The Greatest Show on Earth is Done
January 15, 2017 1:37 PM   Subscribe

The Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus will have its last shows in May, after 146 years in the United States. It appears that many of the employees will be out of work and the animals will be going to shelters.
posted by pyramid termite (125 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is really sad, but, look at it from the Circus' perspective. When was the last time any of us actually went to the circus? I know it has been a long old while for me (but that is as much a fault of them not coming anywhere close to where I have lived).
posted by Samizdata at 1:43 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


In a way I'm sad because of the tradition, in another way I can't help feeling the animal element is a real anachronism now.

I was at a traditional circus a couple of years ago. There are still a few families touring the UK and Ireland and I imagine even more in central and eastern Europe.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:44 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I'm sad to see an organization that's been around so long go under even though I was never a big fan. I hadn't realized that removing the elephants made such an impact. The circus is a hard sell in the 21st century so maybe its time has passed.
posted by shoesietart at 1:45 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Given that one of the major factors seems to have been people's increasing understanding that it's cruel and inhumane to exhibit animals this way, I can't be entirely sorry it's closing.
posted by Lexica at 1:50 PM on January 15, 2017 [118 favorites]


about 15 years ago, i went to the moscow state circus, which was in town and they were sufficiently entertaining without animals

i think the lack of elephants might have hastened the end, but it was coming nonetheless - although there are still other circuses around

i'm pretty sure i saw ringling bros once as a kid and about 10 or so years ago as an adult, taking my kid

it's sad to see an institution that somehow helped define our country passing like this
posted by pyramid termite at 1:51 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


It wasn't just the animals. Circuses always had this sleazy vibe that creeped me out as a kid, same with carnivals. Also, I'm surprised that aren't trying to make a go of it with a fixed location, such as Vegas.
posted by Beholder at 1:53 PM on January 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


How did the circus "define our country"?
posted by Windopaene at 1:53 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


At the same time interest in "circus" arts is growing, there are circus schools all over (just happened at neighbors open house to chat with a professional trapeze artist last week). Cirque du Soleil has multiples shows touring and several in Vegas. But they are mostly smaller shows, some very clever with just a few performers, others with small bigtop tents like the Big Apple.

Ringling seemed to try to add some modern art sensibility in recent years but the 'cool' acts seemed tacked on.
posted by sammyo at 1:54 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Something Wicked That Way Goes.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:58 PM on January 15, 2017 [41 favorites]


.

"Do the clowns always cry / when they pack up / the paper sky?"

I'm sorry to see a show business tradition die, but it was a natural death of old age. When was the last time you heard somebody reference clowns without saying "terrified of" in the same breath? They've lost their cultural relevance outside of the horror genre. Acrobats are amazing live performers, and I recommend that anyone see them whenever they get a chance, but they are suffering from everything that live musicians do in these days, and worse.

In the past, Europeans and Americans might go their whole lives without the chance to see an exotic animal, except for the circus. I heard a Nebraskan woman talking about how "the zoo came to town" once a year and set up on nearby farmland. That was it. Now we have any number of documentaries in which to see animals of all kinds in the wild, and captive animals themselves can live decently in scientific, humane zoos or sanctuaries, viewed in healthy habitats and not forced to do any tricks they don't enjoy.

So the circus isn't what we will go looking for anymore, or at least not until some collapse of civilization that will lead a few game troupers to round up the last zoo animals, grab some stupid hats and juggling pins and go on the road, like a Station Eleven with clowns.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:00 PM on January 15, 2017 [21 favorites]


That OK. Our circus needs will be filled by the incoming Presidential Administration.
posted by jonmc at 2:02 PM on January 15, 2017 [62 favorites]


I saw the circus at the Meadowlands Arena in NJ when I was young. I will never forget seeing an Elephant take a massive bowel movement during their performance.

Now I know why that happened. It was probably due to poor conditions for the animals. It's probably for the best.
posted by 81818181818181818181 at 2:05 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Also, I'm surprised that aren't trying to make a go of it with a fixed location, such as Vegas."

Cirque du Soleil has already taken that market slot. For the most part, it's a circus without the performing animals.
posted by bawanaal at 2:06 PM on January 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


How did the circus "define our country"?

