No More Clown Questions, Bro
One of my all-time favorite science fiction short stories is R.A. Lafferty's "Slow Tuesday Night."
The basic premise of the story is that humanity has removed a mental block that slowed down action and decision-making, and people now live at a freakishly accelerated clip.
"Transpor-tation and manufacturing had then become practically instantaneous," Lafferty writes. "Things that had once taken months and years now took only minutes and hours. A person could have one or several pretty intricate careers within an eight-hour period." One character makes and loses four fortunes in the course of the night, "not the little fortunes that ordinary men acquire, but titanic things."
The story's a clever satire on how life seems to keep moving faster - and it was written in 1965. One wonders what Lafferty would make of the speed of life now. We haven't quite gotten to the insane pace of his fictional world yet, but sometimes things happen that make it seem like it's not that far off.
The most recent example is the rise and fall of the catch phrase "That's a clown question, bro," which apparently was coined, had its vogue, and was declared dead in the course of a week. And I seem to have missed the whole thing.
It seems there's a young player for baseball's Washington Nationals named Bryce Harper. Harper, after hitting a game-winning home run against the Toronto Blue Jays, was being interviewed in the locker room. A Canadian reporter stepped forward and asked, "Bryce, you know, in Canada you're of legal drinking age. A celebratory Canadian beer would seem to make sense after a hit like that. Favorite beer?"
Now, as noted above, Bryce is a young fellow. Nineteen, to be exact. And he's a Mormon to boot, so drinking beer, Canadian or otherwise, is not likely to be on his agenda. The team's PR man tried to step in, but Harper fielded the question (so to speak) with an aplomb far beyond his years. Giving the reporter a disgusted look, he delivered the smackdown: "I'm not going to answer that. That's a clown question, bro."
Of such humble beginnings, it seems, are Internet memes born. Within a day, "clown question, bro" became the top "trending topic" on Twitter. T-shirts appeared for sale with the catch phrase on them. A beer company in Denver - called, appropriately enough, the Denver Beer Company - announced that it was bringing out a Canadian-style lager called "Clown Question, Bro."
It's too bad, I guess, that Harper didn't have the presence of mind to immediately contact an intellectual property lawyer and have his phrase trademarked. Or perhaps not.
Because a week later, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was being quizzed by a reporter regarding President Obama's announcement that the administration would not be trying to deport the children of illegal immigrants who were of good moral character and didn't pose a threat to national security. The reporter asked if Reid intended to bring the defunct DREAM Act back to the Senate (where it had been strangled in its crib by Republican filibusters) to "put people on the record."
Reid paused for a long while, then smiled and told the reporter, "That's a clown question, bro."
At that point, blogger Dan Amira of New York Magazine declared the phrase dead after only seven days, "the victim of a brutal and obviously premeditated attack" by Reid - who was, Amira said with tongue planted firmly in cheek, under investigation for "meme-slaughter."
I guess if an old politician like Reid is saying something, it can't possibly be cool anymore. Kind of a shame, actually. "Clown question, bro" is the perfect dismissal for those questions that are just too stupid or slanted to be answered any other way. Like the now-standard "Isn't this (insert absolutely anything the president does or says from now till November) just being done for political gain?"
Maybe if Sarah Palin had answered Katie Couric's "What newspapers do you read?" with "That's a clown question, bro," she would have seemed less dimwitted. At least until the next question.
But who knows? Maybe the reports of its death are premature. Maybe the phrase will go on and have a long and happy life in our culture. I hope so. And I hope I can keep up with the next thing to come along.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage. Contact him at dustyr@nc. rr.com.
More like this story