Lawrence attracted national and world attention this week not for the excellence of numerous academic programs at Kansas University, not for programming at the Dole Institute of Politics, not for the nationally ranked KU basketball team, Haskell Indian Nations University, the unique and successful Lawrence Community Shelter or for many other assets of the community.
Rather it was recognized for the celebration of the “William S. Burroughs: Creative Observer” exhibit and the series of events marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the maverick, beat writer, who made Lawrence his home from 1982 until his death in 1997.
John Waters, a high-profile and provocative filmmaker and writer, was the featured attraction of the 100th anniversary party. Waters has been described over the years as the “pope of trash,” the duke of dirt,” the “prince of puke” and the “sultan of sleaze.”
In an interview with a Journal-World reporter, Waters described Lawrence as “an oasis in Kansas where crazies come to hide.”
Chances are, a large number of these Lawrence crazies were thrilled to have Waters in town, and it’s likely crazies from around the state and other states made an effort to be in Lawrence for the sold-out Water’s keynote presentation. Maybe the celebration will encourage more crazies to make Lawrence their home.
Years ago, Lawrence developed a reputation of being one of the most difficult cities in the U.S. for a new business to get started. This reputation caused numerous executives, site development teams, etc., to bypass Lawrence when considering and judging cities for the location of a new store or plant.
It has taken city leaders years to try to dispel this reputation, but it continues to be a serious handicap for the city to overcome. Reputations, justified or not, last for years.
Likewise, years ago, Lawrence residents enjoyed promoting KU as “Harvard on the Kaw.” Deserved or not, that label sent a message of the academic excellence sought by the university, students, proud parents of students, taxpayers, state legislators and the residents of Lawrence.
Now, the city is being tagged as an “oasis in Kansas where crazies come to hide.”
What kind of message or reputation does this deliver? Of course, it is important to remember the source of this description.
Does such a label encourage parents to send their sons and daughters to Lawrence and KU to receive their education? What does it say to major retailers who study the demographics of a city when deciding whether to invest in one city or another?
Does a title or reputation of being an “oasis in Kansas where crazies come to hide” help Lawrence or the university?
Would those at KU charged with the responsibility of recruiting promising faculty members and researchers at other schools think Lawrence being an oasis for crazies is a strong selling point for the city and KU?
How about Kansas legislators who already are put off by what they consider an elitist attitude on Mount Oread? Would more crazies make Lawrence more attractive and deserving of increased fiscal support?
How about the battle between KU and Kansas State for the state’s brightest high school students? Would the presence of more crazies make Lawrence more attractive than Manhattan in the eyes of students and parents? Would Lawrence be a better city in which to work, live, play and raise children if we had more crazies? Would it help upgrade the city’s school system, city government or law enforcement?
Lawrence already is known as the most liberal city in Kansas. Would more crazies make it better or worse?
The demographics of Lawrence present a diversified quilt of talents and interests, probably not too different from those in many other university cities of similar size. Who is to say what is the right or best balance or what gives a community the best chance of growing in excellence and opportunity?
Another question: What is a “crazy”? Could it be that the more crazies a city has, particularly the kind who are trying to “hide”, the better and more attractive that city is?
In the eyes of some, the Burroughs celebration was good and well deserved, giving Lawrence a positive boost in the art world. Others ask why celebrate the life, morals, beliefs and actions of a character such as Burroughs?
What does it do to the image of Lawrence to be known or referred to as “an oasis in Kansas where crazies come to hide”?