Mr. Bluster by Jamie Kirkpatrick

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I came of age in the 1950s, the golden age of television. Of course, I was a charter member of The Mickey Mouse Club. On Saturday mornings, I watched cartoons; on Sunday, it was ABC’s Wide World of Sports, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, and the jewel in the crown, The Wonderful World of Disney. There were classic sitcoms like I Love Lucy and Sgt. Bilko; adventures like Sky King and Sgt. Preston of the Yukon; westerns like Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, even the saccharin Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans Show.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 9.04.18 AMBut nothing compared to the Howdy Doody Show. Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay! What a cast of characters we adored from the Peanut Gallery: the old string-puller himself, Buffalo Bob Smith; the silent Clarabell (played by Bob Keeshan who later went on to fame and fortune as Captain Kangaroo) armed with his honking horn and seltzer bottle; Chief Thunderthud (Kowabonga!) and the exotic Princess Summerfallwinterspring; Dilly Dally; the curious combination of eight animals called Flub-a-dub; and serving as the mayor of all this mayhem in Doodyville, Phineas T. Bluster.

Mr. Bluster was a lovable old curmudgeon, the marionette answer to the old guy that yelled at my friends and me when we ran through his backyard or the guy that jumped out of his car and chased us after we pelted him with snowballs. But at his core, Mr. Bluster was just that: bluster. Nobody took him very seriously and when Howdy finally went dark in 1960, we thought we had seen the last of him.

Well, folks, he’s back and he’s running for President. Time has not mellowed him. In fact, venom has replaced bluster and that’s the least of it. Now Mr. Bluster is an old-time carney; a bully, a bigot, and a braggart; a demagogue, a misogynist, a xenophobe, and a hatemongerer, all wrapped into one. And like his puppet friend, Pinocchio, he’s come to life.

When he was mayor of Doodyville, Phineas T. Bluster couldn’t really do much harm. Back in those halcyon days, everything always came to good. That’s hardly the case now. A Blusterite throws a sucker punch and Phineas T promises to pay the legal bills. He belittles women and demonizes people of different colors and beliefs. He threatens riots if he doesn’t get his way. He promises to build a Great Wall of Bluster, to make America great again, and to put a baseball cap in every garage. This isn’t the Mr. Bluster I laughed at way back when; this Mr. Bluster scares me.

He scares me because of what he reveals about us as a people. It would be nice to think that Mr. Bluster is just an exception to the political truth of our time, but a few million Blusterites don’t see it that way. They revere him and in so doing, they expose a raw nerve, the dirty little secret in our souls. No matter how we may rail against him, Mr. Bluster is part of our collective consciousness. He didn’t come to life by accident; he bided his time in the national attic and when he deemed the moment right, he cut his strings and started blustering to beat the band.

Much as I loved the show, I hope it will never be Howdy Doody time again. Then again, maybe there is a new mayor in Doodyville, a kinder, gentler mayor than old Phineas T. Bluster. I certainly hope so. There’s really no place for bluster in government.

After careers in both international development (Special Olympics) and secondary education (Landon School), Jamie Kirkpatrick bought a home on the Eastern Shore in 2011. Now he’s a happily married freelance writer and photographer who plays golf and the bagpipes with equal facility. Jamie’s writing and photography have appeared in The Baltimore Sun and The Philadelphia Inquirer. He is currently at work on a new book called “Musing Right Along.

 

Letters to Editor

  1. joe diamond says:

    Jamie,
    I too remember those days. The TV had black and white images. American thought was like that. The good guys had won the war and all was right with the world. But now we have to do something about the problem in Doodyville. The other puppets are living quietly in retirement. As you point out, Mr. Bluster has cut his strings. He is doing and saying all manner of strange things. Nobody, including him, know what will happen next. Pulling the strings won’t work.

    I know Buffalo Bob would never encourage his little buddies to use matches…….but maybe that is what it will take.

    Kowabonga!

    Joe

  2. Bob Garson says:

    How wonderful! Brings me back to my own childhood. Unfortunately, Mr. Bluster has been reincarnated!

  3. Stephan Sonn says:

    Cartoons and parody tell us what we would normally miss,

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