Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Circus is No More


Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus just announced that it was shutting down after 146 years.

The official explanation involves animal rights lawsuits, competition from blockbuster movies and shortened child-attention spans.

The business model didn't work anymore. So they said. 

I think this is a social milestone in the same sense as smart-phones and the Pope's acceptance of divorce.

And yes, it's a minor tragedy.

Like I really want to run away and join Cirque du Soleil.

Man, I Ioved the circus as a kid. We went every year. My mother wouldn't let us buy those whirling glow sticks even though all the other kids had them...

...But she did buy for me the expensive historical programs. I read and re-read them reverently. I learned about the trapeze artists (many of whom perished), the Chinese ladies who drank tea while hanging by their hair, and that guy (Unus) who could stand on one finger.

Even Ernest Hemingway was touched by him.

How did all of those clowns fit inside the car? I hypothesized a trap door. Later, in my maturity, I understood that it was just, as it were, good clown packing.

Clown College shut down twenty years ago.

It wasn't just the clowns, or the tightrope walkers, or the animals. It was the...

I don't know, it was the promise...

I graduated from Tufts University, which was initially funded in large part by P.T. Barnum. The stuffed carcass of the huge elephant Jumbo presided in the entrance hall of the science building. Students used to put coins in the trunk for good luck on exams - until Jumbo (and most of the hall) was destroyed in a fire a few years before I entered.

Now the circus, too, will be gone.

The circus is dead. Long live the circus.

And may all its enemies go to hell.

From the New York Post:
Send home the clowns 
After 146 years, the curtain is coming down forever on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 
Its last performance will be May 21 at the Nassau Coliseum. 
The show stoppers included high operating costs, declining attendance and changing public tastes. 
Not to mention a long and costly legal battle with animal rights advocates, which ended with its hugest stars — the elephants — being pink slipped. Elephants had been the symbol of the circus since an Asian pachyderm named Jumbo joined the show in 1882. 
Employes were told the sad news Saturday night in Orlando. 
The circus will perform 30 more times. Besides the show on Long Island, there will be one in Brooklyn. Other stops on its last tour include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. 
With its exotic animals and death-defying acrobats, the big top had been a huge draw from the mid-1800s to the mid 1900s. 
Phineas Taylor Barnum had made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. 
Its clowns, acrobats, horseback riders — along with their animals — were transported across the country in special cars on extra long trains. 
New York staged its own yearly spectacle. When the circus came to town, the performers, along with invited guests, rode elephants from the Sunnyside rail yards through the Queens Midtown Tunnel and then along Manhattan streets to Madison Square Garden. 
In its heyday, the circus attracted huge crowds. It had such a glamorous image that kids famously dreamed of running away from home to join.
But as years passed, children grew less enchanted. 
First blockbuster movies, then television and finally, video games and the Internet captured the circus’ core audience — both the youngsters and their parents. 
“The competitor in many ways is time,” said circus owner Kenneth Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children — are throwbacks to another era. 
When the Feld family bought the circus in 1967, the show was just under three hours. Today, it’s 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes. “Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” Feld said. 
Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. 
In May of 2016 the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent them to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. 
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants. 
Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. While many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them. 
The Felds said their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. 
In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. 
“We tried all these different things to see what would work,’’ said Kenneth Feld. 
“We weren’t successful in finding the solution.”

Crossposted at Save Versus All Wands.


  1. The circus was just all too real for most folks today where reality is viewed through mediums of one kind or another and political correctness has replaced common sense.

    I live in Venice, Florida where the circus resided for many years. The building have been ripped down, the clown college is gone, a trapeze still stands but probably not for long. Someday all there will be is a plaque.

    I can imagine a plaque on earth in the not too distant future: People once lived here.

  2. I blame Stephen King and creepy clowns. Curse you, creepy clowns, you killed the circus. I hope you're happy! Except the sad faced ones, you just - stay sad.

  3. With its corraled beasts, outliers of human anatomy, hucksters, daredevils etc., don't you think the circus was just too captivating in an unhealty way? From whence did the circus arise? From pagan Rome,from the infidel Orient? Was its heyday on the American Protestant frontier? It just seems so un-Catholic to me. Living that lifestyle certainly did not make for wholesome family life and pandered to the public's unseemly curiosities, don't you think?

  4. I was taken to the circus as a child and was horrified by a man being shot out of a canon. The circus is irrational. It wears down a childs sense of beauty and orderlines in some respects. Even circus music is an assault.

  5. I want to ask whether you were mugged by a clown but I won't. :)

    Your comments are making me think.

