How regular people behave at the circus!


Mark Twain challenges Lawrence: It’s one of our favorite passages from literature, little of which we have actually read.

In Chapter 22 of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain describes the way an Arkansas crowd behaves at a low-grade circus. Being a live performer himself, Twain had seen people laugh:
TWAIN: It was a real bully circus. It was the splendidest sight that ever was when they all come riding in, two and two, a gentleman and lady, side by side, the men just in their drawers and undershirts, and no shoes nor stirrups, and resting their hands on their thighs easy and comfortable—there must a been twenty of them—and every lady with a lovely complexion, and perfectly beautiful, and looking just like a gang of real sure-enough queens, and dressed in clothes that cost millions of dollars, and just littered with diamonds. It was a powerful fine sight; I never see anything so lovely. And then one by one they got up and stood, and went a-weaving around the ring so gentle and wavy and graceful, the men looking ever so tall and airy and straight, with their heads bobbing and skimming along, away up there under the tent-roof, and every lady's rose-leafy dress flapping soft and silky around her hips, and she looking like the most loveliest parasol.

And then faster and faster they went, all of them dancing, first one foot out in the air and then the other, the horses leaning more and more, and the ringmaster going round and round the center-pole, cracking his whip and shouting "Hi!—hi!" and the clown cracking jokes behind him; and by and by all hands dropped the reins, and every lady put her knuckles on her hips and every gentleman folded his arms, and then how the horses did lean over and hump themselves! And so one after the other they all skipped off into the ring, and made the sweetest bow I ever see, and then scampered out, and everybody clapped their hands and went just about wild.
As he continues, Twain describes a trick the clown and the ringmaster play on the people:

A third performer pretends to be a drunken man who has wandered into the tent and tried to ride one of the fastest horses. Eventually, the trick is revealed; the drunk turns out to be a magnificent trick horseman! After the trick has been revealed, this performer “skipped off, and made his bow and danced off to the dressing-room, and everybody just a-howling with pleasure and astonishment.”

We didn’t see or hear much howling with pleasure on the tape from the Missouri state fair. (For background, see our previous post.) We did recall Twain’s portrait of regular people when we read Beam’s disgusted account of the way those people allegedly behaved:
BEAM’S ORIGINAL FACEBOOK POST: Last night, Lily and I took a student from Taiwan to the rodeo at the Missouri State Fair. Just prior to the start of the bull riding event, one of the clowns came out dressed in this [photo of rodeo clown wearing Obama mask]. The announcer wanted to know if anyone would like to see Obama run down by a bull. The crowd went wild. He asked it again and again, louder each time, whipping the audience into a lather. One of the clowns ran up and started bobbling the lips on the mask and the people went crazy. Finally, a bull came close enough to him that he had to move, so he jumped up and ran away to the delight of the onlookers hooting and hollering from the stands.
Watching the tape Beam provided, we didn’t see or hear anyone going wild or getting whipped into a lather. Nor did we see the racist conduct which had Beam thinking he must be at a Ku Klux Klan event.

When we read his Facebook post, we thought of one famous person who seemed to like what happens when rodeo clowns leave regular people “just a-howling with pleasure.” We also thought we might be seeing the characteristic error of a certain type of modern liberal, who doesn’t seem to like regular people too much—who is perhaps a bit too quick to call such people the Klan.

Did those people go wild over racist behavior? We suggest that you watch that tape and try to figure that out!

Twain seemed to like it when his regular people laughed. That said, the circus scene immediately follows the scene involving the (ineffectual) lynch mob, another group from the same town who were easily tricked.


  1. Bob,are you really such a moron about the way audio of this kind, mass audience noise from a distance, registers on tape or cellphone?

    Let me give you a little hint. It's roughly the equivalent of what happens when you take a picture of a mountain or a magnificent landscape with a Brownie camera.

    Your tribalism gets uglier and uglier and leads you further and further astray.

    1. Are you really such a moron as to think that if the cheers were louder it would have showed racism?

    2. gyrfalcon, sometimes people, apparently including Somerby, hear what they want to hear and don't hear what they don't want to hear, depending on the narrative they are working from.

      And for the record, there is no "tape." The performance was recorded on a cell phone. You would hope that someday, Bob would realize that we are well into the 21st Century.

    3. 1:40, where in anything gyrfalcon wrote does the dreaded and (if Somerby had his way) banned "R" word appear?

      He instead merely stating the obvious in the face of the conclusion Somerby has laid out for his "tribe" -- Since Somerby couldn't see or hear from a cellphone recording "anyone going wild or getting whipped into a lather," then Mr. Beam, who was actually there, is either wrong or at least failed to prove his case.

