The world that I thought that I’d always known, is changing.
I’m not quite sure where it’s headed. But I feel that it isn’t such a great place.
I read recently that Ringling Bros Circus is closing their tours, they have 2 revolving circuses right now, and this month will be that last time that either of them will perform. It really was inevitable. Our tastes as a society have changed. Performing elephants and big cats, that were once the circus’ main attraction, only bring people sadness now. And I understand that.
The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made the traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, the two merged and the modern circus – Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey – was born. The sprawling troupes traveled across the continent by train, or better yet; animal-drawn carriages, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment, death-defying stunts and bizarre beasts.
In the later part of the 19th century, with the Western Expansion of the United States, more and more Americans moved out of the confined urban areas. Without museums, theaters, or zoos in rural America the need for stimulating entertainment was overwhelming, and the arrival of a circus to town was a festivity for everyone.
Circus promoters would plaster the town, usually weeks before an event, with brightly colored posters like these;
There was always a parade, giving the locals just a small taste of the exotic delights the troupe had to offer; human oddities, illusionists, acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals sourced from around the globe. In 1884 P.T. Barnum, an absolute genius of promotion, even marched his circus – elephants and all – across the newly built Brooklyn Bridge.
By mid-century, the American circus was considered a routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century closed, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. Exotic became a dated concept. With the internet, everything is just a mouse-click away. Making even exotic……seem mundane. Ringling Bros. just didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins – breakfast cereals, action figures or Saturday morning cartoons – to capture those attentions.
There are still a handful of smaller circuses traveling across North America (most out of Mexico and Canada) but what was once the Greatest Show on Earth….
Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey,
….is closing the tent flaps for good.
and I think that’s kinda sad,