Chapter 17, Minnesota Calls Me.
One night in Dallas, a man sat waiting for me in the dressing room. He was glancing at a pictorial feature in Playboy, " The Women of NPR," and as I entered, he stood and extended his hand and said, "Jimmy, I am Earl Woofner, the chairman of the Ethical Party of Minnesota. And I've come a thousand miles to say that our state needs a man like you."
My skull glittered with sweat, my pink tights were spattered with blood, and I was wearing a peacock-feather headdress, cobalt-blue shades, and a cape with six hundred flashing light bulbs. Plus, a python draped around my neck. Earl did not flinch.
He set down his briefcase and sat on a bench and looked up at me with complete sincerity. "The people of Minnesota are crying out for a champion to break the liberal choke hold and open up politics to common sense and honesty," he said. "And I am looking at him."
I took off the glasses and set down the snake.
Thus begins the political career of Jimmy "Big Boy" Valente, the hero of Garrison Keillor's political satire entitled Me, based on the life of Minnesota's governor, erstwhile radio talk show host and ex-wrestler Jesse "The Body" Ventura. Me is a good example of a contemporary publishing trend called instant books. From concept to printed copies on amazon.com, publishers crank out these volumes in a matter of weeks. They often don't last any longer in the marketplace either. In addition to, or perhaps to support the sales of, the book, Keillor has added a buffoonish character named The Governor to his cast on A Prairie Home Companion.
Apparently, Ventura made some disparaging remarks about public radio during his campaign. The gist was that the public radio stations in Minnesota had better facilities and economic stability than most commercial stations in the state, and that it might be time to re-examine the need for state government funds to support these enterprises. In fact Minnesota Public Radio and its syndication service Public Radio International are in excellent financial shape. They also created a private for-profit company called Greenspring that runs commercial radio stations and a statewide radio news service and publishes magazines. Recently, several executives of Greenspring who are also honchos at Minnesota Public Radio cashed in stock options worth millions of dollars. Garrison Keillor himself does pretty well from his production company and other business ventures, like instant books, which all stem from his career in public radio. And if his gig with Disney a few years ago had been a success, I imagine that the News from Lake Woebegone would no longer be on Saturday evenings at 5.
None of this profiteering is illegal, but it certainly makes one ponder why some of these dollars can't subsidize programming, making it more affordable for the struggling public radio stations deep in the interior. Perhaps Governor Ventura has a point.
In response to this perceived threat, Keillor resorted to parody and farce, genres at which he is adept. He treated Newt Gingrich (remember him) the same way after he called for eliminating funds for public broadcasting and the arts. But using this tactic with Governor Ventura doesn't work. You can't satirize a caricature or deprecate the self-deprecating. Unlike most politicians, Ventura takes his work but not himself seriously. That's what people like about the guy.
Instead of lampooning the governor, Keillor should invite him to appear on the show for a no-disqualification Minnesota championship mudslinging contest. Then bring him back for a super colossal Grudge Match of the Millennium. Now that would be an entertaining promotion. But I doubt that you could fit both egos in the same theater.