There is a growing pile of evidence that people are a little more – take your pick – grouchier, warier and more sensitive and hypercritical than they used to be. Some of that, at least, is a good thing.
In a story last weekend titled, “They are going under,” the New York Times reports that even those carnival clowns who entice people to pay to dunk them in water tanks have noticed a sea change in American attitudes. The article focuses on professional clown David Simmons, who “makes a living by shouting insults at passers-by at America's small-town fairgrounds”:
“Dunk-tank clowns, Mr. Simmons said, are fading away in a world where Americans are beginning to believe that cracking jokes about people's skin color, size, poverty or intelligence is maybe not a good thing.
“ 'They're retiring left and right,' he said. 'They're being run out of town.' ”
Simmons, reported the Times, was “the ruder” of the two clowns who were performing at the “Drown the Clown” sideshow in Hamburg, New York, recently. He took the night shifts.
The other dunk-a-clown was Chris Angle, known as Jackels, who the fair's operators wanted poised over the tank during the day, when families and children were in more abundance.
“ 'I'm a nice guy,' Mr. Angle said, dripping in a wet suit after his shift. 'I'm a Methodist Christian outside the tank. I'm one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet.' ”
No one will mourn the demise of foul-mouthed, racist clowns. But if there's still a way to mock-insult strangers and motivate them to get mock-revenge, the article implied, this mild-mannered jester seems to have found it.
Wouldn't you know it? The 46-year-old Angle, the Times reported, is from Fort Wayne.