Joe Arpaio's Bread and Circuses on Blast in Randy Murray's The Joe Show
Randy Murray Productions "It's amazing what I say and what I do and what I get away with," says Arpaio in The Joe Show
Most places in the United States are not dominated by a single personality. Sure, in Washington, President Obama's every movement is news, and in New York, it's Gotham's mayor who garners the most media time.
Yet here, in the nation's sixth-biggest city and fourth-biggest county, not a week goes by that we are not told -- usually more than once -- that Sheriff Joe Arpaio bestrides Maricopa County like a two-bit colossus with a bad haircut.
I'm reminded of Arpaio's media dominance whenever I visit Los Angeles, which has a pantheon of movie stars to worship and couldn't care less whether, on any given day, any of its public servants drop dead in their morning oatmeal.
But once you return to Maricopa County, the incessant drumbeat of Arpaio's name begins again, and it's nearly impossible to escape.
Directly or indirectly, you will know what stunts Arpaio pulled, what new outrage he's responsible for.
And you ignore him at your peril.
For while he's raiding a chicken farm with Steven Seagal or declaring Obama's birth certificate a fraud, he's also misspending more than $100 million of taxpayer funds, racially profiling a third of our residents, and ensuring that his jails are places where pre-trial detainees -- presumed innocent under our judicial system -- die horrific deaths at the hands of detention officers or fellow inmates.
How a power-abusing scoundrel such as Arpaio turned the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office into a 20-year-plus reign of self-aggrandizement is the subject of a new documentary, aptly named The Joe Show, which will have its world première on Wednesday, February 26, at the Sedona International Film Festival.
The work of Phoenix-based director/producer Randy Murray of Randy Murray Productions, the film has been eight years in the making and features behind-the-scenes glimpses into Arpaio and top flack Lisa Allen's cartoonish manipulations of the media.
These include a humdinger from 2005, when the MCSO moved hundreds of inmates to a new jail, handcuffed together and stripped to their Arpaio-mandated pink underwear, as TV cameras gobbled up the spectacle.
"I want you to look tough," Allen advises Joe before the prisoners in pink flip-flops march past. "Just stand there and watch 'em. Tap your foot."
The stunt works like a charm, attracting national attention, with Arpaio's giving a phone interview to right-wing Fox News host Sean Hannity and, afterward, confiding to the filmmakers how easy it all was.
"I knew, Lisa knew, the minute we put these guys in the pink underwear, that will be what goes on the air," Arpaio says. "Do you really think that no one is going to show these guys in their pink underwear?"
And so it goes, from Tent City and all-female chain gangs to "Inmate Idol" talent competitions and posse members' doing dragnets for a lost pet ostrich in Cave Creek.
With prisoners in stripes as extras, Allen and Arpaio offer journalists pre-packaged, ready-for-TV tales, for which the sheriff is rewarded with more name recognition than God.
At one point, Arpaio proudly shows off a room adjacent to his office where he keeps bankers boxes filled with newspaper clippings and shelves lined with videos of his TV appearances.
That such stardom assists in Arpaio's re-election efforts is a no-brainer. Arpaio becomes "the world's most famous sheriff" and "America's toughest sheriff."
One of the documentary's talking heads, famed broadcaster Larry King, comments on Arpaio's ubiquity.
"Who do I think of when I think of 'sheriff'?" King asks. "I think of Gunsmoke and him."
All this branding and image-pimping is prologue to a hypothetical question posed by Allen.