Between the Lines — Big beef over parade float is disappointing

David Lias

David Lias

By David Lias

Is it possible to love beef, dislike PETA, and enjoy the music of Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, all at the same time?

I think so. Wouldn’t be surprised if there are millions of people across the country who feel the same way.

That’s why the news that began over a week ago in South Dakota and soon spread across the country is so disappointing.

There are so many media to choose from (practically every major print and electronic news organization picked up this story) but for the beginning of this tale of woe, I’ll share portions of a Nov. 13 Associated Press report picked up by CBS News and spread nationally:

“Some South Dakota farmers and ranchers are upset by the selection of singer-guitarist Joan Jett, a vegetarian and animal rights advocate, to perform on the state’s float in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts are scheduled to appear at the annual event in New York City, riding on the float that promotes South Dakota tourism and the Mount Rushmore National Memorial located in the Black Hills.

South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association President Cory Eich, who farms and ranches near Canova in eastern South Dakota, said Wednesday he thinks it was a mistake to select Jett because she is a supporter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which promotes a vegetarian diet and criticizes livestock production practices. Her stands don’t mesh with South Dakota, a state where the cattle industry makes up a huge part of the economy, he said. The Rapid City Journal first reported some South Dakota residents were upset with the pick.

“To me, it seems like a huge blunder,” Eich said. “I guess I couldn’t disapprove more. I don’t understand what they were thinking.”

It didn’t take long for this story to have more sizzle than a 3-inch thick T-bone on a backyard grill during the Fourth of July. A sampling of headlines:

“Joan Jett booted from Macy’s tourism float over ranchers’ complaints about her animal rights advocacy” – The NY Daily News

“Joan Jett kicked off of Macy’s South Dakota float at Thanksgiving Day parade” – Fox News

“Meat-Loving Ranchers Protest Joan Jett’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Performance” – Digital Music News

“Joan Jett Kicked Off Thanksgiving Day Parade Float Because She’s A Vegetarian” – The Huffington Post

To say she was “booted” or “kicked off” the float may be an overstatement. The solution to this “problem” came from Jett herself. Realizing she was not welcome on the South Dakota float following our cattlemen’s tantrum, she decided to simply step away and perform on a different float in the parade.

“I’ve decided to switch from South Dakota to another float because people’s political agendas were getting in the way of what should be a purely entertainment driven event,” Jett said in a statement Saturday. “I will remain focused on entertaining the millions of people watching, who will be celebrating a great American tradition.”

A noteworthy response following this kerfuffle comes from Cory Heidelberger, who writes about South Dakota political issues in his blog, “The Madville Times.” He contends that South Dakotans, with the help of the South Dakota Department of Tourism, could do much to restore our public image after our cattlemen’s public relations bungle by pointing out that our state offers a bit of something for everyone.

He presents our state tourism department this script for a video to help point out that not all South Dakotans are as hardheaded as recent news stories indicate:

“[Scene opens, two nice people sitting at picnic table, eating burgers.]

[Close-up left: TOBY KEITH, in a straw hat, sleeves torn off his checked shirt, wrapping a big handle-bar mustache around a thick Angus burger, dripping with cheese, BBQ sauce, the works. Heck, put a fried egg on top. Big noisy chewing and groans of gustatory ecstasy. Beef Check-off button clearly visible on cowboy hat.]

[Close-up right: JOAN JETT, in standard fem-punk regalia, denim jacket with sleeves torn off, wrapping sensual lips around massive soy burger, sprouts raining out from under the bun, similar dripping, similar ecstatic noises. South Dakota Soybean pin clearly visible on collar.]

JETT [looks at Keith, enunciates around big burger bite]: Hey, what’re you eatin’?

KEITH: Angus burger! 100 percent pure beef! Yeehaw!

JETT: Real meat?! [makes suitable expression of distaste]

KEITH: Yeah! What-choo eatin’?

JETT: Soy burger! 100 percent soybeans! Yeah!” [makes rocker hand gesture]

KEITH: Soy? [makes suitable expression of distaste] Where’s that come from?

JETT: South Dakota.

KEITH: South Dakota?!

JETT: Yeah, South Dakota. Where’s your burger come from?

KEITH: South Dakota.

JETT: Really?!

KEITH: Yeah. South Dakota.

[JETT and KEITH realize oneness, exchange conciliatory gazes.]

[Enter DUSTY JOHNSON (the governor’s chief of staff) and DENNIS DAUGAARD, in aprons and really big chef hats. DUSTY struggles in, dwarfed under the weight of two trays, one heaped with soy burgers, one heaped with Angus burgers. DENNIS carries two spatulas, to keep meat from touching soy.)

DAUGAARD [with biggest goofy farm-boy grin he can muster]: Who wants another burger?

ALL [to camera]: South Dakota!

DAUGAARD: Something for everybody!

[KEITH and JETT each take one more enormous bite.]

VOICEOVER: Paid for by the South Dakota Stockgrowers and the South Dakota Soybean Association.

[FADE to black.]”

There would be no need to produce such a video if our state’s cattlemen would have simply kept their cool. The eventual outcome of their protests – the removal of Jett – the same musician who performed, without a whimper or complaint from anyone, at the Sioux Falls Ribfest in 2006 – likely will have no effect on the nation’s dining habits.

Millions of people will view the South Dakota Tourism float as the Macy’s Parade is televised nationally on Thanksgiving morning. Let’s pretend nothing has changed in the course of the past two weeks. Let’s pretend some members of our state’s ag industry hadn’t acted childish, and Jett will be performing on the South Dakota float. The result?

No one, by viewing Joan Jett perform, would suddenly lose the urge to dine on turkey, or ham, or beef later that day.

This remains a ridiculous non-controversy.

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