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Column: No clowning around; Industry suffers decline

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The rubber industry faces many important issues, vital to the health and prosperity of the business, worthy of opinion pieces that provide insight and commentary. This isn't one of them.

Let's talk about clown shoes.

It is a subject of interest if you make, sell or wear the floppy footwear. Or if you just happen to ponder about the state of and future of clowndom. Don't laugh, it happens. On second thought, laugh, since that's what clowns are all about, at least until “clowns as evil” became prevalent in popular culture.

I blame author Stephen King for starting that trend. The movie version of “It,” featuring a diabolical clown, launched the nasty clown stereotype. Shame on you, Mr. King.

Clowns are all over the news today. A recent spate of articles in the national press noted a precipitous decline in the number of clowns, according to two trade unions of professional clowns. The World Clown Association revealed its membership has tumbled 28 percent in the last 10 years, and the Clowns of America International reports its roster total has slipped.

Some of the reasons for this falloff in funny folk sound oddly familiar. Young people aren't drawn to the profession as in the past, as clowns have lost their “coolness” factor. Hmmm ... when is the last time you heard a high school kid passionately declare he wants to work in the rubber industry?

Another “clown expert” disputes the argument the number of clowns is in decline. He said young clowns just don't join unions anymore. But he also admits China is producing lots of clowns who work “for really cheap.”

OK, now that REALLY sounds familiar.

A decline in professional clowns logically would impact the market for clown shoes. You could say they come in two types: custom-made, carefully produced shoes for the professional funny man or woman, and cheap knockoffs that Uncle Willy wears at his 3-year-old nephew's birthday party.

You'll find the rubber content of the best shoes mostly in the sole, of course. It's natural rubber, and one provider of the shoes touts rubber's shock-absorbing effect, lightness and ability to come in bright colors. Professional-quality shoes will set you back $300 to $800 a pair.

The average American might own a variety of shoes for specialized use—running, basketball, golf, hiking, you name them. There are lots of types of clown shoes, too, depending on their purpose. Most have that wide, “canoe-style” front, which distinguishes them from, say, Air Jordans. Ah, but perhaps you want the “jester” style, a nice turned up front, or some huge cowboy or Santa boot.

Of course, they come in a multitude of colors and patterns. I wouldn't use the word “muted” to describe any of their color schemes or designs.

One of the clowns I heard commenting on the subject stole my joke, so I'll steal it back. There never will be a clown shortage as long as we have a Congress.

Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at