Flag and Country Bumpkins

My parents were the sort of folks, God bless them, who taught me that it is not very polite to poke a sharp stick into the eye of a handicapped person, unless of course you are jabbing a farmer or one of his kin.

Dad, a suspicious, big-city greaser, didn't just think that most lunch-bucket-head farmers were hillbilly-willful about marrying their cousins (though he thought that was obviously the case). He also believed them louts, people whose inflamed-prostate meanness kept alive those quaint rural customs of screwing your neighbors in business deals and hosing half to death any town dweller unlucky enough to find himself in the outback.

We are talking about farmers today because the cartel of bib-overalled cotton growers, orchard pickers and wheat threshers who control the local water and electric utility--the Salt River Project--has decided to try to dictate what appears at the Phoenix Art Museum.

Several hundred World War II-era vets staged a demonstration Sunday at the museum, demanding that the show "Old Glory: The American Flag in Contemporary Art" be taken down. A handful of the protesters--and you have to see these people up close and listen to them fulminating about lesbian conspiracies to fully appreciate the diversity of the human gene pool--dismantled specific pieces of art in the exhibit.

Curators appeared, at first glance, to be so intimidated by the political atmosphere in Phoenix that they let these Iwo Jima yokels repeatedly violate the museum's own art. The museum's administrators don't want trouble.

Well, I do.
It's a fine how-do-you-do when the cultural elite in Phoenix is mau-maued by a bunch of old goats who should have been swept off the plaza with snake shot the first time they reached out to desecrate a piece of art.

And I blame the farmers for this atmosphere. They sent the clear message to the museum that the local establishment would squat down with the butt-ignorant Boogie Woogie Bugle Boys From Company B who are opposing the flag exhibit.

The crop of bucolics at SRP doesn't much like the current show about the American flag. Too controversial. Too disrespectful. So the farmers have yanked funding the museum was counting on and rebuffed requests to underwrite other events.

Against the advice of the normal people who actually operate SRP, the board of directors representing these farmers announced on April 12 that it was pulling the plug on $29,000 in potential arts funding to express irritation with the flag exhibit.

With that funding cut, SRP's farmers, who control an enterprise that churns $1.4 billion annually, lit the torches for the shiftless cretins who want to burn down the museum.

Next thing you knew, the Dial Corporation, a Fortune 500 company, through the person of honcho John Teets, was dissing the exhibit.

Teets, who at the age of 62 still tries to impress women by lifting weights, is fond of blathering to the press about his relationship with Jesus Christ. That any newspaper would give this wavy-haired salami the time of day is testimony enough to the state of civic leadership in Phoenix.

Once the corporate farmers and the business executives chewed through the museum curator's hamstrings, the political hyenas closed in for the organ meat.

Senator John McCain, our former POW, condemned the exhibit . . . and weren't we all surprised. Politicians with war wounds never miss a media opportunity to bind their scar tissue in Old Glory, as if the flag only belonged to pilots who bombed the Vietnamese and not to those Americans who were part of the antiwar movement.

Presidential hopeful Bob Dole, like the always-annoyed senior citizen that he is, attacked the artwork without having seen it.

Even patriotic draft dodgers like Newt Gingrich went off on the exhibit, saying it ought to be torn down--and, no, he didn't need to look at the show, either, to know it was degenerate.

Like a fat boy with a mouthful of Reddi Wip, Newt was intoxicated with the taste of his own saccharine-coated slops. He liked it so much he went back for seconds; after denouncing the museum once in Washington, D.C., he blathered about it again here in Phoenix on Friday.

Not that Arizona residents needed politicians to get them riled up. They were already a-ridin' and a-ropin'.

The peasants with pitchforks, as Patrick Buchanan has so charmingly described the know-nothing rabble that voted for him, began massing in town squares to protest the exhibit. Military veterans, mostly older gentlemen who have tiny peaches for heads and are so withered they look like hairless Shar-peis in funny little Legionnaire caps, were joined by meth-peddling bikers. Together, they found common ground by demonstrating at the museum against the show.

It could have been an outtake from a John Mellencamp music video.
I loved all of the yelling and marching back and forth. It made you proud to see Arizonans screaming about something other than whether we ought to be hanging Mexicans who slip across the border.

What I didn't much like was the sleazy, hardball blackmail the farmers at Salt River Project pulled. We ought to have this argument about the flag among ourselves, without a pack of farmers trying to choke off the museum's windpipe. What kind of punk move is that?

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