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The Ozark Culture Wars

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Eureka!,” Archimedes cried after stepping into the bath — “I have found it!” The ancient Greek scholar was not referring to a fellow bather’s perfect scrotum but rather to his own observation that the bathwater had risen in direct proportion to the mass that had just been inserted into it, namely Archimedes.

This discovery may strike the modern reader as a colossal letdown, the equivalent of shouting “Eureka!” upon finding a can of Del Monte green beans on an A&P shelf. But cut Archimedes some slack: nobody had figured it out before. The “Eureka!” moment’s importance lies in the fact that from that point on, curious minds could precisely determine the volume of an irregularly shaped object by submerging it in water and measuring the water level’s consequent rise.

Cut to: Exterior: Eureka Springs, Arkansas — the present day. According to the New York Times, the Guardian, and other fine publications near you, Eureka Springs — which sounds like the setting of a Frank Capra movie — is in an unholy uproar as its LGBT and Angry Christian communities collide. Both groups claim pride of place in this quaint Victorian-era town. “We found it!” “We found it first!” “We live here!” “You’re going to hell!” You see the problem.

Media Circus

Eureka Springs — population 2,100 — has been an actively welcoming destination and hometown for gay folks since the ‘70s, when freethinking ex-hippies moved in. The gay ones swiftly began restoring and redecorating the place, of course, and before long the 19th-century spa resort had become a colorful LGBT Mecca smack dab in the middle of the Bible Belt.

Christ of the Ozarks, a 65-feet-tall statue of Jesus erected by a white supremacist in 1966, stands in torn Eureka Springs as well. The ginormous Lord is the work of the sculptor Emmet Sullivan, who is equally revered for his work at nearby Dinosaur World. The white supremacist, Gerald L.K. Smith, also built a 4,100-seat amphitheater designed primarily as the home of “The Great Passion Play,” an annual hillbilly rendition of the Oberammergau, Germany classic (the latter of which, rather like “Brigadoon,” appears only once every 10 years, but unlike “Brigadoon,” tells the story of Jesus’ last days before and including his crucifixion).

Civil war was inevitable. “The Great Passion Play” is tanking commerce-wise, and the Angry Christians blame us. Add to the lousy box office the recent passage of a local anti-bigotry law that protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, and municipal services, and Eureka Springs has ended up resembling Gettysburg just before the slaughter. A ballot measure to repeal the law is scheduled for May 12.

“Dot,” a commenter on John Paul Brammer’s excellent coverage of the fracas on Blue Nation Review, expressed her view thus: “Every person has rights, but not the right to take away others rights. Children should NOT have to the sharing rest rooms with people of the other sex.” Our bizarre national fixation on toilets is truly boundless. And Dot might consider taking a brush-up course in English.

Dot’s elimination worries stem at least in part from a most vile ad in what my father would call the Eureka Springs Gazatzky (a catch-all term for any local newspaper): “If you think tourists are going to be excited about even the possibility that their wives, daughters and girlfriends will be sharing a bathroom with a guy who decides he’s ‘transgender’ just to have a little fun (or worse) at the ladies’ expense, you don’t know tourists and you don’t know sex offenders.” That the putative sex offenders would also be tourists didn’t occur to anyone connected to the ad.

What the Angry Christians are most concerned about, though, is the steep decline in attendance at “The Great Passion Play,” which runs from May through October — a fall-off they attribute to the thriving LGBT tourist trade. The flood of gay dollars into the coffers of Eureka Springs queers and queer-friendly allies supposedly frightens away hoards of Angry Christians along with their money. The play was close to bankruptcy when the Reverend Randall Christy bought it in 2012. Business hasn’t picked up. Christy faults the town’s reputation for acceptance. As the Times’ Richard Fausset writes, Christy thinks that his fellow fundies “have become more reluctant to visit Eureka Springs because of efforts to promote the town as the ‘Gay Capital of the Ozarks.’” Being the Gay Capital of the Ozarks strikes me as the very model of a pyrrhic victory, but that is neither here nor there.

Christy’s critics point out that he didn’t take the sound business advice that was offered to him: book Christian rock groups in the amphitheater along with “The Great Passion Play” — groups that would have attracted thousands of young people to Eureka Springs just as they have at other venues. Nobody seems to have considered the Oberammergau solution: run the show only one out of every 10 years. The strategy has paid off well for Oberammergau, where the show has been running since 1634. That’s even longer than “Cats.”

So, in the end, it turns out to be Mammon of the Ozarks who’s to blame for the Angry Christians’ hateful spews. And personally, I don’t see why a preacher’s dumb business model should abrogate my ravenous desire to use a Eureka Springs ladies’ room. Get your fat ass outa that stall, Dot! I gotta pee so bad my weenus hurts.

When you long for John Wayne saying “He is truly the son of Gahd”: What the Angry Christians should be railing about is the appalling “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” NBC’s blasphemously bad sequel to the History Channel’s hit miniseries “The Bible.” Mark Burnett, who so loved the world that he gave us “Survivor,” co-produced both.

Everything is so, so wrong with “A.D.,” from the inane English accents apparently meant to suggest both Latin and Aramaic to Jesus’ religious use of Crest 3D Whitestrips. There is no attempt at historical accuracy. Mary is clad in the classical blue get-up that dates from the Byzantine era, 500 years after the film is set. And where in the New Testament is it written that an earthquake hit Jerusalem at the very moment of Jesus’ death? Or that the disciples used Molotov cocktails to bust their way out of town to get to Galilee? “A.D.” has so many idiotic action sequences that it should be called “Fast and Furious Resurrecti­on.”

“A.D.” makes a mockery of Christianity. It’s an impious fiasco. Where is the Angry Christian outrage? It’s all directed at gay people in a tiny town in Arkansas.

Follow @EdSikov on Twitter.

Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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