Hi! My name is Sean, opinion editor at The Ledger. I dressed up as a clown on the afternoon of Oct. 21 — and may have scared the pants off of you. For one of you specifically, we definitely didn’t meet on the best of terms. Don’t worry — this editorial gives us a chance to talk through it.
Aside from not knowing how to properly remove my black eyeliner, I enjoyed my half-hour venture as a clown. We at The Ledger wanted to feature a creepy clown on the cover of our Oct. 24 issue — preferably pictured in a way that makes light of the situation. Anybody who knows me knows that I will do just about anything to make light of sensitive situations — which includes dressing up as 2016’s newest phobia: the creepy clown. With my makeup applied, my five-sizes-too big clown suit velcroed, and my editor in- chief equipped with a camera, we made our way to a suitable location for some clownish mischief.
For the most part, my attire amused the students we passed, suggesting more fun than terror — providing me a lower chance of being shot. A few minutes later, my editor-in-chief propped me up on a table near Metro Coffee, slipped a copy of The Ledger in my hand, dictated my positioning, and proceeded to frame the pictures he intended to take. A young woman — presumably a fellow UW Tacoma student — approached and accosted us, asking us if our photo session was some kind of “art project.” She sternly suggested we try to “brighten up” the moment, due to clowns being a “sensitive subject” to the students she claimed were “freaked out” by my appearance. This rubbed both me and my editor-in-chief the wrong way. As soon as she got off our backs, we got the photos we needed, walked back to the Ledger office, and removed my clown getup as quickly as possible.
In my defense, the weather that day didn’t give off a bright, cheery vibe — overcast weather is perfect weather for donning clown attire, walking around campus, and having my friend slash- camera-wielding-escort take photos of me as I jovially lounge in front of Metro Coffee. My editor-in chief ’s son didn’t think I was creepy at all — I strongly believe in the innate wisdom of children. Am I alone in thinking that?
In spite of the fun I had, our editor in- chief and publications manager mutually agreed to scrap the creepy clown cover. Since the Associated Collegiate Press recently added The Ledger as a member, having our publication spoof a type of character the media now perceives as dangerous would not have been the wisest decision.
I will admit: I respect their wishes. Some ideas seem better — and funnier — on paper than in execution. However, before I feign reservation about the now lost cover photo, I need to clear the air about how I really feel.
At my core, I am a satirist. I grew up in an environment where few jokes were off limits. Monty Python, Ren and Stimpy, and every twisted cartoon broadcast in-between ensnared my early cognitive development. As a four year- old, I watched a bloody finishing move in the game “Mortal Kombat” and laughed hysterically. My dad — the main instigator for my twisted sense of humor — would often be one of few people to laugh at the jokes nobody else would. More recently, as a newly diagnosed epileptic, I dealt with my seizure anxiety by making seizure jokes at inappropriate times. Did you hear the one about how being a cashier and needing to remember hundreds of produce codes more than likely caused my seizures? Nobody at my grocery store job laughed at that one. Still, the joke lives on in infamy — in my own world of funny.
With my editor-in-chief and I being the unapologetic satirists we are, being aggressively asked to tone down an act we don’t perceive as “sensitive” aggravates us. There’s a difference between politely inquiring about our clown photo session and rudely berating us for our mere presence. Regardless, neither of us felt the need to explain our intentions to every nearby student. I’d like to think young adults are smart enough to make that type of judgment for themselves — I’ll dignify them with the opportunity to exercise rational thinking.
Our country is in a strange boxing match with itself in regards to handling sensitive material. But there are questions that must be answered. How do we establish a level of political correctness without encroaching on freedom of speech? Will abstaining from the conversation about sensitive subjects make people feel better, or will it merely provide a shallow bandage for a much deeper issue? Will comedy and art be forced to adapt to a more sheltered climate, or will they continue to provide commentary that’s stark, raw, and personal?
As a representative of The Ledger, I respect the image our school wishes to portray of itself and its publications. I am absolutely willing to sacrifice my own desire to spoof sensitive material if doing so promotes the growing professionality of our humble newspaper. As a representative of myself, however, I will not censor my satirical sense of humor. Self-censorship of that type acts against the purity of my character. With that said, I’m willing to be chastised for my irreverence. Better yet, I’m willing to discuss my intentions with anybody face-to-face. As someone with a lifelong struggle with clinical anxiety, I believe approaching fears, phobias, and sensitive subjects openly and honestly makes the most sense.
For this editorial, we attached the creepy clown cover in the form we intended to present it. The image deserved more visibility than it received, so no other image would have been more appropriate. If you’re still afraid of seeing me as a clown, let me ask you a simple question: am I really any scarier than rising from the grave in time to see your GPA fall? Take as much time as you need to think on it.