Thursday, August 16, 2007

British Bosses Ban Barney's Balloons

British Bosses Ban Barney's Balloons
Erik Deckers
Laughing Stalk Syndicate
Copyright 2007

God bless the British bureaucrat. They've got that special something their American cousins will never achieve. Their single-minded dedication to their rules and regulations, despite all common sense and human decency, is unrivaled in this world. And that gives me job security as a humor writer.

This week, from the We Hate Clowns and Children file, comes another example of their sheer bloody mindedness when it comes to political correctness and adherence to arbitrary rules.

This time, British supermarket chain Tesco's have banned a children's clown from using balloons at one of their supermarkets.

Barney Baloney, also known as Tony Turner, was booked for a five hour gig at a Tesco's supermarket to entertain the kiddies. But the bosses popped Barney's balloon show, because they were afraid some of the children might have an allergic reaction to latex.

"My job is to capture a child's imagination, entertain them and make them laugh," Baloney told the London Daily Mail. "Twisting balloons into shape makes up 40 percent of my act and I can't see what the problem is. Kids love to see me make shapes and that part of my act is the children's favourite."

Two hours of a five hour act are down the clown toilet, and Baloney is scrambling for something to fill the void.

But Tesco's totalitarian tyrants are unmoved. A Tesco spokesman told the Daily Mail, "We have banned balloons because latex is used in the manufacture of them and this can trigger an allergic reaction in some children."

Some children, not all. In fact, not even a lot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site, allergic reactions -- hives, rash, and eye irritation -- occur in only one to six percent of the general population, and are usually only found as a result of repeated exposure to latex.

In other words, little Colin and Fiona probably won't have any problems, unless they rub themselves all over with balloons. For a few days. But Tesco's have guaranteed that no one will have any problems.

Or a good time.

"This country is going crazy with its political correctness and health and safety issues and it's making us a laughing stock," Baloney told the Yorkshire (England) Post newspaper.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time Baloney's act has been sanitized in the name of behalfism (speaking on behalf of other people without the authority or right to do so). One employer said he couldn't twist balloons into the shape of guns because it might teach children violent behavior, but he could still make them into swords.

Because, as everyone knows, balloon swords don't kill people, balloon guns do.

Baloney has also stopped using his bubble-making machine because he couldn't get liability insurance. The insurance companies were afraid children might slip and fall on the bubble solution.

Which doesn't leave much for poor Barney Baloney. Pretty soon, he'll be replaced by someone more acceptable to the protective pencil pushers.

"Hey kids, let's give a big birthday cheer for Alfred the Safe But Entertaining Tax Accountant!"

The Tesco spokesman (who was cowering behind his spreadsheets and regulations) said, "This is a health and safety issue. . . We always have the welfare of children at heart."

Then he added, "By welfare, I mean money. And by children, I mean us."

Don't get me wrong. I can worry about children's safety and well-being with the best of them. I have three kids, and sometimes get neurotic trying to keep them safe. I experience flashes of panic when my kids want to pet a strange dog, get within spitting distance of the street, or make eye contact with strangers.

But I've also recognized that my kids need to be, well, kids. They need to play, have fun, and enjoy their childhoods. I let them play with balloons and bubbles, go swimming, run outside, and in general have a good time. I don't legislate, regulate, or strangulate their fun. And I don't like it when pencil-pushing pencil-necks decide what my kids can or can't do just because another kid may or may not get itchy because he held a balloon.

There's a big difference between concern and overreacting, between being cautious and being a lawsuit-happy lawyer.

Unfortunately, Tesco's has blurred that line. As a result, they have also blurred the line between childhood fun and staggering boredom. But if we're lucky, Tesco's customers will help them rethink their decision when they help blur the line between being cautious and being profitable by switching to a more clown-friendly supermarket.

Because Alfred the Tax Accountant's only trick is spelling dirty words on a pocket calculator.

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