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You win, PETA: Iowa State Fair won't have Michael Jackson butter sculpture

July 20, 2009 | 11:33 am

Butter cow One of the most beloved traditions at the annual Iowa State Fair is the butter cow -- a sculpture that is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Renowned butter sculptor Norma "Duffy" Lyon started the tradition in 1960 and created life-sized butter cows (as well as celebrities, well-known fictional characters and even a butter recreation of the painting "American Gothic") for the fair until her retirement a few years ago. Even with Lyon out of the picture, the butter-sculpture tradition continues -- her apprentice took over when she retired.

Shortly after Michael Jackson's death last month, fair officials announced that the King of Pop would be the latest celebrity (like Elvis and John Wayne before him) to be commemorated with a butter sculpture. 

The idea went over like a lead balloon both with people offended by Jackson's strange lifestyle and, on the other side of the fence, with PETA. The group's executive vice president, Tracy Reiman, promptly fired off a letter to the Iowa State Fair's CEO in which she asked that Jackson's likeness not be sculpted from butter, but from a nondairy substitute instead.

The temptation of quoting from Jackson's extensive song catalog proved too much for Reiman, who closed her letter with, "Making the statue out of cruel and unhealthy dairy products is simply a 'bad' idea. In honor of Michael's concern for kids' health, please use dairy-free butter for the statue -- we're sure you'll find that you can't 'beat it.' "

In light of the public's disdain for a Jackson sculpture, the fair's organizers decided to put the issue to a vote and placed a poll on the Iowa State Fair website. From the Des Moines Register:

Conservatives and traditionalists find themselves opposed to Jackson's depiction in butter. The allegations of pedophilia and blatant bizarre behavior are simply too much for them. Then we have PETA, which often goes to the extreme left to make its point.

Both factions are likely voting as fast as they can to keep Jackson out of the exhibit. For different reasons.

When the vote ended Friday, fair officials said it wasn't even close. About 100,000 votes were cast (no word on how many individual voters that represents, since one assumes those with strong feelings may have voted multiple times in what the fair's own statement called an unscientific poll), and about 65% of them said no way to Butter Jackson.  

So, with that, PETA wins a round in the fight against dairy products. But a Jersey cow sculpture and a diorama of the 1969 moon landing will be sculpted from butter as planned, with no dairy-free spread in sight. 

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Renowned butter sculptor Norma "Duffy" Lyon, now retired, stands next to the life-size dairy cow she created for the 2003 Iowa State Fair. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

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