August 15, 2013
State fairs are a great American institution. They’re so wild, so rural, so hillbilly country that one may even find a rodeo clown donning a mask of the President of the United States. That is, until now.
Over the weekend, at the Missouri State Fair, a now-unemployed rodeo clown climbed into the bull pit wearing a rubber Barack Obama mask. Yes, these are clearly crazy times, and it is safe to say that more than one buffoon has been shot dead for less.
But first, what exactly is a rodeo clown? Rodeo clowns, also known as bullfighters, are athletes employed to protect riders who get tossed from bulls during rodeo competitions. In other words, it’s incredibly dangerous work since most bulls have one goal, and that’s to gore the nearest person to death with their massive horns.
Rodeo clowns, when not running for the lives of others, also provide an increasingly rare art form, known in less-stressed circles today as comic relief. And if there is any place on earth that needs some comic relief, it’s the United States.
So now this particular rodeo clown, who is trying to raise a family by distracting agitated bulls, has lost his job for mimicking Barack Obama at a state fair. Admittedly, the bullfighter’s employment outlook took a kick in the pants when the announcer asked the predominantly white crowd if “anybody wanted to see Obama get run over by a bull.”
But it seems like a fair question since – surprise, surprise – it really wasn’t President Obama behind the rubber mask. Apparently such things need tediously explained in these days of virtual reality. Furthermore, 99 percent of Americans recently got “run over” in the parking lot of Obama’s too-big-to-fail-banker’s ball. In these days of intense fear and loathing, is not the little guy entitled to gently mock Caesar – regardless of his or her skin color – without fear of being smacked down by the establishment with unemployment? Apparently not.
Even the president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, Mark Ficken, was compelled to hang up his spurs as the political outcry over the two-minute clowning act piled up higher than horse manure in Missouri, all but comparing the performance to a criminal act.
Here is Lacy Clay, Democrat from Missouri, who practically makes the rodeo incident look like a Klu Klux Klan rally: “I am amazed that in 2013, such hatred, intolerance and disrespect towards the President of the United States could take place at the Missouri State Fair. Our fair is supposed to showcase the best of Missouri. Instead, it showed an ugly face of intolerance and ignorance to the world.”
Incidentally, the above comment regarding the Klu Klux Klan is not as far-fetched as one may think. The Daily Kos quoted one spectator, Perry Beam, a self-proclaimed country boy, who said he had never seen anything “so blatantly racist in his life,” and that the scene was like “an effigy at a Klan rally.” Having watched the video of the performance myself, I fail to see how Mr. Beam could have arrived at such a dramatic conclusion.
Not to be outdone was the NAACP, who actually called for the Secret Service to get involved: “The activities at the Missouri State Fair targeting and inciting violence against our President are serious and warrant a full review by both the Secret Service and the Justice Department,” railed Missouri State NAACP president Mary Ratliff. “Incidents involving individuals acting out with extreme violent behavior… speaks volume to the irresponsible behavior of all the parties involved with the incendiary events at the Missouri State Fair.”
And of course, the main motivation behind all of this burlesque behavior was pure, unadulterated racism.
“These racist demonstrations pose much larger questions about the state of racism in a country that has elected and reelected its first black president,” chirped Alex Wagner, a commentator with MSNBC. Wagner went on to quote an article in The Atlantic, which discussed “the fear of a black president, something that isn’t just present in the rodeo ring, but lives in the halls of Congress.”
Thus, any attempt by a Republican Congressman, for example, to check the behavior of Washington will be condemned as yet another incident of racism, as opposed to a sober reflection of the current realities.
For example, when Republican Senator Rand Paul filibustered for nearly 13 hours in July in an effort to ensure that the United States would never carry out drone attacks against Americans on American soil, could his stance be viewed as “racist.”? Yes, it could, but only by the most politically motivated individuals.
Although there have certainly been racially motivated incidences against Barack Obama in the past, it is dangerous to the spirit of democracy to demand draconian measures against tolerant, non-racist voters who simply wish to criticize – occasionally through comical methods – the President of the United States.
After all, should every individual who has a beef with Washington sound like a starched talking head from the mainstream media? Are we going to patrol all state fair grounds for clowns wearing rubber masks bearing the image of the almighty Commander-in-Chief? Has the racial divide in the United States become so wide that it precludes our natural right to criticize the president (It should not be forgotten, incidentally, that millions of white Americans support Obama’s policies, while an equal number of black Americans do not)?
Fortunately, a number of US commentators have weighed in on the subject, injecting some sanity into the world’s great institution.
“Satirizing presidents has a long tradition in America,” Kurt Nimmo wrote in infowars.com. “From cartoons and caricatures early on to Chevy Chase and Dana Carvey more recently poking fun at Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, presidents, presidential candidates and the establishment political class at large has constituted fair game for newspaper editorialists, commentators, and comedians – until now.”
Peter Roff, commenting in US News & World Report, argued that the art of political satire, where it is acceptable to laugh at our imperfect leaders, has fallen by the wayside under Obama. “From Mark Twain to Will Rodgers, from Fred Allen to Mort Sahl, Johnny Carson and Jay Leno, humorists, clowns and comedians have made taking shots at politicians their bread and butter,” Roff writes. “Until Barack Obama, that is.”
This high level of political sensitivity from increasingly diversified camps in the United States is a worrisome trend, and may eventually prove not only the futility of democracy inside of multicultural societies, it may lead to the political irrelevancy of the Democrats and Republicans – unless they can muster the courage to not only laugh at themselves, but allow others to laugh at them as well. Laughter is nothing more than the freedom of expression, and should not be treated as anything more or less. It’s a travesty that so many Americans need to be reminded of such a thing.
Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangerous consequences of runaway corporate power in the United States.