The Nose: Rodeo Clowns, Why Americans Want To Drive Less & Abolish Tipping

The Nose rounds up the week in pop culture.

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The Nose: Rodeo Clowns, Why Americans Want To Drive Less & Abolish Tipping
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The Nose: Rodeo Clowns, Why Americans Want To Drive Less & Abolish Tipping

This week a rodeo clown made news when he wore an Obama mask for a routine that straddled the line between permissible lampooning of a president and unsettling evocations of a lone black man being chased and menaced while a white crowd cheered and jeered.

How do we resolve those two strains at the moment? There's our belief in loud, lusty rebuke to people in power and our sense that some depictions of black and white kick historical tripwires and throw us back to 1861.

Also, up for discussion on the Nose today, a decline in the drivers of certain brands of cars and one resturateurs' account of getting rid of the tipping system without any unpleasnt side effects.

You can join the conversation. Email or tweet us @wnprcolin.



Email from Ray

Your show is one of the few shows on public radio I can bear to listen to. You pick interesting (if occasionally esoteric) topics, and strive to consider all aspects. (Although, come on- a whole show on urine! When's your show on feces?)
But today's show which dealt in part on the rodeo clown's quite offensive actions with the Obama mask was something else entirely. You acknowledged the whole freedom of speech issue (which seemed to disappear when you were talking about people standing around with posters of Obama wearing a Hitler moustache) and you talked about our traditionally poking fun at presidents (although, again, your panel seemed indignant at such when the subject was Bush.) The trouble was the minimal attention given to the whole racial aspects and the way it has been politicized. all in all, I had to keep checking that I was still listening to NPR; I kept thinking I had somehow shifted to the talking heads over at Faux, uh, Fox. The evident attempts to find excuses for what was a blatantly racist episode (set the whole Obama aspect aside), as well as the forced joking about the whole thing, was not up to your own standards. (Uh, I just remembered the show on urine- scratch that last comment!)

"I have found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."- Gandalf (Tolkien)

Email from Brien

Good Afternoon Colin-

I only heard parts of your show, but the parts I heard raised a number of points for me.

1- I heard a journalist from Missouri on another NPR program earlier this week. He said that there is a very strong attitude in Missouri, right now, that rodeo cowboys ridicule every president in this way, and that liberals are just being hyper-sensitive.

He further said that when he asked his callers to give example of when another president had been ridiculed in this way, no one was able to give a single example of another president being ridiculed like this. From this I would conclude that either no one on Missouri has a decent memory, or that the actions of this rodeo cowboy were outside the established norm of political skewering for that group.

2- Regarding your discussion of people demonstrating outside federal buildings, with photographs of President Obama, with a Hitler moustache drawn in, you made the point that we tolerate that type behavior in the U.S. I would agree. Clearly, if we do not protect offensive speech, then we do not protect any speech, because inoffensive speech would need no constitutional protections.

But the point should also be made that when you choose to offend people, the people you offend may not respond in a way that you do not consider to be offensive. Many years ago, my daughter was dating a boy who put a confederate flag on his car, where a front license plate would go. I told him to get it off his car, but he argued that I didn’t stand for racism, it stood for pride. He said his great grandfather fought bravely for the south. Given his age, there would have had to be several greats before his grandfather, but you get the point. I told him regardless of his opinion about what it stood for, he was going to offend people, and they were likely to respond in a way that would offend him.

A few weeks later, he parked his car in Hartford. When he returned, his back window had been smashed, nothing had been taken from his car. He asked me why someone would have singled out his car for such vandalism. I said, “Gee, I don’t know, but I would get that confederate flag plate off my car.”

3- You played a song as you were cutting to a break and I think that inadvertently, you put your finger on the reasons for the attitudes on display in Missouri. The words were something to the effect of “I would rather be a rodeo cowboy than a rhinestone cowboy in some weird tinsel town.” Isn’t that a familiar theme in country music, that the southern culture and attitudes in the “red states”, are right and anything “other” is wrong. Therefore, there will be no reasoned discussion of opinions, because they are right and anything else is “other” and therefore wrong. Clearly, a bi-racial president, who does not look like them, is “other”, therefore wrong and also an acceptable target for behaviors and statements that would not be made about someone who belongs to their group, even though they will disingenuously assert that this type of ridicule is common. Remember what the Missouri reporter said, although many people complained that this type of ridicule is common, no one could think of a single example of when it was done about any other president.

Clearly, the rodeo clown had a constitutional right to behave as he did. The rodeo just as clearly had the right to fire this employee for his offensive symbolic speech.

Email from Tricia

Very surprised that this situation where Obama is being chased and a commentator is saying gitcha gitcha gitcha in a white arena could NOT be thought of as racially offensive. I think you all are trying way too hard to be politically correct. It's sad that your focus is free speech versus how horrible that something like this is at a state fair.