The PBR was back at Madison Square Garden last weekend. We went in 2007 and I loved every crazy minute of it. We were planning to go again this year, but I changed my mind at the last minute. I decided I’d rather watch it on TV.
For one thing, the rodeo clown drove me up a wall last year. He talked about how funny it was to watch a New Yorker rush across a street and get hit by a cab. And, yeah, he was probably making it up, but it really bugged me. I didn’t want to have to deal with him again for three hours. When you watch bull riding at home, you miss the rodeo clown dancing around, making silly comments, shooting T-shirts into the audience from a mini canon (giving me mini heart attacks every time he pointed that thing in our direction). You miss the loud fireworks that go off suddenly just before they introduce the bull riders (more mini heart attacks because fireworks indoors are just wrong). And you miss the opening ceremony that’s kind of religious and very Pro-American. The kind of opening ceremony that makes me feel like I’ve stepped inside a dangerous bar in a town I have no business being in.
I think the thing that really made me change my mind about attending was the movie Borat. We watched it a while ago, and I really hated it, but one of the scenes that stayed with me was the scene at the rodeo in Salem Virginia. In it, a Tennessee rodeo manager warns Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) not to kiss him because people might think they’re gay. When Borat says they hang gay people in his country, the rodeo manager says that’s what we’re trying to get done in this country. Okay, asshole, yes. But it was also one of those glaring reminders why people stereotype others in the first place. Stereotypes exist for a reason. There’s always going to be someone out there who lives up to a negative stereotype and makes someone else wary.
I had absolutely no delusions that bull riders are gay friendly, open-minded folks before that. I didn’t think, you know, that me and Justin McBride would ever be friends. I knew it was very unlikely that Justin McBride, Adriano Moraes and I shared the same beliefs and politics. And deep in the back of my mind I probably did assume most of the men riding the bulls (including the Brazilians, Native Americans and African Americans) were racist, sexist and homophobic. I didn’t allow that assumption to form into a complete thought that would prevent me from enjoying bull riding though. But Bobby Rowe, the rodeo manager in Cohen’s movie, spoiled it for me.
The other night conservative Shelby Steele, speaking to Bill Moyers, said that there are Bargainers and Challengers in the black community. Bargainers assume white people aren’t inherently racist until they show that they are and Challengers assume white people are racist until they can demonstrate they aren’t. Not that these bull riders give a shit what I think, but I used to allow myself to assume they weren’t racist, sexist or homophobic because I had no proof they were. But I’ve allowed this ignorant rodeo guy to take that luxury away from me and now I assume they are. They’ll never have a chance to prove otherwise to me. We aren’t going to reach out to each other or anything. And that’s the way society works, isn’t it? We don’t ever really know what someone else is thinking or feeling, and we rarely have the opportunity to find out.
As for bull riding, I think I’ll still tune in occasionally. But I don’t think I’ll truly root for any of them. Well, maybe I’ll root for Brian. He’s too young (and pretty) not to.