References to Sarasota’s strong circus tradition are curious,
at least to one who has been here just under 20 years. It’s
rather like saying San Francisco has a strong heterosexual tradition.
does not find a lot of fun around town. No one goes out of their
way to be whimsical or capricious. Real estate people are not
known for orange hair. Small cars are hard to find, even with
only one passenger. To be sure, animals are not treated especially
well and are expected to pay their own way or be fed to the
others, but this is probably not the part of circus tradition
those who mention it intend to extoll. People are heard to say
“Sarasota sure is a funny town,” but they usually
mean Sarasota likes it’s art early in the day and very
past the Ringling name on everything short of gum balls, where’s
the circus? Does anyone here have a pair of chicken feet? Yet
in Buffalo, NY, a city which never boasts of a circus tradition,
one of its most prominent citizens had his very own custom made
pair! And I have on many occasions asked retailers for the clown’s
discount and never gotten anything but blank stares.
could be a better occasion for having some fun that a proposal
to locate clown simulacra around town, but the published conversation
is mostly crabby. While it is important to take seriously environmental
decisions that will last forever -- bridges and building arcades
are recent examples -- stuff that is temporary should be allowed
to go forward as experiments in living to be ragged on or appreciated
during the brevity of their tenure.
Years ago, reading a book called “A Critique of Pure Tolerance”
I recall longing for some, regardless of its purity. We seem
to be very much on edge over who gets to control our collective
identity, so much so that perspective and proportionality are
lost terms. In that posture we become a people with less tolerance
for statuary of uncertain merit than for the plight of the least
fortunate among us.
have always clawed at each other, and there have been some mighty
brawls: abolition, suffrage, labor, prohibition, war, apartheid,
and the current agendas of evangelism. In the clawing we avoided
Hitlerism, Stalinism, Maoism and the Taliban, and we paid the
price of a good number of more localized witch hunts.
we can not treat every community debate as though what is at
stake is the ultimate power to determine our collective identity.
If we do that we shall never have any fun, regardless of how
many clowns lay buried in our memory.