Taken together with carnivals, which shared much of the same entertainment and custom, I would definitely argue that circus acts and traditions inspired an enormous amount of American art, lore and literature. Just a few books off the top of my head: IT, Geek Love, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Water for Elephants -- all huge popular and/or critical successes. That's to say nothing of the influence of P.T. Barnum, possibly the most American man who ever lived.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:06 PM on January 15, 2017 [22 favorites]


Circuses always had this sleazy vibe that creeped me out as a kid, same with carnivals.

The sleazy vibe was the best part.

The only part that ever really appealed to me about circuses, to be honest.
posted by rue72 at 2:07 PM on January 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


> "When was the last time any of us actually went to the circus?"

I go to the circus a lot. I see maybe five to ten circus shows a year.

But not ones with performing animals. I have friends who worked for traditional circuses at one point or another (including Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey) and I know how those animals get treated. That's a big hard nope for me, and I'm not particularly sorry that traditional circuses are fading away and getting replaced with something better.
posted by kyrademon at 2:11 PM on January 15, 2017 [31 favorites]


Management is probably just trying to get the Avatar to reveal themselves.
posted by drezdn at 2:13 PM on January 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


Now I know why that happened.

The massive bowel movement happened because elephants are vegetarians, they eat a lot, and a lot of what they eat is roughage.
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:18 PM on January 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


Early cinema took a lot of its theatrical language from circuses and and its more urban cousin, vaudeville. Pretty much the entire "Western" genre of the 20th century spun off from Buffalo Bill's Wild West, (even postmodern Western works like True Grit reference it). Circuses took variety acts on tour to places that didn't have either stage or movie theaters. Barnum was one of the first great marketing hucksters, and probably has an influence on just about every entertainment theme park and museum existing.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:20 PM on January 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


I've never been to the circus. Even as a kid, the animals made me sad, and I never found clowns funny. I think my parents offered to take me to Ringling Bros. when I was young, but I demurred.

So, I agree its passing in our day comes at little cost loss (beyond the occupational one for the performers). That said, I did visit the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, and that's an interesting outing, with its mix of classical art and circus memorabilia.
posted by the sobsister at 2:23 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


... and not forced to do any tricks they don't enjoy.

This attitude has always seemed to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is to be an intelligent creature. I was having a conversation just a couple of hours ago with an actual human being who was worried that if he retired he would be bored out of his mind. Work is the very definition of "tricks they don't enjoy" and many of us find life kind of pointless when we don't have to do it any more. After all we also don't have any of the other tasks our ancestors took for granted as survival necessities for hundreds of thousands of years, like hunting and gathering, and evolution didn't give us a tendency to like extended idleness because of the need to do those things.

I think you can argue that all kinds of things are wrong with the way animals are kept by circuses and zoos, but the idea that giving an intelligent animal something to do is cruel is just wrong. At our local (very highly regarded) zoo the elephants give a little show each day, and the very serious scientific zookeepers do that for the elephants as much as for the entertainment of the zoo visitors. The elephants also helped -- enthusiastically by all accounts -- in the cleanup of the zoo after Hurricane Katrina.

If circumstances required you to live your entire life in something like a modern suburban house without ever leaving, you would probably be grateful for the opportunity to show some skills and get some applause. Yes, you can argue that putting an intelligent animal in that position is a bad thing intrinsically, but what do you do when all the natural habitat is disappearing and what is left is infested with poachers? If you knew you were safe in that suburban house behind a wall would you really want to leave if every trip meant a chance to get shot by someone who wants to turn your foot into a garbage can?
posted by Bringer Tom at 2:29 PM on January 15, 2017 [58 favorites]


Curious timing. Just the other day, they named Kristen Michelle Wilson as the first woman ring master.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:29 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Back in the day, if you wanted to see a scantily-clad hootchie-cootchie dancer, you had to wait until the travelling show came to town. The ladies performed in smaller sideshow tents, and this required some creative dance moves in regards to the central pole holding the tent up. So... as long as there are folks who take their clothes off and pole-dance, the last lingering spirits of the circus will never truly be gone.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 2:32 PM on January 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


I'm a bit sad just because it's 146 years old, but the animal stuff was really problematic and I had no interest in attending the circus myself or taking my kids (especially with the animal acts). But I'm REALLY sad about the circus train ending because that is clearly the coolest part of the whole thing, people who get to live on a train year-round! Ringmaster's apartment; pie car; what's it like?; more pictures of the smaller apartments; and more train pics.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:36 PM on January 15, 2017 [30 favorites]


This attitude has always seemed to me to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is to be an intelligent creature. I was having a conversation just a couple of hours ago with an actual human being who was worried that if he retired he would be bored out of his mind. Work is the very definition of "tricks they don't enjoy" and many of us find life kind of pointless when we don't have to do it any more.

