A little unusual for me to discuss this, but I just saw a notice in the news that Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus ("the greatest show on earth") is going to close down after May. The owner, Kenneth Field (I think that is his name) had to tell his employees last week. There has been a long decline in ticket sales based on the changing tastes of the American audience. Radio, television, and the movies (which once gave an "Oscar" for best film to a DeMille movie about the circus called "The Greatest Show on Earth") all stole the audience away bit by bit, and then the internet and electronic games finished the job. But the biggest change in the mood of the audience was that groups like the A.S.P.C.A., the Humane Society, and PETA had assailed the circus for mistreating it's animals. This had a permanent affect with the public, despite the fact that Ringling Brothers actually won a large settlement for libel against several of these a few years back.
As a kid I went to the circus about thee or four times, and I really could not stand the smell from the animal cages (I had a similar reaction in zoos). About 1984 I went to the circus in Manhattan (Madison Square Garden) with a co-worker friend of mine, and his family. That was it. Still I was interested in it's history, and the colorful people involved with it. It saddens me a little to think that such an old established institution in this country (146 years) and older abroad has been wiped out by progress. At what point does the public finally tell progress it has to stop. Eventually it will you know.
I remember seeing a programme where they tried to recreate the machines that Archimedes used to destroy the Roman navy. A physicist worked out the maths involved, but the construction of the machines was supervised by a man who had spent years erecting circus tents.
In a way I think it's sad that circuses have almost gone now.
However, I have to say that I am very happy that no more large animals are being used. They used to be caught in the wild in Africa, transported thousands of miles and then live out their lives in tiny cages, the size of somebody's living room.
I have no doubt that some circuses were better than others though so I am not tarring them all with the same brush.
There was a court case against Mary Chipperfield a few years ago where she was (secretly) filmed whipping a tiny baby chimpanzee. It would break your heart to see it, but these are the kind of things that went on.
I still think that some animals could be used in a circus though - those ones that actually enjoy performing - horses and dogs for instance.
All in all I don't think I'll be sorry to see the demise of the circus, although it definitely is the end of an era.
I think it's best for them to be relegated to the history books, where they belong.
Entertainment does seem to be one form of human endeavor that changes very regularly over the years. We've given up gladiatorial combat, leaping over the horns of Minoan bulls, ripping out the beating hearts of honored Aztec victims, and many other sports and games.
The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey circus recently said they were phasing out the use of elephants in their shows. I guess that was the first sign of the failure of this American tradition.
--------------- Von Konigswald: Jack the Ripper plays shuffleboard. -- Happy Birthday, Wanda June by Kurt Vonnegut, c.1970.