It would be so darn funny if it weren’t so pathetically sad. Some might say that the cancellation of a humorous Wasatch Beers billboard by Reagan Outdoor Advertising had little to do with Utah politics and those who guard the status quo with religious zeal. A closer inspection of the political landscape, however, reveals that Reagan and almost every successful political powerbroker in Utah works hand-in-glove. These buttoned-down gents take one-upmanship oh-so seriously when it comes to righteous posturing.
Come election time, whose billboards are donated or sold on the cheap to politicians? After the election, who is on Capitol Hill, City Hall or the County Government Center to be repaid for getting the governor, the senate president, mayor or county official elected? It should come as no surprise that Reagan’s billboards are everywhere, including some places that required special zoning dispensations. It is simply impossible to separate Reagan from the political currents that make Utah what it is today—something that critics say closely approximates theocracy.
Enter Greg Schirf, who opened one of Utah’s first microbreweries in Park City in the ’80s. Along with the denizens of Park City and others in Utah’s counter culture—that is, anyone who is not Mormon—Schirf gets through with a sense of humor. Wasatch Beers launched its St. Provo Girl pilsner, playing off the stereotype buxom biergarten barmaid in contrast with the staunch reputation of the city of Provo. An earlier billboard asked would-be customers with tongue in cheek to “baptize their taste buds.”
All in good fun, right? Not so fast, pilgrim. The baptizing of taste buds apparently hit a nerve with some in the hierarchy of the LDS church. In a strident move, church officials blasted off an eight-page diatribe to the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control demanding, among other things, that religious symbols not be used when advertising alcoholic beverages. The DABC complied but was then caught holding secret meetings when it determined that banning religious symbols from alcohol was not all that easy when considering religions other than Mormonism. The rule was rescinded.
A vocal part of that debate was Schirf and Wasatch Beers’ latest creation, called Polygamy Porter. “Why Have Just One?” the slogan taunts. In a public meeting, Schirf asked the liquor control board if Polygamy Porter crossed the line when considering rules to disallow religious symbols in alcohol advertising. No surprise, commissioners couldn’t answer
Not to worry. There is more than one way to skin a cat—or should we say gentile—in Utah. The largest billboard company in the state says it won’t put up Wasatch Beers’ ad for Polygamy Porter. Reagan officials say it has nothing to do with criticism over the “baptize your taste buds” billboard or the fallout at the DABC in wake of the epistle form LDS authorities. It’s just in bad taste, they say.
Like many things in Utah, it’s said to be mere coincidence that Reagan did what it did. It had nothing to do with politics and nothing to do with the LDS church. It’s just the way things are.
If you’re not laughing, you’re crying.