    4. I thought the case to be proved was racism of the rodeo clown. The cell phone video does not provide evidence that the performance was racist. By pointing out that the video had inferior sound quality seems to me to be pointing out a flaw that is inconsequential to the argument.

      Also, don't you hear the hatred in the belief that a crowd from the south was "going wild or getting whipped into a lather," just because some guy with a cell phone told you that?

    5. Here's the deal. Thousands of people found this performance to be offensive. That's what gave this story legs, or it would have died quickly on this guy's Facebook page.

      This included, unanimously, prominent politicians from both political parties who agreed that the state-funded State Fair was not the place for this -- if a proper place for this exists.

      Some people found it to be racist (particularly the bobbling of "Obama's" exaggerated lips). Others thought it was disrespectful to a sitting president. Still others may have had their own reasons.

      But thousands, upon thousands, of people found this offensive, which is why it spread so quickly.

      Who are you, or Somerby, to lecture anyone about what is properly offensive, or not?

    6. No, *here's* the deal:

      "Thousands of people found this performance to be offensive..."

      Thousands of people... who were not there!

      Thousands of people... whose evidence of the offensiveness is the recording offered by the fellow who was there -- a recording which provides No Evidence Whatsoever of Anything Much to be offended at.

      Which leaves you with:

      Thousands ("upon thousands") of people offended... because this guy says HE was offended.

    7. Well, without realizing it, you have touched on the true meaning of this story.

      One ordinary guy with a cellphone and a Facebook account was able to generate this much outrage. You might ask yourself why, if people are so easy to manipulate, can't Somerby's story about Campaign 2000 find legs like that?

      Heck, he can't even get his book written, let alone published.

    8. That is your evidence that people are not easily manipulated?


    9. That's not what I said. I said if one guy with a cellphone and a Facebook account can generate all this heat, even for a few days, then why can't Somerby draw more than a couple hundred hits a day and a dozen comments or so (when he's not milking the Martin/Zimmerman case) after blogging for 15 years?

      The answer: Evidently the guy with the cellphone and a Facebook account touched a nerve, and a lot of good, reasonable people from both sides of the political divide, agreed that the performance was offensive.

      Now you and Somerby are free to lecture those multitudes who don't share your opinion about the proper events and time to get outraged, but don't get too bent out of shape if they decide not to listen.

      Especially if the lecture comes a week late.

    10. Emotions (nerve touching) can get multitudes to join in on a lot of pretty bad things (think Iraq build up). But being part of the multitudes feels pretty good, so good you don't need to explain yourself, except to say "but look at all the people!"

      Thanks for telling me I'm free to lecture, but I'm not bent out of shape, they're the ones who are "outraged." (And they're the ones who are defaming and taking someone's profession away.)

    11. I don't know how much you know about the "profession" of rodeo clown, but take my word that the guy didn't get fired from a six-figure job. In fact, I'll guess (and hope) he had a day job.

      And how quickly you jump to "emotions" as if that was what happened, and of course, people who disagree with you have no right to their own emotions, either.

      Since I am not a mind-reader, I have no idea how emotional people were. But I do think it is possible to properly express your "outrage" and "anger" while not throwing a temper tantrum.

      Once again, both you and Somerby are missing the essential point: One guy will a cellphone and a Facebook account started all this, and it spead quickly.

      It would not have spread if people shared your or Somerby's "no big deal" opinion. To a lot of people, it WAS a big deal.

      Now here is another key point you are missing. Things like this flare up all the time. The Missouri State Fair Commission and politicians from both parties did a great job in turning this from a week's or even a month's worth of bad news into about two days worth of bad news by admitting what was obvious to so many people -- that the performance was indeed offensive and out of bounds -- and by taking appropriate action.

      Here's another thing you might consider. Maybe, just maybe, when all this technology was available and a performance like that occurred during the W. administration, with one guy recording it and posting it, that it is at least possible that many, many of the same people would have been equally as outraged.

      I know how hard that is to fit into "liberal/conservative" narratives. But I'm going to hold the view that from my experience, most people I meet are good, thoughtful, decent people -- even the ones whose politics (and religion) don't line up with mine.

      So maybe, just maybe, it's not just "liberals" who are offended. Nor is it just "conservatives" who are coming to the defense of rodeo clowns everywhere.

      People and the world are much more complicated than that, and far more difficult to manipulate.

      And didn't that used to be one of Somerby's themes? That we shouldn't simply write off the masses -- and "tea partiers" in particular -- as dumb and easily led astray?

    12. It's astounding to me that someone would predicate proof of racism upon the fact that someone was able to start a media frenzy and ensuing dramatic denunciations from politicians, via an admittedly nebulous cell-phone clip uploaded to a Facebook account!

      And then further predicate racism on a moronic sideline that the blogger's point can't be correct because he is unable to generate an angry mob with pitchforks!

