Oh, Tennessee

I often get the sense that Tennessee, Texas, and Florida are locked in a never-ending war to decide which of the three is the craziest state in the union. Granted, Florida wins most of the battles, but Tennessee and Texas get in a lot of really good shots. I think Tennessee may have just landed a doozy.

Before I tell you what it is, let me give you a little background. As you probably know, the governors of most of the states got together to talk about education and came up what they call the Common Core curriculum. Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Haslam, was one of the more enthusiastic supporters of Common Core, but the state’s extremely conservative state legislature rejected it as giving too much control over local school districts to the federal government.

In order to consolidate their victory, conservatives (particularly local Tea Party groups) began recruiting and running anti-Common Core candidates for local school boards, many of whom were already on those boards and happy to take Tea Party money for their reelection campaigns. One such candidate was Mark Gregory, a member of the Williamson County school board (I’m from Williamson County) since ’04, who is now staunchly anti-Common Core (though he and his fellow candidates were loath to admit this during the election without being asked direct questions). Gregory won reelection, and the now anti-Common Core-dominated school board elected him to be their new chairman.

Just ordinary politics in 2014, right? Nothing to see here? I would have thought so until I realized that Gregory was the co-inventor, and until 2012 at least, the co-owner of the ButtleOpener. What is a ButtleOpener, you ask? It is a bottle opening contraption shaped like a life-sized female buttocks wearing pink underwear. You open bottles by shoving them up… well, you get the point.

So, Williamson County’s school board is chaired by a man who invented a product so unbelievably sexist that I’m not even going to post a photo of it here (though you can see one at the link above, if you really want to). Even NASCAR, which is generally not shy with its sexism, refused to allow Gregory to be a sponsor. For the most part, it appears that Williamson County voters don’t care though, and he doesn’t appear to have any plans to step down.

So score one for Tennessee. You’re on notice, Texas and Florida: a man who put a bottle opener inside a replica of a woman’s ass is a school board chairman. What you got?

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101 thoughts on “Oh, Tennessee

  1. There is a certain sort of beauty in the craziness of it all. It reads like something from the Confederacy of Dunces or a similar comic novel in real life. Mark Gregory is a person that most people only meet in fiction.

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  2. LMFAO!

    I don’t know that I would call that an invention, per se, since all it does is repackage an existing technology in a unique & completely offensive way.

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    • Is it “completely offensive” (or, per the OP, “unbelievably sexist”)?

      I mean, yeah, it’s crass and silly and I wouldn’t particularly want to own one or use one, but is it really that different from Truck Nutz, or this horrifyingly-realistic NSFW backpack, or a hypothetical similar bottle opener shaped like a man’s rear end, that the bar puts out on Ladies’ Night (or on Bear Night) for their patrons’ use?

      One of my most prized knick-knacks for a long time was a set of salt-and-pepper shakers that I found while cleaning out my great-aunt’s possessions after she died. The shakers were housed in a small ceramic reclining bikini-clad woman; the removable shakers themselves were the woman’s ta-ta’s.

      The fact that this ridiculous, slightly-naughty product A.) existed at all, and B.) was owned, and kept, by my prim and very religious great-aunt tickled me no end.

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  3. The head — he might have lost last election though — of the Texas State School board for the past two decades has been a Creationist Dentist from Bryan, Texas.

    He’s responsible for determining the school books used in Texas, and because Texas is such a big state, and makes monolithic purchases for it’s schools, what goes in Texas pretty much is what’s available for the other 49 states.

    Things I’ve recently seen the State School board do: Try to remove critical thinking from the curriculum because “It’s already taught in second grade, why are you wasting time on it over and over?”. Seriously, that’s a thing that happened. (Critical thinking, for those who aren’t up on education parlance, is the skill of ‘taking what you’ve read or learned, and figuring out how it applies’. Or, more commonly, ‘a basic skill required for adulthood’).

    I’m glad I’m not in education, because reading about the idiocy that goes on in there would drive me out of the profession. Why bother? It’s like having your hospital medical board half made-up of anti-vaxxers and Christian Scientists.

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    • Yeah, I used to pal around with one of the guys who’s dedicated much of his life to fighting the creationists in the Texas State School Board. That is where Perry has likely done more damage than anywhere else (except maybe the environment) during his tenure.

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      • We had a similar issue with the local school board for a period of about 10 years. A local evangelical church basically tried to take it over, and managed to just under half the seats and hold them for a number of years. Since they never actually accomplished anything, other than make school board meetings ridiculously long and unpleasant, they hung around.

        The church finally gave up after getting some REALLY nasty local press about the election they ran against the Chair of the schoolboard, complete with claims he wanted to teach 7 year olds masturbation. The church distributed flyers full of “literature” against the guy — flyers that were copied from some anti-Clinton (or anti-Clinton appointee) stuff that was making the fever swamp rounds in the mid-90s.

        None of them had kids in the district (the ones that had school age kids sent them to a church school). It was just…ugly, and has left a really lasting impression about religion meddling in public education…and politics.

