The curious case of the rodeo clown
Since when did we get so uptight that simply wearing an Obama mask warranted the sack?
Last weekend, at the Missouri State Fair, rodeo clown Tuffy Gessling (employed to protect riders who get tossed from bulls in rodeo competitions) donned an Obama mask. Things got ugly – ugly even without involvement of the bull — when the announcer asked the predominantly white crowd if ‘anybody wanted to see Obama get run over by a bull’.
A bit of a politically charged question to be raised at a rodeo, but nothing save a little jest and nothing out of the sphere of our freedom of speech, right? Wrong. This display caused an uproar at the Fair, with the masked rodeo clown losing his job and the president of the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association resigning.
One spectator, Perry Beam, said he had never seen anything ‘so blatantly racist in his life’, even comparing it to a Ku Klux Klan rally and claiming his mixed-race family felt threatened.
And the hyperbole goes further; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) declared ‘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’. Really? In fact, from now on, the Missouri State Fair won’t allow any rodeo cowboys or clowns from the state’s association to take part unless they undergo ‘sensitivity training’.
This is political correctness and fear of racism gone too far. If the same thing was done with a mask of Saddam Hussein, or even George Bush, this would scarcely make the news, let alone headlines. Obama has by no means been a perfect president, and it is our basic right to show when we dislike a politician. There’s no mistaking that this uproar was one caused by racial sensitivity. Poking fun at presidents is commonplace, or was commonplace until the election of the first African-American US president.
There are two lessons to be learnt from this bizarre episode. One, limitations on our freedom of speech are going too far; and two, people need to recognise that Barack Obama is a politician – and a politician that some people don’t like – who should be judged on his political achievements, regardless of whether he’s white, black or bright bloomin’ blue.
Saira Khan is a student at the University of Oxford and a spiked intern.