A century ago, when the carnival would come to town, many people would make sure they brought enough money with them to not only see the main attractions, but to also see the side shows. These events often would have a loud carnival barker enticing people to come in and see the two headed man, the bearded lady, or some other freak of nature (real or faked).
Over the last 30 or 40 years, we’ve seen the side shows move to Hollywood and television, as MTV first introduced us in the 1980s to New Wave performers that dressed in strange garb (Culture Club, anyone?). As time moved forward, and society went from 4 television channels to 20 to 200, the side shows came into the average home on a daily basis. People with no or little talent were able to get hit series, because of a fixation on the side show atraction. MTV’s Jack Ass series showed men with no talent doing stupid things in order to get ratings.
To be noticed, people with great talent found they had to add more and more of the side show into their own acts, just to keep up. Madonna went from singer to stripper, opening wide the door that would make the whorish careers of many former Disney former.
Imagine a woman with one of the best voices in the industry, who feels she must make her name by being a side show freak. She dresses in various levels of undress in many performances. Worse, to keep her fans interested, she must find stranger and freakier things to do. Arrive at an awards show in an egg? Sure. Go to another event dressed in raw meat? Why not? It wasn’t until Tony Bennett saw her real talent that Lady Gaga was able to dress like a true lady and display her amazing voice without all the side show distraction. I hope she remains the elegant woman and singer she now is, and doesn’t fall back into the trap that so many other young actresses and singers find themselves.
Why is America no longer great? Because everything is now a side show. Everyone must be entertained. And the entertainment value must increase exponentially each time. School and work cannot be too hard. Where colleges once were the bastion of free speech and thought, today’s fears of Micro-aggression and having one’s feelings hurt shuts down important discourse. A Republican Congress is too afraid of losing an election to stand up to a president who is skirting around Constitutional limits to his power.
When I was a kid, a young president spoke to us and told us to not ask what our country could do for us, but what we could do for our country. Today’s politicians clamber on top of one another to give people what they want, in exchange for their votes and tax money. People do not want to talk about $19 Trillion deficits, near bankrupt Social Security and Medicare programs, failure in our dealings with China/Russia/Islam, failed wars on drugs and poverty, immigration, crony capitalism, etc.
Instead, our quality nightly news with Walter Cronkite has now become a 24 hour news cycle, focusing primarily on celebrity. Kim Kardashian gets more news play than most state governors.
Donald Trump is a symptom of this overall problem. Things are failing in Washington DC and elsewhere, and people are angry about it. However, instead of looking to logic and wisdom for solutions, they have sought out the freak side show answer, because it stokes their anger and emotions.
Donald doesn’t have to say much of substance. He just have to say that he’s rich and he’ll make everyone else rich. He will build a wall, the best wall anyone has ever built. It will be huge. And with such a simple patterned patter, he can stoke the emotions of those who have been raised on 140 character Tweets, and texts that do not require full sentences (or correctly spelled words, for that matter).
Along with the side show comes the expectations of the masses: whether a free IPhone, free medicine, or a leader that the masses relate to. There have always been freak side shows in presidential election years. Pat Paulsen ran for many years as a comic side show. I recall in 1984, attending a rally with a Democratic friend of mine, to see Geraldine Ferraro, only to be more entertained by the group with the “Elect Curly” sign. Through her entire speech, each one of her canned pauses got a “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk” from them.
But where the side show once was found only on the edges of society (California for many of the strange left coast stuff), it has now become center stage. We are in the age of the Selfie, where celebrity is everyone’s pursuit, and we are willing to do whatever is necessary to gain attention. Sexting, tattoos, piercings, radical clothing, hair color, and more describe society today.
Trump relates with the masses, because he can get away with doing the things the masses would like to do. While other candidates seek to look presidential, the masses love Trump’s freak side show. They love it so much, it has moved him to the main ring! Can you imagine anyone else being able to say and do the things Trump does, and not only get away with it, but get more adulation from his minions? Trump boasted he could shoot someone in the streets, and people would still vote for him. The violence his masses show at his rallies, with his encouragement, shows just where we are in this. Not many candidates could successfully threaten the media (those who are against him) with destroying the First Amendment right to a free press, simply to protect him from their attacks.
So, what is wrong with bringing the side show to the center ring?
The French Revolution is upon us. Angry with the government and encouraged by the media of the day, the masses attacked one group (the royalists) to the next (moderates), until all that were left were the radical Jacobins. The media fed the masses the perfect diet of anger and emotion to lead them from one outrageous event to an even greater outrageous event, culminating in the Reign of Terror. Rather than logic and wisdom, kangaroo courts were formed that found many innocent people guilty. Thousands were slaughtered after being accused of wrongdoing, according to the new and ever-changing rules of the Revolution. The only way to end the madness was to revoke the freedoms briefly given to the French, and replace the Jacobins with a dictator: the emperor Napoleon. Napoleon was so loved by the people that even after his disastrous invasion of Russia, the people still followed him into two more major defeats.
It is time for America to wake up and see just how dangerous of a time we live in. The pride of this people is leading to its downfall, just as in the Book of Mormon. We risk losing our Constitutional guarantees of freedom and safety. I foresee the day when this nation will collapse under its own wicked weight, with the only remaining safe places being Zion and her stakes (D&C 45). I have no idea when such will happen, but as I see America embracing such side show freaks as the personal saviors, I cannot help but hope that Zion comes sooner than later.