Why can’t Canton be our caper?

By Kevin Wilson

I don’t know if I should call them Cantonians or Cantonese. No matter. Whatever they’re called, they aren’t getting the joke.

For the last month, Comedy Central fake news commentator Stephen Colbert has been mocking cities named Canton across the country. It started when Colbert mentioned that John McCain was campaigning in Canton.

“And not the crappy Canton in Georgia,” Colbert said. “I’m talking about Canton, Ohio.”

After Georgia residents were angered and threatened Colbert in news reports, he apologized and said he meant to disparage Canton, Kan. Then Kansas residents got upset, so he apologized and called Canton, S.D. “North Dakota’s dirty ashtray.”

Soon, he moved on to Canton, Texas. City Manager Andy McCuistion countered that people worldwide say, “Canton? Yeah, I know where that is. It’s where that big flea market is.”

The biggest result so far is free publicity every time Colbert disparages a Canton, as its residents act completely shocked. I’m sure the same drama will play out in Minnesota, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York and North Carolina, where Cantons have not yet become a punchline.

It’s understandable to be upset when some big entertainment conglomerate disparages your city. The new Kevin Costner movie “Swing Vote” has left some eastern New Mexico residents feeling slighted since the story takes place in a town called Texico, despite movie crews not spending a dime in the New Mexico border town. In other news, “Swing Vote” moviegoers left feeling shortchanged because they spent $8 to watch “Swing Vote.”

My take is, why be slighted? Take advantage. New Mexicans can stand up with one voice and tell Colbert, “Come to our Canton. There’s REALLY nothing here.”

All we do is take a town in our area, perhaps a ghost town, and rename it Canton. The people at Comedy Central might be so flattered they couldn’t resist filming an episode or two in our new Canton.

Would anybody miss a ghost town like Massey in Curry County or Painter in Roosevelt County when “The Colbert Report” films from Canton, N.M.? That could be worth the gross receipts tax of a small conference.

And renaming cities isn’t unprecedented. When I was growing up in Montana, residents of the tiny town of Ismay renamed their city Joe, and its residents got treated to a Kansas City trip to watch quarterback Joe Montana in a Chiefs game. New Mexico’s Hot Springs became Truth or Consequences to promote a 1950s radio program.

Heck, even old New York was once New Amsterdam. Why they changed it, I can’t say for sure, but I’ve heard people just liked it better that way.

I figure we’ve got a three-week window to work. The show is in repeats this week, and will be busy with the Democratic and Republican conventions the following two weeks.

Maybe it would work, maybe not. It’s my hope that someday, people across the country will say, “Canton? Yeah, I know where that is. It’s where a bunch of New Mexicans recognized a joke and took advantage.”

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Freedom New Mexico. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313 or by e-mail:

kevin_wilson@link.freedom.com