I'm always torn between judging the shit out of people like that and being pants-wettingly terrified of them.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:48 PM on January 15, 2017 [11 favorites]


Absolutely, intelligent animals enjoy activities and need to be provided with them. I was thinking specifically of the last time I went to the zoo, where I saw a monkey flipping and twirling in a net that was provided for just that purpose, with obvious enjoyment. It wasn't acting on any commands, but there was a crowd gathering anyway, and even applauding at the gymnastics. Shortly thereafter, that monkey (or possibly a colleague) escaped, and was safely recaptured when she had had enough. An up-to-date zoo is a forgiving, non-punitive environment.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:51 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Nice to see a positive sign that we are still evolving as civilization.
posted by cwarmy at 2:53 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, I won a poster contest and got to be a clown for a night at the Ringling circus, and this actually makes me kind of sad. Still, it's hard not to wonder how they lasted this long, given how much of an anachronism it is. Much like Blockbuster, the circus has been rendered obsolete.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:54 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


My sister has a horse farm. I never put "work"
and "necessary for the sanity of the horses" together until I worked there last summer. They are absolutely task oriented and obviously enjoy being given tasks - whether that's doing tricks in the ring with a trainer or heading out on a fox hunt. They love going to Work.
posted by disclaimer at 2:54 PM on January 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


I went to one of these shows once as a kid. Even at the time I felt really sorry for the elephants, forced to prance around in all kinds of awkward and painful-looking positions. I can't imagine what their joints were like after decades of such treatment. None of the animals looked happy.

If you want to see exotic animals because you're curious about their lives, go to a zoo or watch a nature documentary. I have a really hard time feeling sorry for an organization that comes from "when Ulysses S. Grant was president and minstrel shows were popular entertainment" and which can't figure out how to be more appealing than World of Warcraft to modern audiences without enslaving animals for profit.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer company.

On preview: Work is the very definition of "tricks they don't enjoy" and many of us find life kind of pointless when we don't have to do it any more.

Why assume all forms of intelligent life are exactly like work-obsessed Americans? I am pretty sure you could find other humans who would disagree emphatically with this premise.

Clearly there is a difference between activities a person would choose to do for fun, and requiring them to follow specific orders on threat of punishment. It's possible for animals, much like people, to entertain themselves if they are provided an enriching environment.
posted by Feyala at 2:55 PM on January 15, 2017 [16 favorites]


Circuses with animals in are grossly cruel, there is no enjoyment there for animals. I'm really cheered to see that finally they've been closed down
posted by stevedawg at 2:56 PM on January 15, 2017 [10 favorites]


I remember the circus at Madison Square Garden in the early 1950s--there was a man with no arms--hands sprouted from his shoulders, and he was somehow shuffling a deck of cards, the cards magically sailing across his chest.

In the 1980s, Cole Brother's circus (google it for the fading, unsupported web pages) set up near my father-in-law's house. When they left, he inherited a pile of elephant dung about six feet high, which he used on his garden for the next several years.
posted by hexatron at 2:58 PM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


Clearly there is a difference between activities a person would choose to do for fun, and requiring them to follow specific orders on threat of punishment.

Except that that isn't how animal training has worked for like 100 years, because it doesn't work very well. What does work, and is done, is to use positive reinforcement through treats and praise. If an animal trained that way isn't wanting to do its routine, the trainer knows something is wrong that needs to be investigated, like an illness or other problem. Yeah, they make a big show of "taming" the carnivores with whips, but that's just show; they're trained by positive reinforcement too, they just don't make it obvious for show purposes.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:01 PM on January 15, 2017 [15 favorites]



I'm sad to see an organization that's been around so long go under even though I was never a big fan. I hadn't realized that removing the elephants made such an impact. The circus is a hard sell in the 21st century so maybe its time has passed.


