After all the progress we’ve made as a nation, it’s depressingly obvious that Americans still harbor a deep-seated hatred and fear of clowns.
This shameful fact became evident in the wake of an incident at the Missouri State Fair when a rodeo clown wearing a Barack Obama mask was made the scapegoat for a national controversy. The event was captured on video by an attendee who expressed his outrage and horror after an announcer asked the enthusiastic white rural audience whether they wanted to see the clown run down by a bull.
Lost in the ensuing media outrage was the fact that it was the rodeo clown, not Barack Obama, who was risking his life in this incident.
This is because we live in an unjust world where the lives of the rich and famous are deemed far more valuable than those of the poor and unknown. It is my sincerest wish that America will one day be able to look in the mirror and do some soul-searching regarding this horrid and unacceptable inequity.
Perry Beam, who filmed the incident but did not share in the crowd’s unhinged bloodlust, saw racism in an incident that obviously reeked of rabid clown-hatred instead:
If you’re a white man in a black mask in a former slaveholding state with a broom lodged in your rectum and you’re playing with your lips, you will be confused with a racist. Had I been black, I would’ve been scared for my life.
Ahh, but you are not black, Mr. Beam. But the unspoken truth, the one that dare not speak its name in the modern mainstream media, is that neither are you a clown.
Last Monday rodeo announcer Mark Ficken, claiming he received several death threats, resigned from his post as president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboys Association. His lawyer claims that Ficken had no knowledge that the president would be mocked in such a manner, blaming the entire debacle instead on a “rogue rodeo clown” who has yet to be named.
In America, no matter who’s responsible, the clowns always seem to get blamed. There is clearly not “liberty and justice for all”—at least not if you’re a clown.
Professional rodeo clown Tuffy Gessling was originally thought to be the man behind the Obama clown mask. Instead, he offered “color commentary” from a microphone headset during the unfortunate incident with statements such as “Hey, I know I’m a clown. [Obama’s] just running around acting like one. Doesn’t know he is one.” He later made clear that “nothing racist was ever implied.”
In other words, he wasn’t insulting the clown by saying, “Hey, you’re just like Obama.” He was insulting the entire clowning community by telling the president that it’s bad to be a clown. This is naked, ugly clownism at its worst.
The Missouri State Fair Commission banned the rodeo clown for life and has made it mandatory for all future clowns to undergo sensitivity training before they ever dare mock the president or, by extension, all black people and half-black people again.
Lost in the madness was that the rodeo clown is now unemployed. His children may never grow up to be clowns themselves. There was no “sensitivity” accorded them whatsoever.
“I think that a hate crime has occurred,” said Mary Ratliff, a spokeswoman for a Missouri chapter of the NAACP. This is true, but astonishingly she said the hate crime was committed against Barack Obama rather than against the rodeo clown:
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.
Such utter disregard for the humanity and well-being of our men and women who labor behind the greasepaint is due in part to the undeniable fact that American culture is rife with hateful and disparaging stereotypes against clowns. From Bobcat Goldthwait’s alcoholic and foul-mouthed Shakes the Clown to the murderous Pennywise in Stephen King’s It to Batman’s nemesis the Joker to the violent and psychopathic “horrorcore” hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse, Americans are taught that clowns are a lazy, shiftless, and untrustworthy breed of malefactors and ne’er-do-wells.
Yes, it is true that serial killer John Wayne Gacy was a part-time children’s party clown who murdered 33 people. It’s also true that continental Europe’s most famous clown of the 19th century, Jean-Gaspard Deburau (AKA “Pierrot”), killed a young boy with one cruel blow from his walking stick.
But certainly such monsters are the exceptions rather than the rule, despite the media’s obsessive focus on the myth of the “evil clown.” For every Gacy and Pierrot, there are a thousand honest, hardworking, pure-hearted clowns who seek to bring joy and laughter to a world that often gives them nothing but scorn and fear in return.
“Coulrophobia” is the word used to describe an irrational fear of clowns, a fear that is compounded by societal prejudices that refuse to even acknowledge the word’s existence in dictionaries and medical diagnostic manuals. If you suffer from coulrophobia, you should beware that it is not an officially recognized disorder and will not even be covered under Obamacare.
Just as science has shown that infants can be racist, a study in England concluded that “clowns are universally disliked by children.” And unless such thought disorders are treated early, they can metastasize into full-blown bigotry and violence once the child reaches adulthood.
Such hatred is evident even in Sarasota, FL, the fabled “Circus Capital of the World,” which on a sane and just planet would be a safe haven for clowns, a sort of Israel for the clowning community. But in 2006 when city planners announced they were going to erect nearly six dozen life-size clown statues in the downtown area, the public outcry was nearly as ferocious as the infamous Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. One unidentified Sarasotan reportedly threatened to run over the clown statues with his car. Many of the statues wound up being vandalized.
Tragically, many clowns have internalized the hatred that society directs toward them, leading to schisms within the clowning community itself. In a recent CNN op-ed, a woman responded to the Obama rodeo clown fiasco not by admonishing society, but by scolding her comrade in clownsmanship:
As part of our training, and really the training of most clowns, we have a strict code of ethics covering such things as drinking while clowning, cleanliness and remaining in character. We take offense at the actions of the rodeo “clown” because we are strictly trained not to offend anyone while “in clown.”…Real clowns have clown hearts long before we put on makeup.
As a child attending the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Philadelphia Spectrum, I was emotionally touched by the desperately forlorn face of a “hobo” clown who resembled the legendary Emmett Kelly, Jr. His face spoke of defeat, resignation, and a thousand heartaches, recalling the etched-in-pain misery on the faces I’d seen in pictures of black sharecroppers in the racist American South. In the end, I suppose, there’s not much difference between Emmett Kelly and Emmett Till.
I, for one, am tired of seeing clowns portrayed as fools, freaks, and buffoons. They should be taken seriously, and a phrase such as “just clowning around” should be called out for the hate speech that it is. The word “bozo” should not be an insult. We should cease treating clowns as cultural “others” merely because their features and apparel are different than ours. Hiding in fear behind their self-imposed lily-white makeup and bulbous red noses, they should be treated with the same honor and respect as the transgendered. Rodeo clowns, especially, should be honored rather than mocked for doing the work that normal Americans just won’t do.
I stand before you all today to declare that I am unafraid of clowns and will do my best to fight this unjust and hurtful societal phobia.
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