J. KARL MILLER: Reaction to rodeo clown performance blew incident out of proportion

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Hopefully, the brouhaha over the rodeo clown performance at the Missouri State Fair has faded sufficiently into the background that honest, objective and serious discussion is possible. The initial overreaction has been far more embarrassing than the act itself.

It is not at all difficult to understand the massive avalanche of criticism erupting over the clown's impersonation of President Barack Obama. When one considers the number of television and radio channels devoted to news and adds the instant reaction capability of Twitter, texting and Facebook, under-informed opinions flow like flood waters.

And, as it is well advertised that negative criticism out-polls objectivity and common sense by large margins, it is not at all surprising that the initial responses were far over the top. That the president was the subject of the lampoon explains some of the vitriol; however, making sport of presidents has never been off limits.

A few questions are in order —the answers may prove a necessary point.

First, was the portrayal the president by a rodeo clown a stunt of sophomoric and slapstick proportions? The answer, obviously, is yes. But, is that not what clowns do as entertainment?

Next, was it offensive and in poor taste? Obviously it offended some — not everyone has identical tastes in entertainment nor the same sense of humor. It was also well-received by the those in attendance — people don't go to rodeos for political correctness or indoctrination — they go to have fun, and the business of clowns is to make people laugh.

Lastly, was the stunt intentionally offensive and accompanied by preplanned racial overtones? In reality, that question fails to dignify a response — the very notion that the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association would risk its reputation and, with intent, embarrass the Missouri State Fair Commission is absurd.

Consequently, for The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch to cry racism, for the Missouri Chapter of the NAACP to call for United States Justice Department and Secret Service investigations, for Missouri congressional and state legislators (Republicans as well as Democrats) to feign outrage and for Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri NAACP chapter to declare the act a "hate crime" are sheer nonsense.

Equally ludicrous are the State Fair Commission's permanent ban of the rodeo clown and the edict to the Rodeo Cowboy Association that the association and future clowns would not be permitted to perform without proof of undergoing "sensitivity training."

The first presidential clown/Halloween mask I remember was of Richard Nixon. Every president who followed has been lampooned as well and, more often than not, portrayed in negative context. Perhaps there were those who were offended by the masks and by the activities, but they never made the six or 10 o'clock news.

As Parade Boss of the local Salute to Veterans Memorial Day Parade, on at least two occasions I disallowed an individual in a Clinton mask to participate. However, that was because the parade purpose was to honor veterans rather than lampoon a sitting president.

The real tragedy seen here is the knee-jerk race baiting that has completely blown the whole episode out of context. Equally tragic is the resurgence of assigning racial overtones to any incident involving people of color — whether by misunderstanding or with malice aforethought.

Looking back a few years, it appears we have forgotten or unlearned the lessons so cleverly taught by two popular situation comedies. From 1971 to 1979 television's "All in the Family" and its 1975 to 1985 spin off, "The Jeffersons" — two caricatures of the utter silliness of racism and ignorant stereotyping of racial attitudes — not only entertained but also educated.

The creative talents of the writers and producers of those two shows in derisive but humorous mocking of the attitudes of Archie Bunker (Carroll O'Connor) and George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) enabled us, collectively, to laugh together rather than at one another.

Finally, the playing of the "race card" whether for political advantage, for profit or through habit degrades us all. You do President Obama a disservice with the ill advised faux-racist attempts at martyrdom, he can slay his own dragons.

J. Karl Miller is a retired colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps.

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Tony Black August 21, 2013 | 7:42 a.m.

Karl, I would agree up to the point they played with his lips. Only one reason to play with a black mans lips and it ain't comedy. Otherwise, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

(Report Comment)
stephen Kightlinger August 21, 2013 | 4:52 p.m.

I would suggest that devoting 881 words to the issue of proportionality in responding to this story is, well, out of proportion to the issue. And for all the hullabaloo over this brouhaha, I'm mystified as to why nobody comments on the relative sagacity and decorum exhibited by the bull at this event. It is nice to see some know how to act.

(Report Comment)
Skip Yates August 21, 2013 | 4:52 p.m.

If this had been a caricature of a white President, Clinton or Bush, you'd never read anything aboout it. That the Democratic Party and the President of the United States are playing the race card in most every oppertunity they get is shameful and damaging to our society as a whole. But then, they don't care if it generates votes.

(Report Comment)
Tony Black August 21, 2013 | 5:12 p.m.

Skip, would they have played with the lips on the Clinton or Bush caricature? As I said before, there is only one reason to play with a black mans lips and you know it.

(Report Comment)
J Karl Miller August 21, 2013 | 6:55 p.m.

Mr Knighlinger:
You actually took the time to count the words? Simply amazing.

(Report Comment)
stephen Kightlinger August 21, 2013 | 8:10 p.m.

Oh, Mr. Miller, I can't count to save my life. I just copy and paste into Word. Voila. It tells you. Took only 7.25 seconds.
Still, 881 words (even good ones like "brouhaha") seems to me to be a lot of words to tell people they have every right to be mad - but not too mad.
Also, isn't raising this whole thing again kind of getting out of the realm of rodeos and into the beating of dead horses?

(Report Comment)

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