Over the Memorial Day weekend my daughter, Dot, and I took a last-minute road trip to visit some friends in Nashville. We left B’more Thursday morning and got back Sunday afternoon. Around 1300 miles, all told.
To help pass the time we invented a new travel game that I think can only be played down South: God vs. Larry Flynt. I would count the billboards with in-your-face evangelical messages and she would count the number of advertisements for lewd and prurient past-times. “JESUS SAVES!” and “HELL IS A REAL PLACE!” vs “ADULT BOOKS!” and “NOW IN – THE FLESHLIGHT!!”. Once we hit Tennessee there were at least one or two per mile. Kentucky was almost as bad good. It was close, but Dot won. And it was pretty funny, if maybe a tad depressing if you thought about it, which we didn’t.
But it got me to thinking later on: what was it about the Southern demographic that encouraged the erection construction of all this annoying signage? Is one in response to the other? A lot of the big G.O.D. signs were pretty close to the big S.E.X. signs. But I figure that the Bible Belt existed long before the advent of the Rural Porn Belt. (Or did it? Sex in the country: Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner and Daisy Dukes? ) So maybe the “Adult” signs are in response to all those obnoxious condescending Fire ‘n’ Brimstone (with lime? salt?) signs: “Stop hollern t’us like kids, dangit! I kin do what Ah wanna!” Which might mean that overly overt evangelism isn’t getting the desired result.
Or, considering all the scandalous clergy stories we’ve heard about for years forever, perhaps they’re just two sides of the same coin. Maybe Religious Fundamentalism and Sexual Licentiousness are passionately engaged in making the moral beast with two backs. The attraction of opposites, that maybe are not quite so opposite after all – just using different tools to scratch the same itch. Like Victorian prudes and those quaint black and white postcards of mustachioed men in straw boaters doing the nasty with plump ladies wearing bonnets and garter belts. Just that, in this case, it’s not going on behind closed doors anymore, but out in the great wide open
Times sure have changed, ain’t they?