      Tuffy Gessling is real live human being who has been accused of a hate crime (fomenting violence against POTUS) in the national media and consequently banned from his job in the state of Mo., for something that seems to be routine treatment of past office holders.

      You can argue that Gessling and the organization were clueless as to racial overtones, but that doesn't justify a two week public lambasting that resulted in career immolation for at least two people.

      How people are you guys willing to blow to bits based upon nothing more than an assumption of endemic guilt?

    13. "people who disagree with you have no right to their own emotions, either"

      Who said, or even hinted at, that? Disagreeing with the conclusion that this was a racist performance is in no way saying that anyone should have fewer rights. Where did you get that?

      Now, some people think that it is their right to not be offended, well, at least at a rodeo.

    14. Well, nobody has said you don't have the right not to be offended.

      What Somerby is saying is that since he's not offended, nobody else should be either. Especially the vile Lawrence O'Donnell.

      A week ago.

    15. Actually, Somerby was asking:

      Look at the video that's been proffered -- Where do you see evidence that something offensive happened?

      I looked.

      The answer was: I really can't see any evidence of offensiveness, particularly racial offensiveness.

      But now I'm told that because other people are easily aroused to racial anger, It Doesn't Matter If There's No Evidence Of Anything.

      Also, Shut Up, It's Too Late To Talk About This.

      OK. I get it.

    16. I see you are a good student of Somerby, Cecilia. By all means, ignore the obvious -- that a single Facebook post made in the night sparked such a reaction that it spread like wildfire practically before the sun rose -- and turn this into an argument you think you can win: "Nobody has the right to say this was racism, so nobody should have been offended."

      And you might also want to get your "facts" straight before you make up any more. Tuffy Gessling is not banned from performing in the entire state of Missouri. He's been banned from performing at the State Fair. There are all kinds of rodeos in Missouri and elsewhere, and if subsequent reports are true, then Gessling has been offered bookings in places where he has never been heard of before.

      So save your tears about the guy's livelihood being taken away.

    17. So 9:47, prompted by your leader, you looked at the video yourself and, surprise! surprise!, you also found nothing offensive whatsoever.

      What a good member of the tribe you are.

    18. Anon 10:35, you have changed the disparaging definition of "tribal" from agreeing with something that goes against the known evidence to just agreeing.

      In order to use the term correctly, you would have to explain how the video did show something offensive. If all you have is the conclusion of the multitudes, wouldn't that make you, *cough*, tribal?

  2. Bob, I don't know where to begin except to say that is story was one of those things that burn red hot for a few days, but then pretty much ran its course. In fact, by the time O'Donnell got hold of it a week ago, it had pretty much burned itself out with consequences already meted out and politicians of both parties in this state (Missouri) weighing in unanimously that this performance was beyond the pale.

    In fact, the Republican Lt. Gov., Peter Kinder, went so far as to lament the impression it left of the entire state of Missouri, saying, "We're better than this."

    All that was left was the inevitable backlash in the attempt to turn the clown into some sort of martyr for free speech.

    You know, on the very day this was raging, I predicted that you would weigh in as soon as some MSNBC got hold of it with one of your famous, "There go these liberals using the R word again" posts. I never dreamed it would take you a full week to do so.

    The fact is, this story is an example of "citizen journalism" in the information age, and how sometimes one guy with a cellphone and a Facebook account is in the lead.

    That said, this story wouldn't spread at all, let alone so quickly, had it not struck a nerve and thousands upon thousands of good, ordinary citizens agreed that this performance was beyond the pale.

    Some found it racist, to be sure. Others thought it was overtly disrespectful of a sitting president. Whether you found it neither is really immaterial and irrelevant.

    1. The rodeo clowns all had to attend sensitivity training. Because rodeo clowns can now only make fun of white people. It is a new development in a current story.

    2. "Whether you found it neither is really immaterial and irrelevant."

      That's why you keep coming back!

      Yep, you pegged it. Nothin' to see here. Just simple responsible journalism telling us all of the deep problem we have in this culture of insensitivity when directing insults at our sitting president (and because he's black, we better not do the same things we did to previous presidents, because some people will think that you're doing it because you're racist). I know I was insensitive to W. when he was in office, but he's white, and thought he was from Texas. Whoa, those southerners sure are stupid!

      No, no, the powerful are not dividing to conquer. Racist jokes must stop.

    3. Yep, that's sure the right-wing spin on this story, and one Somerby is turning to in order to advance his cause against MSNBC.

      Sure can't wait for Somerby to tie this into the 2000 presidential campaign somehow. Obviously, since there was no guy with a Smartphone or Facebook account around to record all the stupid and mean things said about Al Gore, then it's wrong to condemn stupid and mean things said about Obama.