I took the kids to see the two of the last performances with the elephants, figuring hey, we're effectively chipping in to the beasts' 401K.

The stands were already barely half full. It's not just the animals. The interest in a big top circus show is just not there anymore.
posted by ocschwar at 3:03 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


And when I was twelve years old, my father took me to a circus,
The greatest show on earth
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads
And as I sat there watching
I had the feeling that something was missing
I don't know what, but when it was over
I said to myself, "Is that all there is to the circus?"
--Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
posted by lazycomputerkids at 3:10 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Oh PS I have watched the handlers at Audubon Zoo with the elephants for my entire adult life, and have never seen a bull hook. I'll take your word that that's a thing somewhere.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:19 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I don't think that one can really justify circuses on the basis that they give animals something to do. Animals are able to find things to do, just fine, in their natural environments. And the fact that we're destroying those environments is no more justification for imprisoning wild animals for show than it would be a justification for imprisoning for show the indigenous South Americans whose homes we are destroying, no matter how well we treated them.

If we must imprison wild animals, then it is, I think, incumbent upon us to do it in as humane a way as possible, using environments and regimes that approximate those they are evolved to live in. I don't think that putting wild animals into close contact with lots of people, noise, light and all the rest of it can possibly be what's most appropriate for them.
posted by howfar at 3:21 PM on January 15, 2017 [23 favorites]


I think there is a place for domestic animals in a circus, as long as they are treated humanely and their welfare is considered. (Dogs, horses, goats, etc.)
posted by Hypatia at 3:24 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Bringer Tom: "Something Wicked That Way Goes."

Carnival. Big difference.

(Seriously, carnies explain SO much about that movie. Which I love. Because it is awesome. Despite Hollywood's attempts to make it otherwise.)
posted by Samizdata at 3:35 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


[Several deleted. Next person who calls someone else an asshole gets a day off. Disagree civilly or find another something else to do.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 3:37 PM on January 15, 2017 [15 favorites]


When young, I had a family connection that gave us tickets to Ringling shows in Ct (Hamden), and I had attended a number of them. In addition to the circus, way back, was the freak shows that many of us youngsters loved. Not mentioned here, the Ringling Hartford Circus Fire, when the huge tent caught fire and man burned to death, resulting in staging later circus events indoors, and no longer under the big tent. I was friendly with twins who lost their parents at that fire. and then there was the school for circus--especially clown--training in Florida. Yes. We get on our high horses--pardon--and realize how cruel we were to animals, and how much nicer to be entertained with the use of animals. But this is now and that was then. Not long ago, just prior to 1950 we fought our wars with our military segregated. Pehaps some day what we do and appreciate now will be viewed as a bit out of tune with truth and beauty.
posted by Postroad at 3:39 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Hypatia: "I think there is a place for domestic animals in a circus, as long as they are treated humanely and their welfare is considered. (Dogs, horses, goats, etc.)"

Seconded. No reason to abuse animals. Not in circuses, not with food animals, not with pets.

No reason.
posted by Samizdata at 3:40 PM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


I'm in an all-human circus. At least in my circles, there is not a great amount of sadness over this.
posted by Nothing at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2017 [18 favorites]


I think you can argue that all kinds of things are wrong with the way animals are kept by circuses and zoos

Equating those seems a very bad idea to me, since zoos built in the last 50 years or so seem deeply unlike circuses.

Anyway, there are alternatives other than "keep animals in bare cages and give them tasks to entertain people" and "keep animals in bare cages with no tasks." Such as "Keep animals in naturalistic environments and teach them tasks that are relevant to their well-being in one way or another, even though lying down for a brief oral exam isn't entertaining."
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:57 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Ringling Bros. abused elephants. Its closing ranks up there with "China banning ivory" in terms of recent news that has made me cautiously hopeful that humanity is not beyond redemption. I'm sorry for all the circus employees who will lose their jobs, but Ringling Bros was an outdated dinosaur that clung to the unacceptable treatment of wild animals as a core part of its identity for too long, and now they're paying the price--good riddance.
posted by whistle pig at 4:05 PM on January 15, 2017 [29 favorites]


That OK. Our circus needs will be filled by the incoming Presidential Administration.

