Sure, it seemed like an innocent mistake at the time (and Lord knows the Virginia Tourism Corporation tried to spin it that way), but the more we consider the recent "Live Passionately" ad imbroglio, the more we think that these Commonwealth-championing flacks might just be onto something.
In case you missed it, here’s how it all went down: Looking to reinvent (and hopefully reinvigorate) the stale-yet-classic "Virginia is for Lovers" motto for the Vicky Valentine generation, state tourism officials came up with a seemingly innocuous (but, like, still totally hip) catchphrase they were sure would take the nation by storm. The only problem? Well, long story short, it turns out that the accompanying "Passionate" heart-shaped hand gesture (featured prominently in all of the posters, print ads and commercials) is a well-known gang sign used by Chicago’s biggest crack-dealing criminal cartel, the Black Gangster Disciples. Whoops! Ohmigod, our faces are so red.
What’s wrong with this picture? The new Virginia tourism ad campaign originally featured a hand sign that looked strikingly—dare we say perfectly?—like the gang sign of the Black Gangster Disciples. (The offending photos have since been changed.)
Anyway, we here at The Odd Dominion laughed it off at the time, assuming that it was just another example of state-sponsored cluelessness. But having taken a survey of recent Virginia political events, we’re becoming more and more convinced that the tourism board knew exactly what it was doing. Just consider:
• In the hotly contested race for Amherst’s District 3 Board of Supervisors, someone has been taping razor blades to candidate Tim Beverly’s yard signs, and then putting them on other folk’s private property. According to the Nelson County Times, one local resident was so badly hurt while trying to yank one of these things out of the ground, he "was taken to the emergency room, where doctors spent several hours repairing his index finger." Gnarly!
• In an incident foreshadowing the recent Blackwater-contractors-killing-Iraqi-civilians unpleasantness, an employee of Triple Canopy, a Virginia-based security company, allegedly said he was "going to kill somebody today," and then went on to do just that, firing at Iraqi civilians for sport, possibly killing at least one. (Naturally, the two whistleblowers who brought their supervisor’s actions to light were subsequently fired by the unrepentant company.)
• In a classic display of gangsta-size brass cajones, Dr. Esam S. Omeish—chief of general surgery at INOVA Alexandria Hospital and prominent member of Virginia’s Commission of Immigration—allowed himself to be videotaped denouncing the "Israeli war machine" and telling a gathering of D.C.-area Muslims that "the jihad way is the way to liberate your land." In a completely unrelated development, Governor Tim Kaine has recently accepted the good doctor’s resignation from the Immigration Council.
• Finally, we have to give a very special shout-out to Virginia Representative (and Chief Deputy Republican Whip) Eric Cantor, who seems to have internalized every single word of the gangsta-blueprint bible, The 48 Laws of Power. Faced with dismal Republican fundraising and record-low poll numbers (Law 22: Transform Weakness into Power), Cantor surely must have winced when he heard conservative firebrand Rush Limbaugh call active-duty military personnel who oppose the Iraq war "phony soldiers." But did this hardcore House member retreat in the face of what was, by any standard, a completely asinine comment? No he did not! In fact, not only did Cantor defend Limbaugh’s statement (Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness), but he actually composed a fundraising letter imploring his base to "stand with Rush Limbaugh against liberal attacks" (Law 31: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal), thereby raising money on the back of an insult to U.S. soldiers. Well played, Mr. Cantor—I doubt that Machiavelli himself (or even Tupac) could have done better.