Saturday, May 8, 2010

I Make Fun of State Quarters: Bears Took Over Alaska

By one depiction, Alaska is a black hole of civilization (even if there's a few months where the sun never goes down, but then again light gets sucked into a black hole). By this logic, those guys who came up with the term "Seward's Folly" to describe the decision of Lincoln's Secretary of State to by an enormous chunk of land from Russia on the cheap were right. Not so much because they thought it would be a "hostage territory" vulnerable to foreign invasion (though the Japanese still fought pretty damn hard for a few fragments of the Aleutians during World War II) but because $7.2 million seemed like a lot of money for a desolate swath of tundra and ice. So from the scattered reports that have escaped from the wasteland, it appears Alaska is critically short on women, locked in a losing war with the fearsome moose, packed with kooky politicians who think the Internet is made of tubes and Democrats are embarking on a mission of pulling the plug on old people, and uncomfortably mixing a reliance on alcohol with the greatest ratio of pilot's licenses in the nation.

The other interpretation is that Alaska is a terrific place with some of the best natural beauty in the country. Seward's purchase gave the nation a new tallest mountain, as well as a plethora of amazing forests and rivers and wildlife. And residents came up with the crazy-but-fun-sounding ideas of an epic sled dog race and a bloodying scramble up the shale-littered slope of a mountain. Not to mention all that oil and timber that comes out of the deal.

So grinding all of those traits in a blender yields this:

"And the number one threat to America..."

Alaska was one of the last states to enter the Union and, correspondingly, one of the last states to get a quarter in the program. Designed by Charles Vickers and released on August 23, 2008, the quarter quite simply depicts a huge friggin' grizzly bear snagging a salmon from an isolated river. The only other features to point out are the inscription "The Great Land" (referencing the fact that Alaska could crush much of the continental U.S. if dropped on it) and the North Star, hidden off to the side of "1959" and likely a reference to the magnetic colorstorms that are nicely visible in the state.

There might be some hidden references to other aspects of Alaskan life here, such as the hint of a tree on the shore referencing forestry and/or the natural beauty of the state. And the fact that bears have either massacred all of the residents and taken over the state, or at least ousted all human fishermen and monopolized the salmon market.

They took our jobs! But they're so cute...

It's a little tough to take on the Alaska state quarter. While searching around, I discovered that the crew over at Rifftrax deemed it the most awesome state quarter of the whole bunch. This duo made up the meat of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and in their final showdown they gave Alaska the coveted title over Wisconsin, despite their strong ties to the state from childhood and university studies. It would be a little difficult to match these wits in a battle to mock state quarters, so I'll just sum up that they felt the Alaska quarter was legitimately awesome while the cheese and cow of the Wisconsin quarter were only awesome in an ironic way.

And then there's this:

Governor Palin unveils Alaska's two-bit competitor of the AK-47

With the release of quarters once again corresponding to important events, the Alaska quarter went into circulation only six days before John McCain announced that Sarah Palin would be his running mate in the 2008 presidential election. And if you didn't like the bear design, you can at least be glad that the schedule wasn't tweaked to have the quarter released a year later. If that was the case, the GOP probably would have clamored to have Palin smiling beneath the banner reading, "You betcha!"

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