Fran Fest

(The following was submitted to the Jay News today in response to an announcement published on Wednesday, August 20. It may or may not be published in the News later today.

Fran Betters ran a fly fishing shop in Wilmington, NY up until a few years ago. Then he died. Fran’s friends are organizing “Fran Fest” for the second year this year to raise money for a statue they want to be erected (my double-entendre, not theirs) in the Wilmington park near the river. They’ve chosen as their logo a picture Fran had posted at the entrance to his fly fishing shop and have been fiercely defending their “right” to do so, now for the second year.)

franfestYou don’t need to be a woman to be offended by the Fran Fest logo.

Let me be clear. The organizers of Fran Fest have the right to use whatever logo they want. This isn’t about censorship. After all, the drawing reveals less flesh than what you might see on any given summer day at the Wilmington beach.

What’s offensive is the portrayal of women as being stupid, inept and helpless. What’s offensive is that it portrays women essentially as objects unsuitable for an activity as dignified as fly fishing. What it communicates, between the lines if you will, is: “You’d never want to take a woman fly fishing except if she’s curvy and gullible enough to (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) take her fishing.”

The implication is clear enough to the women who have already written with their objections. What hasn’t been said is that pictures like this make it appear that it’s ok for men (and boys trying to figure out what it means to grow into manhood) to adopt this attitude toward women. Except it’s not ok for men to assess the value of women on the basis of their capacity to be taken advantage of. It’s not healthy for men to relate to women in this way. Not for men or women.

I say again, this isn’t about censorship. The organizers of Fran Fest have the right to use whatever logo they want. But using a logo that’s implies to people who didn’t know Fran that he was a womanizing misogynist isn’t doing his cause any favors. Making a stink about people’s objections by snidely slapping “censored” over it and wearing it around town on T-shirts only makes it worse.

Before World War 2 the Indian tribes of the American Southwest used to weave blankets with swastika patterns to sell to tourists. After the war, they found that they couldn’t sell those blankets any more. It wasn’t because they weren’t beautiful. It was because they came to symbolize something hateful. It didn’t do any good for the Indians to complain that they didn’t intend the blankets to have that meaning. They had to change their marketing and use new patterns.

In the 1980’s the Johnson and Johnson Company had a logo of an old man with a flowing beard. A large segment of the fundamentalist Christian market saw the number 666 hidden in the man’s beard and stopped buying the company’s products, accusing the company of being a Satanist front. J and J didn’t intend to cause offense, but they did. Nor did it do them any good to whine about how that’s not what the company stood for. They changed their logo.

I never met Fran. The only basis I (and many others) have on which to judge the man and his memory is the image of him I get from his surviving friends. You can tell a lot about a man by the friends he keeps. It’s really up to them. So I’m asking, was he a great fly fisherman? Or was he a womanizing misogynist. You tell me.