I was trying to think of the proper response to this news but jonmc nailed it. Bravo!

With regards to the closure, I am sorry for the people whose jobs will disappear but not in the least sorry for the end of a "way of life." If aquariums where dolphins and orcas perform for tourists are next, I will feel the same again.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:14 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Will we still be able to get circus peanuts?
posted by lagomorphius at 4:21 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Some things are better off done.
posted by hal9k at 4:24 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's not the animals performing part that is the most problematic (I've R+ trained dogs to obedience titles, I know how that works ideally, but I also know that other dog trainers less committed to modern training methods can and do abuse their dogs), it's the conditions in which they were kept when not performing.

Anyway, traditional circuses also creep me out in other ways (has Geek Love permanently scarred me?), the performing arts have evolved and Ringling Bros. is dying a natural death. Can't say I'm real broken up about it.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:36 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


That OK. Our circus needs will be filled by the incoming Presidential Administration

Definitely shows there is still a "sucker born every minute."
posted by fungible at 4:36 PM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


If anyone is interested in New Circus shows which don't involve animals, there's a lot more than just Cirque du Soleil --

For some reason, there's been a ton of amazing stuff coming out of Australia in recent years. My personal favorite from there is Circa -- definitely see them if they come by you, they tour worldwide. My favorite show by them is probably Beyond.

I was also extremely impressed this past year by UK troupe Ockham's Razor. They really took it to the next level with their show Tipping Point. It's also currently on tour.

The New Circus movement as a whole probably got its start in Quebec, and they still produce scads of top-level companies like Cirque Éloize. I saw Rain and it was fantastic. It looks like their current touring shows are Cirkopolis, iD, and Saloon. The last one looks like it's going through the U.S. right now, if that's where you are.

How about groups from the U.S.? One of the best shows I've seen in the past two years was much smaller than the ones above -- a two-person circus from New Mexico group The Ricochet Project. It looks like 2017 tour dates for their show Smoke and Mirrors aren't up yet, but go see them if you can!

And of course, there's still the great Cirque du Soleil, largest and most famous of the New Circus organizations. With 9 shows on tour and permanent shows in New York, Orlando, Riviera Maya, and 8 shows at once in Las Vegas, they're the ones most likely to have a show dropping by near you soon, and they are always well worth seeing. If the Big Spectacle is what makes the circus The Circus for you, Cirque du Soleil are the ones with the money and the budget to do the Big Shows. That isn't to say that's all there is to them -- they put on some incredible shows.

Naturally, this only scratches the surface. There's NoFit State Circus, and Rigolo Swiss Nouvea Cirque has been doing some nice work recently, and Cirque Alphonse's BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret was extremely memorable and the only circus show I have ever seen have "lumbersexual" used to describe it in a review, and there's dozens of great local groups that deserve your support if one happens to be near you, and, and, and ...
posted by kyrademon at 4:53 PM on January 15, 2017 [61 favorites]


I see nothing to miss about the old-school animal shows. I went to one as a child and even then found it off-putting. I think we can recognize the cultural importance of the old circuses without finding them particularly relevant.

But this sounds amazing: Cirque Alphonse's BARBU Electro Trad Cabaret was extremely memorable and the only circus show I have ever seen have "lumbersexual" used to describe it in a review

Checking out the video on the front page of their website, I see what looks like bear-night downtown, mud wrestling, a cute and well-treated rodent of some sort, juggling of humans, and more. I would happily watch this for hours.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


It's too bad. I wish the circus and their elephants had been left alone
posted by knoyers at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2017


My Mother was president of an animal shelter in suburban Chicago that euthanized unadopted dogs and cats after 7 to 14 days. That is complete anathema now. The shelter I volunteer at is no-kill as are most. Attitudes change. So it goes with the elephants. So it goes with whipping lions. So it goes with the circus. However, I did get to feed and pet an elephant once at the circus and that was pretty cool.
posted by MarvinTheCat at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


There's got to be some compound German word for that feeling of double surprise when someone or something dies that you didn't even realize was still alive.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:12 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


The stands were already barely half full. It's not just the animals. The interest in a big top circus show is just not there anymore.

