Sometimes you have to acknowledge what you are and embrace it, even if part of you doesn’t like it.
I might wish I were tall and famous and a candidate for People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. You might wish you had invented Google and appeared on the cover of Forbes. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re regular schmoes from Wisconsin whose appeal has, to date, gone unrecognized by national periodicals.
What are we to do, attempt to pass ourselves as something we’re not in hopes of getting attention? I could spend my days strutting about in pantaloons, munching on baguettes and humming “La Marseillaise,” but that wouldn’t make me the king of France.
Alas, some in Wisconsin want our state to deny its nature and create a new identity in hopes of impressing others. They want to discontinue the state’s slogan — “America’s Dairyland” — and replace it with something that isn’t quite so, well, cheesy.
This fall the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce business group pushed to remove the slogan from license plates. Business leaders want the world to know there’s more to Wisconsin than cheese wedges. On this point, the organization is right: There’s also sausage, beer, Harley-Davidsons and the Green Bay Packers.
But those are just the kind of traditional — they might call them tired — images business leaders want Wisconsin to shed. They want to promote exciting things happening in the state’s economy outside the agriculture sector. They point to the Taiwanese company Foxconn’s plan to build a massive high-tech manufacturing campus near Racine with help from a $3 billion state subsidy. Perhaps our license plates should read, “Wisconsin: Taiwan’s Sugar Daddy.”
I can understand the state’s chamber of commerce wanting Wisconsin to be known for more than its dairy air. No one wants to be perceived as one-dimensional. But the reputation of the state’s cheese across the nation and around the world is a commodity to be treasured, not trashed. Any rebranding effort must take care not to throw out the cheese wedge with the whey.
Imagine Las Vegas suffering a crisis of conscience and deciding it would prefer to be known not for gambling, but for something more wholesome such as, say, crocheting. Try though it might to rebrand itself as the Crocheting Capital of the World — “What Frays in Vegas Stays in Vegas” — it wouldn’t change public perception of Sin City.
Wisconsin should count itself lucky that it has a well-established identity. Tell me what you know about Delaware. I’m waiting. Ask people in Dover what they know about Wisconsin, and they’ll mention cheese, beer, bikes and the Pack.
Business leaders don’t like that Wisconsin’s poster child is a shirtless guy holding a beer and wearing a cheese wedge on his head at Lambeau Field. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. wants to spend nearly $7 million on marketing efforts to recruit skilled young workers, forsaking our agricultural slogan because millennials prefer to live in cities. They want to draw millennials by showing Wisconsin has more to offer than farms and bars. Good luck drawing a generation of vegans with gluten allergies to the land of cheese and beer.
Everyone here wants Wisconsin’s economy to thrive, of course, and it’s important to attract and retain bright young minds. Our state has been a hub of innovation since its inception, giving the world the typewriter, stem cell research and the ice cream sundae.
This last example proves innovation and dairy products aren’t mutually exclusive. And it shows Wisconsin shouldn’t hide from its heritage. I could try to masquerade as the Sexiest Man Alive or the king of France or the Wizard of Oz, but in the end the world would learn the man behind the curtain is a Wisconsin newspaper columnist. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just like there’s nothing wrong with Wisconsin being known being known for its dairy products.
I ask, when it comes to slogans, what’s in a name? Limburger by any other name would smell like feet.