February 4, 2018

That Moment Everything Came Together


As someone who has been tracking the absurd and insane vagaries of American culture and society for over three decades, I can now honestly and confidently say that’s it—everything has finally come together, we’ve reached the pinnacle, and it’s all downhill from here. Might as well go grab yourself a drink or take a nap or something. I think I will.

            Let me quickly sketch out three recent dominant cultural trajectories.

            Yes, yes, yes, we all know all about them, it’s a tired rehash of the banal, but I’m getting to something so just bear with me and shut up a second.

            Following the highly publicized (make that exploited) cases of Caitlyn Jenner and Chelsea Manning, in recent years the transgender community has become a very visible and very vocal presence in American society.

            As uncomfortable as they may make some cross-sections of the population, transgender folks are here to stay, and you’re only going to be seeing and hearing more of them in the years to come.

            After the accusations against Harvey Weinstein made headlines in the summer of 2017, the fast growing Me Too movement brought down any number of prominent movie stars, comedians, CEOs and other powerful men (and a few women) when their long histories of sexual harassment and abuse were made public. Although there has been some backlash, some charges that it’s become a witch hunt, at the moment the movement shows no sign of slowing.

            And beginning with the first appearance of the Northampton clown in 2013, Creepy Clown sightings quickly swept across Europe and North America, with sinister harlequins spotted lurking around street corners, parking lots and the nearby woods, scaring the bejeezus out of children and adults alike. By the end of 2016, creepy clowns had overtaken Middle Eastern terrorists as the number one fear in the minds of most Americans. This was only exacerbated in early 2017 when the clowns in question, with only the slightest modification to their makeup, fright wigs and baggy suits, morphed into the Trump administration.

            Again, yes, we know all this, all three have been all over the news, but they never had the slightest thing to do with one another. Now all three disparate strands have come together in an instant, in a story that says absolutely everything there is to say about American culture at this particular moment in history. It also proves yet again that we are living in the Post-Satirical Age.

            It doesn’t sound like much of anything at first. On Tuesday January 22nd, The New York Times reported that a man named Barry Lubin was forced to resign from a position he’d held for twenty-five years, after he admitted to sexual misconduct with an underage girl in 2004. More specifically, he’d pressured then-sixteen-year-old Zoe Dunne into coming back to his trailer at a summer camp to pose for some, um, “art photos.”

            What’s the big deal, right? We’ve been hearing two or three stories like this every week for months now. After a while, and unless we’re talking about some major star or public figure, they all start to run together.

            Only when you learn it was a summer camp for would-be circus performers, that Dunne was training to be an acrobat, and that Lubin was the Big Apple Circus’s long-time star attraction, Grandma the Clown, do the blinders come off and everything we have become is laid bare.

            Yes, we’re talking about that beloved cross-dressing, transgendered Grandma the Clown, who with his red nose, gray wig, frumpy dress and parasol, had entertained children of all ages with his exaggerated grandmotherly antics for a quarter century. I never went to the Big Apple Circus, but thanks to the TV commercials alone Grandma the Clown creeped the hell out of me long before creepy clowns came into vogue.

            And now we learn, much to everyone’s feigned dismay, that he-she is a sexual predator. Although traditional circuses like the Big Apple have always remained deliberately out of time, the big top itself a canvas shield against the horror and despair of the world outside, when you deconstruct the story with all the above in mind, it becomes clear that, yes there’s no getting around it—Grandma the Clown is America.


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