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Day the Circus Came to Town: Soundtrack to a Cynical Mind
By psychologist Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a.k.a. Dr. B.L.T., the Rock Doc
Bakersfield, California, has never witnessed a darker crime. One of the most shocking and opprobrious murders in recent history was committed right here on the streets of Bakersfield. An entire family (the Harper family), including a grandmother, a mother estranged from her husband, and her three children, were discovered dead in a bloody mess that was such a gruesome scene it made national news. Bakersfield was once famous for a steady parade of country stars spawned by "the Bakersfield Sound," in the days when Bakersfield was known as Nashville West. But there was nothing but a chillingly dead silence when this news was announced. Bakersfield has never known a darker day than the day of the funeral. Sadly, it was the same day that the circus came to town.
In the first ring of a three-ring circus, I observed the tightrope walkers from CNN, trying to walk across a thin rope without a safety net; trying to find a balance between objective, yet empathetic reporting, and a decidedly less noble, opportunistic drive to unashamedly exploit a spectacle. That's when I noticed the cynical soundtrack emerging in my head. My cynical side began blaring a few bars of an old Don Henley hit into the dark caverns of my mind--"Get the widow on the set, we need dirty laundry..." Only in this case there was no widow, only a widower who was, for reasons obvious to Bakersfield residents and watchers of CNN, having a little trouble gaining public sympathy. The estranged husband of the murdered mother, a vice-principal named Vincent Brothers, was tearfully ensconced in a front-row seat at the funeral, but it seemed every tearful eye was a suspicious one as it caught a glance of the only suspect so far in the gruesome murders. My mind scanned for more cynical songs. All I came up with was Brothers in Arms, the title to a Dire Straits CD. My cynical mind embraced the album title and used it as judge and jury, pronouncing Brothers guilty for the murders--no questions asked. What was he hoping to accomplish with his head down and his eyes flooded with ostensibly sorrowful tears? Did he actually hope to arouse sympathy from the family? The next song that my mind drudged up from the cynical soundtrack was The Rolling Stones classic "Sympathy for the Devil," for in my mind's eye I saw horns protruding out of his drooping head. He not only slaughtered his entire family, but the tears belied a feeling of utter gratefulness that they were out of his life once and for all. At this point, my own cynical mind was beginning to slowly sicken me. Still, at the behest of my pertinacious, pleading will, I looked around and noted the second ring in my cynical circus.
In the second ring, I witnessed the reporters from Fox News; clowns with lugubriously sad faces painted on them. Fox appeared to be in the process of trying to outfox their competitors. Unlike CNN, they were not about to stoop so low as to park at the stoop of the Bakersfield Convention Center where the funeral was being held. Though they would drive a bigger vehicle with a colossal, brightly painted sign boldly bearing their name, they parked about a half a block from the front entrance, so as to appear less opportunistic and more respectful. Or perhaps they purposely arrived late, hoping their dilatory arrival would make them seem less eager to shine a spotlight on the Harper family horror. I espied what appeared to be some type of Fox news director wiping super-sized drops of sweat from his visibly tense forehead. The Kern county sun can be unforgiving. The wrinkles on his crinkled forehead grew deeper as he sent out his news crew, one by one, some to the front doors, some to the back, in order to catch the first glimpse of the grieving family at the door as they left the ceremony. The song "Pimpin' Ain't Easy" by Sunny Ledfurd would have fit this scenario, but I've just had my morning caffeine fix and it may just be the coffee talking.
A more dispassionate observer may have looked upon the LA stations and our own local television stations as the third ring in this widening circus. I happen to have met a number of these local reporters and found them to be wonderful individuals. For a moment, I regretted my favorable impression of our own local news crews because it totally destroyed the grand "three-ring circus" scheme I was in the process of developing in order to bring a sense of organization to an utterly chaotic scene.
Suddenly, and reluctantly,
I began to take a long, hard look at me. Why was I there? Was it the empathetic
psychologist in me, looking for a way to convey heartfelt sorrow and sympathy
to loved ones suffering from the most horrific nightmare imaginable? Was
it the altruistic writer looking for a new story and/or song that would
have a healing impact on loved ones and the community at large? Or was
it the same opportunistic troglodyte that I prematurely projected onto
all of those national news reporters? Suddenly I began to realize that
I may have become the third ring, or worse, the only ring. My utter shame
and self-contempt began to form rain drops that came down in droves, raining
on my parade until the streets of my self-righteousness were completely
washed away. After the shame came the seeds of sympathy. The circus and
its cynical soundtrack had come to an abrupt end. It was time to replace
my cynical soundtrack with the latest CD by Tim McGraw--"Set This Circus