    4. You know, a better parallel that Bob might point to was the tempest in a teapot that happened during the 2004 campaign about the bit somebody uploaded on the Web site portraying W. as a Nazi. That was quickly removed because the negative reaction from thinking people on both sides of the political divide.

      I find it odd that a blogger apparently devoted to exposing the deteriorating condition of American discourse can find nothing whatsoever offensive in the case that was at hand a week ago.

    5. Anon 2:22,

      You think that pushing this story is anti-right-wing? While you think you are fighting KKK rallies, your party has completely abandoned the middle class' economic interests. Remember when Democrats used to laugh at non-rich Republicans for voting against their self-interests? Try paying your bills with an apology for offensive behavior.

    6. I'm anon 2:22, and I'm trying to make sense of what you wrote 3:32.

      No, I think I pretty much agree with the assessments that this story burned hot for a little while, then ran its course with the only thing left of it is the right-wing backlash.

      And now, a week late and more than a dollar short, Somerby weighs in -- led by the nose in his own peculiar way by Lawrence O'Donnell.

    7. "but then pretty much ran its course"

      ...might be in the morphed phase II stage.

      Self described CNN "Prozac" active Pilot poster child and Support Tuffy the Professional Entertainer Facebook owner/driver suggests Obama should weigh in on the Glenn Beck love'n Tuffy predicament.

      As a confidant who proclaims his regular permission from Tuffy ,a Facebook "platform" has emerged seeking the President's intervention. ...or something like that.

      Maybe to garner accelerated hits and digital signatures, lots of white rodeo folk 'ems buying up Obama masks and plan posting selfies for the cause after the next local rodeo attended. I mean, what could possibly go wrong with the visuals?

      Collectively, the signup and "like" pace is slowing which supports your "running its course", but I never underestimate the introduction of a new, and admittedly potential fun, use of smartphone.

      Empty chair campaign comes to mind.

      As long as no lip flapping is involved, seems to be an innocent enough outlet for releasing some frustrations and angst reining down from the "them" (*) who caused this "ruckus" (**).

      insert any of the following for:

      (*) "them" - liberals, communists, elites, the government, "Naked" loving Beam, media, rhinos vs......"business entity board"

      (**) "rukus" - suppression of free speech, Constitution deviation, tyranny, end of America God fearing folks know, regular 'ol clowning, well "X" did it, media overblown, Emperors thin skinned personal reaction, etc. etc. .....vs. "slice of society and bi-partisan leaders call out employee behavior deemed substandard." and than ..move on...

      I think Tuffy himself could clear up any lingering questions but seems to be satisfied with the joint Facebook authorship approach. ..his "brand" continues to emerge.

      as a side peeve, to have the same author call Tuffy a "hero" that seems to be a tad much for the facts.

  3. By the way, here is what I prophetically wrote in Bob's post about Anthony Weiner and black opinion of him:


    AnonymousAugust 12, 2013 at 10:01 AM
    I'm waiting to see if Bob comments on the flap over the Obama rodeo clown at the Missouri State Fair. Probably won't know about it unless someone on MSNBC or the New York Times does something with the story, since that's where Bob seems to point his ammunition these days.

    And of course, it will be to say, "There go those liberals using the 'R' word again!" as he recalls all the mean things said about Gore in 2000.


    He hasn't gotten around yet to linking this to Campaign 2000, but as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow . . .

    Remember, you read it here first.

    1. Hat tip. I remember seeing your post.

  4. Nothing to see here, folks...

  5. Incidentally, a "rodeo clown" isn't a traditional clown.

    A rodeo clown is not an entertainer, he's a safety officer. His job is . . . not to distract the crowd, it's to distract the bull.

    Imagine how much guts it takes to climb on a bull and try to ride it one-handed for eight seconds, knowing the odds are you'll be thrown off to land in your face on the dirt. Most don't last the full eight seconds.

    Now imagine how much MORE guts it takes to jump in front of the angry 2,000 pound bull who just threw the rider, waving your arms and yelling, hoping to entice him to chase you across uneven ground to the other side of the ring where you plan to time your steps so you can leap the fence as the bull slams into it...and making the chase last long enough that the thrown cowboy has time to limp out of the ring.

    The guy who asked "Do you want to see Obama get chased by a bull" was doing his job. He was saving lives, one at a time.

    1. Really, David? You told us something that nobody except millions of people already knew.

      But before you raise Tuffy Gessling to the level of a firefighter rushing into a burning building to save a baby, realice that the lives he is saving "one at a time" are those who freely choose to get on the back of a bull and try to ride it. For money.

      This is not a comment on the sport of rodeo. It is dangerous for everyone involved. But excuse me if I look for my heroes elsewhere.

      And of course, the courage of rodeo clowns isn't exactly the issue, is it?