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      • To rekindle an old fight, many other countries seek to protect the school system from politics by bureaucraticizing its’ operation as much as possible to give education an immunity from people trying to push an agenda.

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      • I am going to agree with the good(ish) professor here. A lot of liberal blow back against people like Matt Y and Ezra Klein is explicitly because of their technocracy.

        There are also plenty of liberals who dislike the Common Core, dislike Michelle Rhee and other alleged reformers for sending liberal ideals and goals down the river for a corporatist agenda and I am one of them.

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    • I surprised some non-profit group or philanthropist (Bill Gates) hasn’t killed the K-12 textbook industry yet. Certainly history is a bit of a moving target and can have regional interests, but the rest of the material shouldn’t change much from year to year. It seems some sort of “open-source” textbooks could be developed. I would think it would have world-wide application. You could even make them modular, based on discrete subject areas instead of hefty tomes put together by some arbitrary grade level standards.

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  4. You know how I can always tell when I’m in the bible belt? Enormous porn emporia outside of towns out on the interstate as well as billboards for strip clubs like Southern Xposure.

    I haven’t figured out yet whether it’s a response to religious repression, entrenched misogyny, or they haven’t figured out that new-fangled internet thing. Probably some combination of all-of-the-above.

    I imagine many folks there consider this a great advance. “I used to ask my old lady to open my bottles. But thanks to the Buttleopener my beer no longer tastes like ass and the wife’s hemorrhoids are clearing up!”

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  5. Denver is currently going through an issue where one of the people on the JEfferson school board wants to teach an expurgated version of history, specifically, one where civil disobedience is not celebrated.

    It’s mind-boggling.

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  6. 1) I’m not getting why the ButtleOpener is unbelievably sexist and not just unbelievably tacky. If a school board member – male or female – had a prior business relationship with the Hooters restaurant chain, would that make their board membership equally untenable?

    2) I’m not getting why a prior business relationship with no bearing on the ongoing nationwide curricula fights in public education brings up so much discussion of those ongoing nationwide curricula fights. I could understand if Gregory’s business had something to do with the charter school movement, the home school movement, or just conservative or neo-liberal politics in general, but this particular business does not seem to have an interest in nor is trying to influence the magnitude and direction of public education.

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    • I certainly see it as a product meant to troll and shock upper-middle class polite liberals like me. The same goes for things like TruckNutz. It is about tribal identification. Also a sign to stay away from people if they like such a product in an not ironic manner. I’d also describe it as vulgar

      That being said, I think there is some cognitive dissonance going on. At least in my mind. A buttleopener does not seem like a socially conservative product and the Tea Party is still pretty socially conservative.

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      • Considering the story about Glyph’s aunt, my comment is a bit harsh.

        Though I have a theory that the Confederate flag is now the universal sign of rural, white, working class rebellion against bourgeoise values because they know it offends liberals. My proof of this is that my Canadian friends tell me it is not uncommon to see the Stars and Bars in rural Canada.

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      • Not necessarily.

        That being said, statistics show that there is far less divorce and teenage pregnancy and pregnancy outside of marriage in blue states over red states and perhaps this is something Social Conservatives could learn from.

        My general observational experience is that upper-middle class liberals generally do have the conservative and stable family structures that the Social Conservatives hold up as ideals and blame liberals for destroying.

        Agreed

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      • I tend to agree with you Conservatives signal their membership in the tribe by insulting or trolling liberals.

        I recently read a piece supporting network neutrality written by someone who identifies conservative. Every other paragraph contains an insult to liberals. If you edit all those out, he makes pretty much the exact same argument in favor of net neutrality that I would make.

        And yeah, the thought that this would offend liberals is very definitely a plus for stuff like the Buttle Opener. They are getting their Rebel on.

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    • If you can convince me that objectifying women in this way is not extremely sexist, I’ll update the post. As it is, I’m pretty sure that using women’s asses as bottle openers, and displaying them at bars or in your kitchen or wherever, is almost cartoonishly sexist.

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      • Saul, honestly? Not very much. I don’t think the vast majority of conservative folks are sitting around thinking how they can freak out liberals. That’s not necessarily true of the ones who spend a lot of time on the internet, but your average, everyday conservative? Doesn’t care at all what you think, so long as your candidates don’t win elections.

        I think this was a couple of guys sitting around joking about opening bottles with a woman’s ass cheeks, and then thinking, “Hey, I bet people’d pay money for that.”

        Also, I don’t take the lesson of this case to be that conservatives are bad. I take it to be something more like, if you put a premium on ideological purity, or at least toeing the party line, you’re going to have to care less about things like character and integrity, or sleaziness.

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      • If you can convince me that objectifying women in this way is not extremely sexist,

        Maybe we need some commonly-agreed-upon definitions of ‘objectifying’ and ‘sexist’. Let me ask some questions and see if we get there.

        Is a penis bong sexist too? (It’s easy to google image search).

        Why, or why not?

