Lubbock, Texas is a conservative town. A very conservative town. An often irritatingly conservative town. No, it's not that all the elected officials are Republicans (they are) or that it's the most conservative city in Texas (it's not). It's more that when you read the local newspaper discussion boards, it's not at all uncommon to read angry, frustrated posts from local conservatives who are upset that we have, once again, somehow managed to conform to every awful conservative stereotype there is.
Insist on abstinence-only sex education despite near epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies? Absolutely. Arrest male strippers for gyrating in a way that frightens police officers? We've done it. Arrest lingerie-store clerks for having one too many dildos for sale? We've done it. Ban the sale of package liquor within the city limits? Up until 2008, we were the largest city outside of the Middle East to do it.
But the worst, stupidest, most moronic thing we ever did? The Windy Man.
Back in 2004, Lubbock was in the process of getting a new freeway built. The Marsha Sharp Freeway, named for the coach of the Texas Tech women's basketball team, has actually been in the planning stages for a decade or two. As part of the previous planning, local Lubbockites and the Texas Department of Transportation met to work out a design for the overpass panels of the highway and commissioned an artist named Michael Ford to create a sculpture that would decorate 20 panels.
Lots of other highways in the state have sculptures decorating their overpass panels, usually depicting something closely associated with the area. Ford, with approval and input from Lubbock citizens, decided to depict Lubbock's infamously high winds, creating a sculpture of a man with wild hair and outrageous eyebrows who was puffing up his cheeks as he blew a gale-force wind -- a classical anthropomorphication of the wind, seen on hundreds of old maps over the centuries. The sculpture was dubbed "The Windy Man."
On cue, Lubbockites got busy doing what they do best: act like fools.
Outraged letters to the editor began to pour into the local newspaper. Some complained that the whimsical sculptures would make outsiders think that Lubbock was windy -- which, of course, it is. But most protested loudly and with unceasing, near-masturbatory vigor that the Windy Man was in fact a pagan wind god and that its presence would cause God to kill us all.
Oh, wait. It gets better.
In mid-August, someone took a hammer to the sculpture and smashed most of its face off.
Well, as you might expect, the local churches said, "Oh, that's awful! No one should take the law into their own hands!" while snickering behind everyone's backs. The local cops never really investigated, because that would inevitably lead to arresting a shitload of churchies. And everyone else in Lubbock grumbled the familiar Lubbock mantra: "Why do we keep humiliating ourselves? Why do we keep humiliating ourselves?"
This entire incident leads to a number of questions, of which only a few can be asked without an over-abundance of rude language. Perhaps foremost is: Why did the good Christian people of Lubbock identify a depiction of a traditional personification of the wind as a god? And the only thing I can come up with that makes sense is that the Windy Man was a nonliving object that was given a person's face.
Of course, there are lots of nonliving objects that have been given human faces, and none of them were the object of a modern-day witch-hunt. One of the local oil-change emporiums has as a mascot a drop of oil with a happy face. A car dealership has commercials featuring a cactus who exhorts customers to come in for a used car. National advertising is filled with inanimate objects given the appearance of human consciousness, from M&Ms candies to Mayor McCheese to the Kool-Aid Man to the Scrubbing Bubbles.
So why don't Lubbock's Christians write angry letters to the editor about oil gods and hamburger gods and soap gods? If you asked them, they'd doubtless say that was silly, no one would believe that the Kool-Aid Man is supposed to represent a god of glass pitchers. So what made them believe that the Windy Man was a god of wind?
Honestly, they never really believed that. But they enjoyed running along with the howling pack of jackals. When those drunk kids bashed the sculpture with their hammers, they felt a thrill, like they had actually participated -- "We caused that! We have such power!" They went home, congratulated themselves on their godly righteousness, and thankfully, got all that petty powermongering out of their systems.
I suppose we should feel relieved that these "Christians" focused their beady-eyed gaze on the Windy Man sculptures. Otherwise, they certainly would've fixated on destroying an actual person who'd done something minor to offend them.
Reading those old letters to the editor just makes me mad. If you want to see them, go to LubbockOnline (www.lubbockonline.com), head for the archives for August 2004, and aim for the first two weeks of the month.