Sin sells.

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.


Andrew Barbano

Andrew 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 Vegas.
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.

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