Over the years we’ve covered countless controversies, but have rarely been in the middle of any of them. Now we find ourselves at least tangentially related to a minor local brouhaha, however, and are not quite sure how we stand on the matter.
As local theater-goers and regular readers of this publication might already know, every year we play a small role or two in the annual “Gridiron” show. It’s an exceedingly amateur production that has been put on the for the past 47 years by the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as a fund-raiser for journalism scholarships, and features song parodies, skits, topical humor, and enough booze to make it all seem tolerably amusing. The show regularly draws three nights of good-sized crowds to the musty old Orpheum Theater downtown, mostly well-heeled and well-connected regulars who are in on the in-jokes and have come to expect certain recurring gags.
One of the show’s longstanding traditions is making jokes about Haysville, a small community just south of Wichita. These jokes vary wildly in content and quality, but the gist of all of them is that Haysville folks aren’t so sophisticated and cosmopolitan as those of us here in the big city. For years the practice went largely unnoticed, except by the Sedgwick County Commissioner representing Haysville, whose humorous shouted responses from the audience have lately become another recurring gag, but this year several prominent Haysville residents have publicly objected to the practice. Because their angry e-mails were addressed to members of the local media, the story has wound up on the local radio and television stations as well as the daily newspaper, and by local standards it can almost be considered a kerfuffle.
Our first response was that the folks in Haysville are being rather touchy. Most of the Haysville jokes are good-natured, with our own self-effacing contributions to the genre often playing on the absurdity of Wichitans looking down on anybody, and the meaner ones have usually fallen flat. Last year a couple of Okie cousins from Luther came up to catch the show, despite our warnings that about the local humor, and they found the Haysville jokes especially funny because they were reminded of their own disparaged town just north of sophisticated and cosmopolitan Oklahoma City. Besides, Gridiron is so easily ignored that we’d say that Haysville residents have better things to worry about, but that would leave us at the risk of making yet another Haysville joke.
On the other hand, we catch enough Wichita jokes made by the bigger city folks on television to understand the resentment. The jokes have grown rather outdated, too, as the relentless expansion of the Wichita metropolitan area has turned Haysville into a rather affluent bedroom community in the south part of town rather than the isolated rural outpost of ramshackle houses that it was when the jokes started. As insensitive as we are to other people’s feelings, and despite our constitutional traditionalism, our instincts as strictly realist humorists are inclined to find a more appropriate target.
To the extent that we are concerned with Haysville feelings, we think they’d have been better off leaving the jokes unremarked. The resulting controversy has made Haysville jokes more widely known in Wichita than ever before, and no doubt spawned a few new ones. This is sometimes known as “The Streisand Effect,” so named for the widespread viewing of photographs of her palatial home that had been posted on a government web site that was little seen until her objections were widely publicized, and we’re surprised that no one in Haysville was hip to the phenomenon.
Despite our ambivalence about the matter, we’ll continue doing the show the as usual. The only reference to Haysville in any our scripts is a mention of a fictional reality show called “The Real Housewives of Haysville,” and we’ll leave it unchanged because we can’t think of any suitable alterations. The rest of the cast can do as they please, as far as we’re concerned, and we’d like to think that most of Haysville is just as tolerant.
— Bud Norman