Time to Cut the Bull on Rodeo Clown “Insult”

August 15th, 2013

On our first date, my husband surprised me with a trip to the rodeo.  As someone who didn’t grow up in Texas, he assumed that someone like me, who did, would be incredibly thrilled with tickets to the rodeo.

We laugh about it to this day.

I grew up in a suburb of Dallas.  In Dallas, we go to nice restaurants and Cowboy games (especially back in the pre-Jerry Jones era) for entertainment.  We generally don’t go to rodeos.

So that date turned out to be the first and last rodeo I’ve ever attended.  What I remember about it is a monkey riding around a ring on a bicycle.  I also recall that most of the crowd wore really expensive cowboy hats.  That’s all I remember.  I do recall, however, the feeling I got that everyone in the audience knew exactly what to expect and what was going on.  There clearly is a rodeo culture that most of us who prefer fine dining don’t get.  That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with it.  We all just like different things.

That’s why this whole Obama and the rodeo clown brouhaha is so utterly ridiculous.  Evidently, bulls and rodeo clowns are part of the rodeo experience.  Frequently, masks of famous people are included.

Also generally common in our political culture are insults and mocking directed at our president.  Occasionally, this American political tradition and rodeo clowns come together.

That happened in 1994 when a dummy wearing a George H.W. Bush mask was ripped to shreds by a bull at a rodeo.  While it was reported in the news, no protests or calls for investigation followed.

Granted, sometimes there are complaints over presidential insults.  For example, in an episode of the HBO series Game of Thrones, a scene including what looked like the severed head of George W. Bush on a pike was ultimately pulled after complaints.  Still, that’s all that happened to my knowledge.  No one at HBO was investigated by the Secret Service or sent to the Tower of London as a result.

All presidents have taken some mocking at some point in their administrations.  Perhaps the most brutal of these was directed at Abraham Lincoln who was variously depicted as an ape, monkey, and baboon. Even his Secretary of War Edwin Stanton referred to him in these terms.

I’m not a fan of bad taste and many times these sorts of things demonstrate incredibly bad taste but to start protesting and calling for investigations of such things I believe would do more harm to freedom of speech than it should to the feelings  of elected officials who know that this sort of thing goes with the territory.

We are very unique in this regard.  Until early this year, it was against the law to insult the French President.  A French law forbade such activity but was successfully tested finally by a man arrested for carrying a sign about former French President Nicolas Sarkozy which literally translated said “break yourself off, poor jerk” (evidently it means something really nasty in French).  The French Parliament amended the law so now the French can presumably insult their president in all sorts of creative ways without fearing imprisonment.  This is considered progress.

While the French are taking strides forward, let’s hope Americans don’t take huge steps back by getting hysterical over mocking by a rodeo clown.