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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, November 11, 2016

All a snake really needs is good PR




“Snakes, since the beginning of time, have accumulated a bad public image.” Thus begins Pete Ivey’s column, “Around the Old Well,” written in June 1975 for North Carolina newspapers. The title and subtitle go straight to the meat of the matter: “A Snake’s Not Evil – Snakes Need P/R Campaign to Improve Image.”

I worked for Ivey at the UNC News Bureau in 1975. He was the bureau chief. I ran the mail room and proofread copy, including the column on snakes. Which, obviously, I never forgot. I admired his writing. It made me want to be a columnist.

Ivey notes that the author of Genesis “pictured the serpent as the evil guy, the devil in the form of the wriggly crawling thing who tempted Eve and got her to coax Adam to eat the Garden of Eden’s forbidden fruit, possibly a green persimmon.” (Known as “Persimmon Pete,” Ivey circulated many a recipe featuring his favorite fruit.)

“Ever since,” the column continues, “the snake has been maligned. Stepped upon. Hit with rocks. Cut in half with hatchets and scissors. Shot. Considered the epitome of villainous stealthiness and double-crossing despicability.” The man could turn a phrase.

“The image of the snake as mean is unjustified. The snake is one of the most unwicked of varmints, and something ought to be done about it.” This was the only time I ever saw the word unwicked. But, in context, it works like a charm.

“What the snake needs is a comprehensive, all-out, multimedia, Madison Avenue-type campaign to let the public know the cobra, the rattler, the moccasin, the python, the adder, and the garter snake are good citizens; nice, helpful to their mothers; kind to their offspring; taxpayers; law-abiding; church-going; and public-spirited.”

To any reader who is thinking, “How prophetic this Ivey fellow was!” – you are not alone.

“Show me a snake that is sinful,” Ivey continues, “and I’ll show you a reptile that is put upon and has had to battle to save his skin – in self-defense.”

He proceeds to list “remedies that, if properly launched in newspapers, radio, television, magazines, billboards, skywriting airplanes and junk mail, will serve to make the snake a hero.”

First, he calls for “new myths – fables that will make Sam Snake as popular and loveable as Peter Rabbit. Just have Sam do things that assist mankind, like saving a child from drowning or bringing brandy to snowbound widows and orphans.”

Second, Ivey suggests media interviews to prove that the snake is superior to the dog (it has no fleas, for instance) and, therefore, really is “man’s best friend.”

Ivey would have the legislature declare the copperhead the state animal. He would “cite the medical usefulness of snakes”; harp on the medical profession’s symbol of a snake “crawling up the staff of Aesculapius”; and praise the rattlesnake “for minding his own business and … giving warning before he strikes.”

He would “give a snake an honorary degree,” proclaim a National Snake Week, “spread good rumors about serpents” in a whispering campaign, “organize a professional association of reptiles,” and, last but not least, “erect a statue to the snake … in the courthouse square, and see if anybody salutes.”

Ivey died in November 1975, while recuperating from a heart attack. He was 62.