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Free Your Bark, and Your Bite Will Follow

Big Butts, Big Brains, and Santa Barbara’s Ever-Exploding Theater Boom


THE BIG BOW-WOW: When history finally sorts everything out, it will discover that George Clinton, the intergalactic and ecstatically deranged P-Funkmeister, was not just a brilliant musician, but also a spiritual leader on par with Moses and scientific pioneer to rival Einstein. As a guide to human behavior for those entwined in their mortal coil, his central formulation  ​— ​“Free your mind, and your ass will follow” (or was that the other way around?) ​— ​is the equivalent of the Ten Commandments balled up into just one. And as an equation of scientific reality, it’s as elegantly profound as E=mc² any day of the week.

Angry Poodle

I say this because scientists at Harvard and the University of Utah are now figuring out that the muscular architecture of the human ass ​— ​the gluteus maximus ​— ​is what gave rise to our hyperactive big brains and what we like to call human intelligence. The gluteus maximus, it turns out, is the single biggest and most powerful muscle in the human body. It’s what puts the “ox” in buttocks and the unique bowling-ball bulge to our backsides. As early as 1835, a scientist named Cuvier concluded that the single most distinctive morphological difference between humans and apes lay in the shapes of our asses. Naturally, it would be a Frenchman who noticed. Postulating that form follows function, Cuvier surmised that the gluteus maximus somehow allowed humans to walk upright ​— ​as opposed to dragging their knuckles ​— ​and the rest, as they say, is history. Fast forward to just a few years ago when Harvard anthropologist Daniel Lieberman teamed up with Utah scientist David Carrier, who together tried to figure out why it was that pigs made such lousy runners. In deciphering that puzzle, they stumbled onto some new information vital to our understanding of human evolution.

Before Cuvier and Lieberman, most of us had been indoctrinated that humans were distinct among all apes in that we had what scientists call “opposable thumbs.” Because of this, only humans have the physical capacity to snap their fingers, not to mention make tools. Lieberman and Carrier have since figured out that finger snapping may be cool, daddy-o, but big butts are much better. The hyper-muscular gluteus maximus, they discovered, is only marginally involved in standing upright or walking. But where it really kicks ass ​— ​sorry, couldn’t resist ​— ​is long-distance running. And that ability, scientists are now beginning to believe, is what’s driven human evolution for the past 2 million years. Early humans ​— ​because they sweat through their skin ​— ​can run almost forever. Although furry animals are invariably faster, they have to stop now and again to give off heat by panting. This allows the humans to catch up. For about 1.5 million years, proto-humans simply ran their animal prey to death, a practice known in anthropological circles as “persistence hunting.” This, in turn, expanded the human diet from mere roots, tubers, and grub worms to rich proteins slathered with animal fats, a dietary revolution essential to the growth and development of our enlarged brains and all the sublime grief and amazing mischief that comes with higher intelligence.

I mention this because I’m struck by S.B.’s frenzied focus on creating new, better, and bigger theater seats. Every time I turn around, someone is opening a new theater. Or fixing up an old one. And all with cushier, more comfortable seats. All this is no doubt very cool. But where, I wonder, are all the new and improved asses to fill them? And what kind of shows will draw them? This past weekend, the newly renovated New Vic put on its first play, and by all accounts, it was bomb-ass. Likewise, the new and improved ​— ​if slightly smaller ​— ​Lobero just concluded its state-of-the-art renovation. No longer will women patrons have to wait three hours to use the bathrooms there; there will be two bars serving both soft and hard liquor, which I am told patrons will be allowed to take to their seats. Hey, the Lobero could get a little rowdy. According to my soggy-napkin calculations, downtown S.B. has nearly 10,000 theater seats. That includes the Arlington’s but none of the other movie theaters’. And in the past few years, we’ve spent nearly $100 million on theater renovation and expansion. That does not include the gobs of dough shelled out transforming the S.B. Bowl into a modern-day Stonehenge.

And we ain’t hardly done. The school district, it turns out, has $3.5 million in bond money set aside to transform the amazing theater at La Cumbre Junior High School ​— ​1,100 seats ​— ​into an even more amazing performance space. And already the La Cumbre Foundation is out beating the bushes to raise about $250,000 in private donations to give the campus an inviting facelift so that passersby will want to stop and see the show. This is part and parcel of a semi-coherent master plan now congealing among disparate parties all conspiring to give Santa Barbara’s long-neglected Westside a cultural center of gravity around which commerce and neighborhood pride can thrive. And how could anyone possibly argue with that? As a Westside resident, it would be very cool. But I would also suggest that Bohnett Park ​— ​the only park serving the whole Westside ​— ​desperately needs some well-intentioned philanthropists to cover the cost of installing high-end AstroTurf. The park’s less-than-regulation soccer field gets such intense action that no amount of resodding can possibly do the trick.

With all the focus on the infrastructure, sometimes programming gets lost in the shuffle. Ashland has its Shakespeare Festival, Santa Fe has its opera, and Newport has jazz. Aside from the three-ring circus of our film festival, Santa Barbara has yet to develop a signature event. With our vast constellation of new ’n’ improved venues, it’s high time we put our minds to that task. When we do, we can flip Mr. P-Funk’s cozmic equation on its head and write ​— ​preferably under the city seal ​— ​“Free your mind, and your ass will follow.”

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