I went to the Boston one 40 years ago, and it was half full. Surprised it lasted this long. So, so many other options. RIP.
posted by Melismata at 5:16 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


some compound German word for that feeling of double surprise when someone or something dies that you didn't even realize was still alive.

Like Jack Chick?

I am guessing it is something like Weiterlebentodüberraschung, but that might also be the word for being nonplussed to discover that one is a vampire. It is not something that came up in the vocab in my German class in high school, so I am winging it a bit here.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:21 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


> "... a cute and well-treated rodent of some sort ..."

(Just to be clear to those curious, Milette Jolly the hamster is there to look cute, does not perform tricks beyond the level of "there is a treat over there if you are willing to walk two feet to get it", and I'm 99.9999% sure he's the pet of one of the performers. So I don't think mistreatment is an issue in this particular one-animal show, hence its inclusion on my list.)
posted by kyrademon at 5:24 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's pretty cool that Ringling Brothers only travels by rail (on the longest private train in the world, according to a railfan website I'm looking at) but wouldn't it be exponentially cheaper to travel via semi-trailer/bus convoy? Did sticking with the circus train tradition hasten to their demise?
posted by Hey Dean Yeager! at 5:26 PM on January 15, 2017


I was about to say that the Big Apple Circus has a dog act that mostly employs rescue dogs and that the company takes good care of the dogs. Then I learned that the Big Apple Circus folded.

Fucking 2016, man.
posted by pxe2000 at 5:50 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


When was the last time any of us actually went to the circus?

I took my kids when they were in DC last year, on the final tour with the elephants. They put on a good show, but the arena was less than half full and it did feel like its days were numbered.

Circuses always had this sleazy vibe that creeped me out as a kid, same with carnivals.

To me, this has always been part of the appeal - you felt like you were in the presence of something ancient and occult, or at least an echo of it. It's part of the reason that, while I understand the objection to the animal acts, I found it hard to reject it out of hand. A deep seam of cruelty and creepiness runs through almost every aspect of human culture that is in any way compelling, if you look at it plainly.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:51 PM on January 15, 2017 [14 favorites]


How did the circus "define our country"?


As a metaphor, the abusive captivity and forced brutal labor of intelligent, once free beings for spectacle and entertainment and profit sounds about right. To me it's about as nostalgic as minstrelsy.

Not comparing slaves or other abused classes of humans to circus animals, to be clear. More the opposite, as I think we will look back in shame at how we treated wild animals once they're mostly gone.

Next: the vast majority of zoos.
posted by spitbull at 5:52 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I was there with my daughter at the last show they performed with the elephants. Those animals are incredibly smart and agile for their size - it was an amazing performance, but the organization did the right thing by ending it permanently. (They broke tradition by letting someone other than the Ringmaster on the mic, by letting the elephant trainer explain how the elephants were trained, and the ethical reasons why they were being retired, and what conditions they were retiring to. Heartwarming all around.)

The animal acts were OK, but the standouts (apart from the elephants) were the trained dogs and precision riding team, not the lion-tamer. You kind of felt bad for the big cats, but the dogs and ponies were clearly having a ball with their humans.

What really amazed were the acrobats and motorcycle stunt riders. In honor of the elephants' last performance one of the tumblers set a world record that involved him diving through a tiny hoop suspended 13 feet in the air... from a running start on the ground! I can't recall the specifics of the trick, I think it was a human-assisted leap rather than a springboard that made for it's amazing difficulty, but it dropped my jaw. This was a human being operating right at the theoretical limits of our physical abilities, and requiring teamwork to succeed.

Then they had seven men and women on high-powered dirtbikes and shoved them in a sphere made of the stuff they make BBQ grates out of, roughly the size of a one-car garage, lit up their daredevil outfits with EL wire, and had them run their bikes flat out. I knew of the Sphere of Death, and I had seen one performed on TV, and this was completely bonkers to see IRL.

The clowns were kind of mean-spirited and meh, with the exception of a Little Person who was the protagonist of the whole show. He was an incredibly gifted tumbler and rope performer, and wasn't half bad at pantomime acting - he was not wearing makeup as a nod to his place as a sort of co-Ringmaster. The Ringmaster himself was an amazingly gifted black man, an actor of fantastic oratorical ability.

