Waiting for a Punchline: Llama-Crossing, Viral Dress-Watching, and Kansas Being Kansas

Why did the llamas cross the road? a) To get farther away from Kansas; b) they saw Arpaio coming and they didn’t have their papers; c) they wanted to know what color the dress was REALLY…

Listen, Kansas. I know it takes some doing, a real concerted group effort, to be the most backward, most ignorant, most intentionally obtuse state in the union right now, but I’m telling you—IT’S NOT A CONTEST. At least, it’s not one we want to win.

Yesterday’s newsfeed was filled with llamas, dresses, and unfathomable depths of ignorance exhibited by my state legislators. There is a riddle there, I’m sure of it. Some shared cosmic truth of these three elements that is both hilarious and deeply telling of the human experience. But for the life of me, I can’t draw the connection right now.

But when it comes to my state’s politics, I find myself—a fairly recent transplant—looking around like, am I in a reality show right now? If so, I want to know who is producing this dramedy, who is the brunt of the joke, and when will we get the punchline? My other home states of Kentucky and Arizona are starting to sound evolved and enlightened—lands of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, Sheriff Joe and Jan Brewer—they’re all starting to look PRETTY GOOD right about now. And that is saying something.

In case you are blessed to live in another state of the union and have missed out on the recent shenanigans of Kansas legislators…Take a break from the llama drama and the blue/gold dress fiasco for five minutes and I’ll get you up to speed.

Governor Brownback rescinded protections for LGBT state employees. As in, it WAS illegal to fire somebody for being gay…but he felt that the government offices were starting to look a little too fabulous, so he overrode that pesky law. Now, your livelihood is at stake if somebody higher up than you decides you are not quite gender-normative. And the state continues to fight marriage equality—even though the Supreme Court has ruled the ban unconstitutional and told everyone to move the f*** on already. But we’ve talked about all this before.

Meanwhile, I don’t know where they get money to pay lawyers and lobbyists for all this cave man stuff… Because Brownback’s tax cuts (for the wealthy, of course) have left the state in a financial crisis that cannot be compared to anything else we’ve witnessed…although we’re calling the city of Detroit for a loan, if that tells you anything. The only way they’ve found to make up the difference is to cut education. The existing, already-in-place budget for this year. I guess nothing says we’re moving forward like cutting teacher benefits, eliminating art and music, and maybe going to a 4-day school week. Unless it’s

BURNING BOOKS! Or at least criminalize them, like Senator Pilcher-Cook wants to do.

Also, while we’re taking an ax to our children’s education… Let’s open the door for frivolous lawsuits so that PARENTS CAN SUE TEACHERS if they don’t like what’s being taught in the classroom. This new legislation allows for litigation if a teacher presents material that is ‘controversial’ or inappropriate. Nobody knows what that means or what it might look like… But I have a sinking feeling that, for many Kansans, things like history, science, and Martin Luther King day are going to be deeply ‘controversial.’ To say nothing of sex education.

And while we’re going around not protecting teachers’ free speech or the civil liberties of gay people, DON’T WORRY— it is still ok for anybody, anywhere, any time to carry a *%&#&@^@*#/>++ firearm in this state. Concealed. Without a permit. Because freedom.

I’m pretty sure there’s some scary stuff going on with de-regulating environmental protections too, but at some point, I have to stop reading the news because I can’t even. We’re already going to be poor, uneducated, segregated and probably shot, eventually—if we’ve got to drink poisoned water and breathe toxic fumes in the meantime, I’m not sure I even want to know about it.

Where’s the punchline? I’m ready to know who the joke is on, and why it’s funny. Because, at this very moment, I am not laughing.

Here’s the truly maddening thing—write the guys in charge and you get back this really excellent form letter that says, basically, “We appreciate your opinion. Kansans like you make this a swell state to live in! [Don’t end a sentence with a preposition, geniuses. Did you go to school in Kansas?] But listen, we are the voice of the masses. We’re just giving the people what they want: which is terrible schools, lots of guns, no gays, and filthy water. So that’s what we’ll give them. God bless America, bye.”

Listen. The voters they’re talking about won by a very narrow margin, and were mostly single issue voters. Tell them you’re for ‘protecting marriage’ and not raising taxes, and they’re in. To exploit their deepest fears and prejudices; demolish their schools; steal their retirement benefits (oh yeah, I forgot about that one); and compromise the land on which they earn their living; is criminal. Nobody voted for that—at least not any kind of majority— and it’s time to make it stop.

I keep hoping that the punchline will appear: some higher truth to bring order, or at least comedic symmetry, to the mounting chaos.

If you want to ‘do’ something while you’re waiting to get the joke, then write those letters, folks. I know you’ll get back the standard reply forms that make you want to club a politician with a baby seal (or something) but don’t give up. Organize groups of like-minded people and ask for meetings with your representatives. Ask hard questions in multiple circles. Don’t sequester yourself—listen, this is hard— gather for a purpose, but don’t cut yourselves off from people who aren’t your people. That’s how ‘they’ get so much dangerous power. While we sit here in these little encampments of ideology and party-driven soundbites, celebrating how right we are, our leaders are pushing through harmful measures that further divide. They make us all a little less human; a lot more stupid; and about as un-funny as anything we’ve ever seen.

What do the llamas, the dress, and the Kansas House all have in common? a)they are all huge wastes of time, but you can’t stop watching; b) they are all allowed to conceal carry in Kansas; c)they are all pretty hilarious, but you don’t know exactly why.

I’ve got a million of them. None of them are especially funny, but I’m one to keep telling a joke until it makes it sense. Sometimes that’s the only way to make meaning when the world has lost its mind. I’m still waiting for the punchline… In the meantime, I’ll be over here writing until something changes; trying to make it funny, trying to say what’s true.

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