FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture (Hopkins)
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
The following is from Vance Randolph's classic Pissing in the Snow, and other Ozark Folktales, Urbana and Chicago, University of Illinois Press, 1976 (introduction by Rayna Green and Annotations by Frank A. Hoffmann; dedicated to Gershon Legman) #69, Senator Johnson's Great Speech (pp 103-105). Randolph noted that it was told to him by H.A. Converse of Little Rock, Arkansas, in December 1949. Converse had a manuscript of the speech, but recited the entire story from memory.
One time there was a goddam Yankee moved to Arkansas, and got elected to the Legislature. The first thing he done was put in a bill to make Arkansas rhyme with Kansas, just because it is spelled that way. The Arkansawyers got pretty mad, of course, so they begun to stomp and holler. There was one old man that hollered louder than anybody else, and finally the rest of 'em quietened down to hear what he had to say.
"Mr Speaker, God damn your soul," says he, "I've been trying to get the floor for thirty minutes, but all you do is squirm around like a dog with a flea in his ass! I'm Senator Cassius F Johnson from Johnson County, where we raise men with peckers on, and the women are glad of it. Why, gentlemen, at the tender age of sixteen them girls can throw their left tit over their right shoulder, and squirt milk up their ass-hole as the occasion demands! When I was fourteen years old my prick was big as a roasting-ear, the pride and joy of the whole goddam settlement. Gentlemen, I could piss half-way across the Ouachita!"
Everybody clapped when they heard that, but the Speaker begun to holler "Out of order! Out of order!" and pound on his desk.
"You're goddam right it was out of order," says Senator Johnson, "otherwise I could have pissed clear across the son-of-a-bitch! That's the kind of folks we raise in Johnson County, gentlemen, and we ain't never been dictated to by nobody. And now comes this pusillanimous blue-bellied Yankee who wants to change the name of Arkansas! Why Mister Speaker, he compares the great state of Arkansas to Kansas! You might as well liken the noonday sun in all its glory to the feeble glow of a lightning-bug's ass, or the fragrance of an American Beauty rose to the foul quintessence of a Mexican burro's fart! Can all the power of this Assembly enlarge the puny penis of a Peruvian prince to a ponderous Pagan prick, or the tiny testicles of a Turkish tyrant to the bulky bollyz of a Roman gladiator? Change the name of Arkansas? Great God Almighty damn! No, gentlemen! Hell fire, no!"
What the God damn hell is things a-coming to, anyhow? Why, gentlemen, it's got so a man can't take down his pants for a good country shit without getting his ass full of birdshot. Change the name of Arkansas? Great God Almighty damn! You may piss on Jefferson's grave, gentlemen. You may shit down the White House steps, and use the Declaration of Independence for a corncob. You may rape the Goddess of Liberty at high noon, and wipe your tallywhacker on the Star Spangled Banner. You may do all this, gentlemen, and more. But you can't change the name of Arkansas! Not while one patriot lives to prevent such desecration! Change the name of Arkansas? Hell fire, no!"
History don't tell us what happened after that, but everybody knows the Yankee's bill was killed, dead as a whore's turd in a piss-pot. Them son-of-a-bitches up North think the whole thing was just a joke, and some of 'em claim Senator Johnson didn't make no speech at all. But every true-blooded Arkansawyer knows that Senator Cassius M. Johnson jumped into the breech that day, to save the Bear State from treason and disgrace. We ain't going to forget it, neither.
Commentary by Charles E. Schutz, excerpted from The Cryptic Humor of Political Jokes: Perhaps the most disguised humor in politics is that of dirty jokes or stories. Typically, they contain offensive sexuality and vulgar obscenities. Yet, despite their blatant comic appearances, neither disguised rape nor prurience is their hidden intent. Their taboo violation does impart a thrill of rebellion and their sexual form does seduce any audience into attentiveness, but their messages are seldom lustful. Senator Johnson's Great Speech a.k.a. "Change the Name of Arkansas?", is one of the most most horrendous examples of obscene political humor and excessive vulgarity in the annals of political humor.
The comic style of the story is in the American brag [tall tale] tradition. Its humor is in the shock of exaggeration and verbal violence by the way of the crudest of obscenities. For many people the shock overpowers the humor, but for many others the popularity of the mock speech indicates otherwise.
The extreme vulgarity of the humor is entirely fitting to the Aristophanic mode. Aristophanes spoke with comic obscenity to the Athenian democracy, because it was "popular". Yet, underneath the comic cover, he spoke to most heated issues and against the most conventional positions. Gershon Legman finds the antecedents of the Arkansan tale to be in a tradition of mock parliamentarian speeches which in turn are rooted in the liberties of the Saturnalia.10 The staging and setting of ancient Attic comedy has strong kinship to the later Roman Saturnalia, and, thus, what may offend our sense of propriety, historically has religious origins.
Then, is there a comic agon here, and does it confront some political issue? First, the speech does offer combat, and one dear to its popular audience (and most Americans). Though the name-changing proposal is but a symbolic fiction, the enemy (antagonist) is outsiders, or a "Yankee," standing in for national government, and seeking to curtail local freedom ("we ain't never been dictated to by nobody"). Ironically, the braggart is the ironist, for in the American tradition the comical brag is not a bullying assertion of power and status, but a humorous and indirect challenge to it. In the speech the authority of outsiders and central government is mute and invisible. Yet, they clearly are the villains. Their offenses and threat remain tangible to any American audience, and, especially, Southerners.
Finally, the logic of the comic agon is liberty. The teller of the story concedes implicitly that the speech is "just a joke," but emphasizes its serious purpose - "save the Bear State from treason and disgrace." The mock speech is, then, a comical cover, arguing for liberty and against alien, dictatorial government. Of course, its obscene vulgarity captures its audience, but its hidden message proclaims a free "manliness" against encroaching government.
The gross exaggeration of this comic agon is ironical. Irony can be indirect and deceptive. As exaggeration, its humor here lies in over-emphasizing one thing, not to highlight it, but to pinpoint something else by association with it. In the mock speech the legislative bill and the pronounciation of Arkansas are straw men, but they are belabored with pretended rage. Yet, the indignation is worded to attach to real targets. The fun of the feint is heightened by an emotional leap of the audience to the aggression on the common enemy government.