        Does it depend on who originally blew (heh) the glass, and/or who the bong was marketed to, and/or who bought it/used it/displayed it?

        using women’s asses as bottle openers

        They are “crude representations of women’s asses”, not “women’s asses”. There is a difference, and it’s the crucial difference at the heart of all representational art (and, per some recent threads, jokes too), no matter how crude or silly.

        (Also: Sir Mix-A-Lot and Nicki Minaj are preparing lawsuits, demanding a cut of this product’s revenue, even as we speak.)

        Anyway, I think it’s possible to point out the absurdity and silliness of the overall situation (and it is deeply silly) without making it into any more than that. Butts are kinda silly, across many cultures. It would be equally ridiculous if the guy had made his fortune in Whoopee cushions, and farts are equal-opportunity lowbrow humor.

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      • Is a penis bong sexist too?

        If there were a history of objectification and sexualization that results in treating men as less than women, it would be. In our culture? No, not really. The ass is sexist in a way that the penis isn’t because it exists, and was created by, a sexist culture.

        They are “crude representations of women’s asses”, not “women’s asses”. There is a difference, and it’s the crucial difference at the heart of all representational art (and, per some recent threads, jokes too), no matter how crude or silly.

        Granted. I was mostly talking about how I imagine the conversation went (according to one of the articles, they came up with this idea on a bar napkin).

        Sir Mix-A-Lot’s song has been criticized as sexist pretty much from the day it was released, and to be fair, it was pretty sexist. I admit I like the song. I admit that when it comes to hip hop, I like a lot of older songs that are pretty sexist. This often makes me uncomfortable, and I’m still working out how to think about it.

        Minaj’s song, and more, her video, has sparked a great deal of discussion about race and gender that I’ve found really interesting. Things definitely get complicated when you have women celebrating their bodies, and celebrating features of them that not too long ago most people wanted to change (“Does my ass look fat in this?” is now a question seeking a “yes” answer rather than a “no”). I’m sure plenty of men have watched it and seen the women as sexual objects and nothing more, though.

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      • – weirdly enough I was looking up
        Wrexx-n-Effect lyrics the other day (I wasn’t sure if I was zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zooming in the boom-boom, or the poom-poom. Turns out it was both).

        Man, that song was even dirtier than I thought it was.

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    • I think it would raise eyebrows but not as much.

      This is one of those times when it seems worse but I can’t vocalize exactly why. I probably would feel a bit of cognitive dissonance about a Hooters owner being a conservative Republican as well. Libertarian I can understand but not a GOP member. Then again perhaps I am looking for too much consistency in the world.

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      • Lots of conservatives have complained that liberals do not know how to have a good time since at least the early 1990s. Many of them are rather libertine or hedonistic in their personal lives and do not see any contradiction between their lifestyle and conservatism.

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      • Jaybird, the theocons do hold many prominent positions in the GOP and the Republicans have spent several decades catering to them so I’m not really sure why you think there is much confusion about this. American conservatives decided that their public face and rank and file will be the theocons.

        Its also possible to live a libertine life and be a theocon because hypocriscy is popular.

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      • “American conservatives decided that their public face and rank and file will be the theocons.”

        The rank and file for the conservative movement are the theocons, but the public face of the conservative movement are the talkers on radio and the internet, and selected politicians that pass a litmus test and say the right things. Actual theocons, like Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, and Mike Huckabee, always have their national ambitions held in check by the money wing of the conservative movement.

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      • I’m not really sure why you think there is much confusion about this.

        There isn’t enough confusion, is what I’m complaining about. Theocons are not the only kind of conservatives. When they push to argue that their Scotsman is the Only True Scotsman, they’re committing a fallacy that I wish fewer people would commit with them.

        And I say this as a conservative libertine.

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    • If he’d been the owner of a Hooter’s Franchise, I would question whether his views on women and girls are problematic for someone who has to oversee the education of thousands of them (particularly given the persistence of sexism within the education system).

      Creating a product like this, or creating the Hooter’s corporation, pretty much leaves me no doubt me his views of women and girls are unacceptable for someone in that position.

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  7. This is more of an aside, but I’m not sure I think that the best label for the guy who invented this is “inventor.”

    I mean, I’m sure that he says “Hey, I invented this!,” and everyone else says, “Hey, that guy invented this!” So I get that it’s the right word technically. But still…

    It’s like calling the guy who decided to put an unnaturally busty and thin waisted silhouette on a mud flap an inventor.

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  8. To quote Stephen Lynch:
    “I’ve seen rocky mountains and great lakes
    Stood beneath a redwood tree
    But wherever I go my heart aches
    For a place called Tennessee

    Oh it’s a place where dueling banjos play
    And the mountain folk run free
    Where all the children can spell KKK
    But cannot spell Tennessee

    Oh come with me
    Where every cheek is filled with chew
    And no one’s ever seen a Jew
    Oh I wanna be
    Where the hotdogs are deep fried
    That’s the reason Elvis died
    In Tennessee”

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