“I’ll explain, and I’ll be sure to use small words so that you’ll be sure to understand. You wart-hog-faced-buffoon!”
– The Princess Bride
Buffoons have their place, but they shouldn’t. They contribute nothing but noise and, accomplished only in the art of the obnoxious, they pass gas and call it an insight. They both earn and love our contempt; they’re revolting. So when they exit, tears are hardly expected.
Fred Phelps, founder and head buffoon of the Westboro Baptist God-Hates-Fags cult, has exited, and tears are few. His notoriety was achieved through a putrid combination of street theater and sadism, as he and his small following of family members picketed the funerals of AIDs patients and American soldiers, hoisting signs that celebrated the deaths being mourned as good, even delightful. No one was spared his bile, neither the parents of openly gay Matthew Shepherd, whose murder Phelps made an industry out of, nor the families of innocent children gunned down by a madman in an Amish school. The guy was, in true satanic form, an equal opportunity tormentor.
Two days ago he went to meet his Maker whom he never represented and, quite possibly, never knew. I cannot say rest in peace. I’ll only say God’s will be done.
But enough about him, because he’s not the problem. We are. If there was no audience there’d be no buffoon, because without the court, where would the court jester be? He needs attention like the floating balloon needs helium. Drain the helium and the balloon shrinks, fizzles, falls. So if you don’t like the buffoon, blame the public, not him, because they’re the ones who keep him going.
And why they keep him going, who knows? Maybe buffoons make us feel better about ourselves. Next to their childish zaniness we look pretty good, so comparing myself to Phelps is like standing shirtless next to Jackie Gleason – I’ll come out looking OK, but I really should set my sights a little higher.
Or maybe it’s the buffoon’s entertainment value. Extremism is, after all, profitable. The more virulent Bill Maher, Kathy Griffin, Charlie Sheen or Sean Penn get, the louder the crowd shouts “More!” And the political/social Right can be as guilty as the Left, so I’ll reluctantly note how off the charts Limbaugh, Hannity and O’Reilly can get, too. The more extreme, the higher the ratings, or so it seems from where I’m sitting. We still sit up and take notice when someone yells “Fight!”, just as we did in junior high school, which says more about us than the fighters.
But noise isn’t leadership; volume isn’t wisdom; and a man’s boisterousness hardly qualifies him as a shepherd worth following. It’s up to the public to discern and appreciate the difference. So if my television is tuned to Jerry Springer more than Masterpiece Theater, can you really blame Springer? The sickness is our penchant for outrageous entertainment; the entertainment itself is just the symptom.
And the cure was prescribed when Paul urged the Phillipians to think on those things that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report.” (Phillippians 4:8) So if there’s a takeaway lesson from the life and death of this strange, sad man, I’d say it’s that we make celebreties of buffoons and, conversely, we can choose to unmake them. I dream of an America where grace, intelligence, industry, kindness and beauty will advance a person’s career, while repulsive words and actions
I’m not holding my breath; only the Lord’s coming will usher in the truest beauty. Meanwhile, when the buffoon sells his wares and himself in the public square, I can choose to turn away, keep walking, change the channel.
I can’t stop the sickness. But I surely don’t have to feed it.
Hope we’re all feeding the right things this weekend. God bless. Thanks for