    It would be hard to argue that, say, the worst kind of sideshow is morally edifying in any sense, let alone a Catholic sense.

    But I'm not sure about some of the rest. To take just one kind of example, is being a tightrope walker (or being a member of a family of tightrope walkers) un-Catholic? Why would that be the case? Is it that one seems to be risking death for no more than entertainment purposes?

    I'd like to think that, ideally at least, a good acrobat (even a "death-defying" one) gives glory to God in the same way that any good artist does. That's one of the reasons I've written favorably about Philippe Petit. I agree it's less "classy" than many of the alternatives, but that's okay with me.

    Is the circus "irrational" or "disorderly"? Is it "fake" in a bad way?

    As I said, I'm thinking...

  6. I wasn't going to say anything but since I agree with Sandpiper(I think)...I went to a circus once when I was little and was horrified by the elephant; I wanted to cry over the life the thing was leading, being paraded around and alone and expected to do things wildly unrelated to its nature in order to get food. I wondered if it had seen another elephant since it was captured in the wild. I remember my dad pointing at it excitedly and being horrified that he was enjoying it. Ugh.

    It probably depends on the circus, that was rural North Carolina, hardly a big city gig.

    Simultaneously, something like that first picture in your post, Oakes, there's a spirit there, and that's being lost. So, I don't know, a circus without animals, maybe?

    I'm really conflicted on this, it's like trying to figure out what Francis is thinking. And, yes, Oakes, I hated clowns as a child, lol.

  7. I think I am conflicted too. The human form of a trapeze artist gives glory to God. I was a sensitive child. I worried about the animals. Also, they don't call chaos (of Satan?) a ""three ring circus" for nothing.

    1. Sorry, I missed your comment. I'm not one of those people who thinks we should shrug off animal cruelty just because we don't like, say, PETA. Compassion and empathy with animals is a virtue.

      Yeah, my father used to use that term "three ring circus" as well as its close relative "Grand Central Station" (to denote an annoyingly busy or crowded place).

      But weren't the people in those rings probably perfectly choreographing their act down to the shortest canter?

      I guess that would be part of my reply to your worries: the circus is only apparent chaos. It's all part of the show. They've done it a hundred time before.

      This discussion has motivated me to re-watch "The Greatest Show on Earth" with Charlton Heston.

  8. Geez, one tries to write a "feel-good" (sort of) non-controversial post as a respite from the bad news in the Church and in the world...

    I had a friend who had an awful memory of visiting Disney World as a kid. Apparently his Dad started an awful row because Goofy allegedly tried to pick up his Mom.

    Am I the only one who did NOT have a traumatic childhood experience at a circus, amusement park, etc.?

    1. Lol, well, if it's any consolation to you the image of a man beating up Goofy for hitting on his wife has just given me a lot of enjoyment.

  9. Come to think of it, I think God must love a circus.

  10. Well to me this is a tragedy, pretty much, because what it means is a lot fewer people (children) will actually see an elephant or a lion in real life. I have no stats, but I have a hunch what people SEE, they care about, and children will now grow up many of them not actually seeing an elephant. Good work, animal rights activists. I'm sorry, but PETA had a problem once about flies, I mean, they protested about FLIES. I'm not totally sure that's true, but I kind of recall it. Good enough, for today's media.
    Anyway, I once rode an elephant at a carnival. I rode horses as a kid, many times. I sat on a cow. But the only thing that I can compare riding an elephant with is if you sat on the peak of your house and it got up and started walking. A grand, marvelous, thinking animal. We ought to protect them and all animals. I, am an animal nut, but I think we should have the circus. It's an American tradition and that's enough.
    If kids weren't interested because they're jaded and all have ADD, that's a business decision, and unfortunate.
    I'm with Ben, creepy clowns, just another assault on children really, and innocence. They are a sign of evil times, but remember, Barney the Dinosaur was being attacked by people, remember that? Poor Barney, just a sweet dinosaur, but too sweet for today's weirdos. People in Barney suits were being attacked.
    Anybody else feeling crabby? I know I am. Sorry Oakes, thanks for trying!

  11. I remember going to Ringling Brothers every year for my birthday at Madison Square Garden in New York. My father would always take the day off from work and take me. My father, and my mother, have passed and I'll always remember my birthdays at the circus. I brought my son to Ringling Brothers when he was a child and I'm sorry he won't get the opportunity to bring his son, when he has one.

    To paraphrase Groucho Marx, sometimes a circus is just a circus.