Question: What do Nietzsche and H.L. Mencken have in common? If you answered “anti-Semetism,” wrong. Actually, Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, while Mencken was an anti-Semite. Correct answer: zoos.

In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche offers the following: “To call the taming of an animal its ‘improvement’ sounds almost like a joke to our ears. Whoever knows what goes on in menageries doubts that the beasts are ‘improved’ there. They are weakened, they are made less harmful, and through the depressive effect of fear, through pain, through wounds, and through hunger they become sickly beasts.”

In case, like me, you’ve no idea, “menageries” are synonymous with “zoos.” I was going to get clever and offer the German translation of “zoo,” but then I remembered Zoo Station.

In his essay Zoos, Mencken writes: “Least of all do zoos produce any new knowledge about animal behavior. Such knowledge must be got, not from animals penned up and tortured, but from animals in a state of nature. A professor studying the habits of the giraffe, for example, and confining his observations to specimens in zoos, would inevitably come to the conclusion that the giraffe is a sedentary and melancholy beast, standing immovable for hours at a time and employing an Italian to feed him hay and cabbages…There remains, then, the only true utility of a zoo: it is a childish and pointless show for the unintelligent, in brief, for children, nurse-maids, visiting yokels and the generality of the defective.”

So, two bastards, plus another, that being me, question the purpose of zoos, to which I’ll add amusement parks, extreme sports and Broadway musicals. I feel my much more highly-esteemed forebears would agree.

A zoo should, to any person of conscience or, lacking that, as I do, emotional reactions, cause depression. Just look at the apes and monkeys. That’s how we treat our uncles? Would you send Uncle Joe to a zoo instead of a nursing home? Wait, scratch that point: a zoo would improve upon “group activity hour.” Nevertheless, Uncle Joe deserves better than both. Even if he desired death, a lion would find him unpalatable.

Next, why do we need amusement parks? Isn’t the entire country an amusement park, except for those who can’t afford amusement parks? To my knowledge, Disneyland has no free admission Ghetto Day. If you want to amuse a youngster, throw him in the car, jump on the freeway, and drive 120 miles per hour. That’s good enough for junior. No use spoiling Johnny rotten.

Extreme sports by definition must be taken further and further or they cease being extreme. Let’s bungee jump ahead to the last extreme sport: suicide. This final proof of “guts” will rid society of fearless sociopaths.

Finally, Broadway musicals. Some years ago, I was forced to attend The Phantom of the Opera. If that were the only music available, I’d slash off one ear so that at least whenever I accidentally heard Broadway music it could only attack in mono. The true story is that I “got lost” during intermission and headed for the nearest bar, a mortal marital sin, but with my bad conscience, it troubled me not. I considered 50% of the intended torture more than enough punishment.

Then again, to each his own. I suggest compressing all of these activities into one. Put the animals in zoos on rollercoasters, throw bodies at the hungriest of them, disguise the screams with the screams of Broadway musical “singers,” and for any thrill-seekers left alive, I already told you what to do.

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PAUL A. TOTH's Airplane Novel, already a Midwest Book Review Reviewer's Choice and the 9/11 novel, is available now. His other novels include Finale, Fishnet and Fizz. Click here to visit his sites.

17 responses to “Making Death Fun”

  1. Irene Zion says:

    I don’t know if you mean to be, but you are a really , really funny man!

  2. Becky says:

    How joyless do you have to be to hate amusement parks????

    If gloom for one, gloom for all, eh?

    I mean, the other two objections might stand up to some logical scrutiny in their own ways…though the long-term ethics of eliminating extreme sports and other ways (like smoking) for humans to voluntarily relieve the earth of their burdensome presence is seriously questionable.

    But amusement parks? Man.

    Okay, Joe Bfstplk.

  3. Paul A. Toth says:


    You got it; that’s why this is classified under “humor” (“black humor” isn’t available), the true sixth sense that many seem to lack…but not you!

  4. Becky says:

    I get it, Paul. Do you get me?

    Nothing so blood curdling as the elated squeals of a bourgeois rug rat, no?

  5. Cynthia Hawkins says:

    I think you might be the bizarro me! I’ve never come across anyone else who disliked amusement parks, zoos, and broadway musicals with as much passion as I reserve for such things. Until now. I think my objections have more to do with crowds and heat … and jazz hands. The nearby Sea World has all three. It’s hell on earth! Hell on earth, I tell you!

  6. Paul A. Toth says:

    You lost me; which of us is the bourgeois rug rat?

    • Becky says:

      Ghetto Day. The class warrior thing. Bourgeois capitalist piglets…Gloom for one gloom for all…

      Never mind.

      I was trying to call you a commie.

      I was teasing. Apparently my timing is off.

  7. Paul A. Toth says:

    Ah, now I’ve got it. But I AM a commie!

  8. Paul A. Toth says:


    What are “jazz hands”? I like jazz bands, at least the few authentic ones left. But I also like the term “jazz hands.” It would be good slang for addicts, as in, “Man, I’ve got the jazz hands.”

    I’m going to have to steal that, misspelling or not!

  9. dwoz says:

    It’s the way tap dancers pose their upper body.

  10. Paul A. Toth says:

    There go my jazz credentials!

    Well, I neglected circuses, but now that 1 out of 3 Sarasota residents are employed as clowns flashing two-for-one pizza deals at people who already can’t drive, it seems moot.

  11. Paul A. Toth says:

    Well, I certainly appreciate that link, and I will be forthwith make rampant use of “jazz hands” at every future family gathering I’m forced to attend!

    By the way, I’m a commie in critique only. I no longer believe in solutions.

  12. Very funny! Maybe you should put the smelliest most offensive foods in there, too (on the roller coasters with the animals?): smoked fish, stinky cheeses, egg salad.

  13. kristen says:

    Um, this is quite funny. Thank you!

    Man, between Zara’s ‘Carol’ and now your piece, I’ve managed to extract ample funny from today’s interweb readings. Lucky me.

    You should totally turn these ‘hates’ into discrete little poems, Kay Ryan-style! I can so see this working to great effect.

  14. Paul A. Toth says:

    Thank you. I am always happy to steal, especially when it’s almost legal.

    Thanks for letting me know you enjoyed the article. Properly read, it should amuse, or so I hope!

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