It really was a show worth the seeing, and it entertained and amazed far in advance of what you expect, just watching it on a TV screen, even if you were way up in the cheap seats, like we were.

I'm going to try to get tickets to the final Circus Extreme show in Providence in May.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:01 PM on January 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


Then they had seven men and women on high-powered dirtbikes and shoved them in a sphere made of the stuff they make BBQ grates out of, roughly the size of a one-car garage, lit up their daredevil outfits with EL wire, and had them run their bikes flat out. I knew of the Sphere of Death, and I had seen one performed on TV, and this was completely bonkers to see IRL.

I think of all the acts, this is the one I'll miss most.

( FWIW, I always rooted for the Big Cats, myself )
posted by mikelieman at 6:07 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Circus lovers can still go to the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. This was the hometown of the Ringling Brothers and the winter quarters of their famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Along the banks of the Baraboo River stand the surviving winter quarters buildings, remnants of an age when the circus was a major form of entertainment in big and small towns and cities across America. I was there a couple years ago. My family several generations ago were part of Ringling Brothers. The Marshall Brothers have a permanent exhibit in the museum. The museum still has daily circus acts in the summer. The spring season opens on March 20th and the Summer Performance season starts Friday May 19, 2017.
posted by converseguy at 6:09 PM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


with the exception of a Little Person who was the protagonist of the whole show. He was an incredibly gifted tumbler and rope performer, and wasn't half bad at pantomime acting - he was not wearing makeup as a nod to his place as a sort of co-Ringmaster.

I believe that would be Paulo Cesar dos Santos


The Ringmaster himself was an amazingly gifted black man, an actor of fantastic oratorical ability.

Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson. I'll miss him too.

( I always thought playing in the Circus Band must be the best job ever... )
posted by mikelieman at 6:14 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


I believe that would be Paulo Cesar dos Santos

Wow, I should have realized that Circus Nerds are a thing, and now I'm kind of sad I never thought to be one before now.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:19 PM on January 15, 2017 [12 favorites]


#NOTALLZOOS
posted by spitbull at 6:27 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


Wow, I should have realized that Circus Nerds are a thing, and now I'm kind of sad I never thought to be one before now.

I am just 50, and NEVER IN MY LIFE have I ever been called a "Circus Nerd".

Thank you. And here I was thinking I may have wasted my life and shit.
posted by mikelieman at 6:33 PM on January 15, 2017 [20 favorites]


I am just 50, and NEVER IN MY LIFE have I ever been called a "Circus Nerd".

Well, you are. This makes you automatically awesome. Can you tell me the world record that was broken in Providence at the last show of the elephants? The tumbler was Chinese, if I remember correctly, and not a young guy, and it took a few tries.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:48 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


Hey Dean Yeager!: "It's pretty cool that Ringling Brothers only travels by rail (on the longest private train in the world, according to a railfan website I'm looking at) but wouldn't it be exponentially cheaper to travel via semi-trailer/bus convoy? Did sticking with the circus train tradition hasten to their demise?"

Rail is quite cost competitive with trucking when there isn't any need for scheduling flexibility (this is why you don't see for example coal being long hauled over interstates); especially if you already have the capital investment in rolling stock.
posted by Mitheral at 7:02 PM on January 15, 2017 [7 favorites]


I was about to say that the Big Apple Circus has a dog act that mostly employs rescue dogs and that the company takes good care of the dogs. Then I learned that the Big Apple Circus folded.

Many of their assets are currently up for auction. Also, the docuseries about them, Circus, is streaming from PBS.
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:03 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I never went to the circus as a kid. Then my father-in-law asked if we could go with him as a fathers'day present to see Circus Flora. Thirty-[mumble] years old at that point, I was grinning and clapping like a four-year-old.

The circus is named for a retired circus elephant and one of their guiding principles is anti-cruelty to the animal performers.

They have various aerial performers, some pretty wild horseback-riding stunts (think Legolas during the Warg attack), the high wire, and the full-on flying trapeze. The horses seem to enjoy what they're doing. The various trick goats, dogs, and (!) cats look to be having a blast!
posted by notsnot at 7:08 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Can you tell me the world record that was broken in Providence at the last show of the elephants? The tumbler was Chinese, if I remember correctly, and not a young guy, and it took a few tries.

The China National Acrobatic Troupe did a "10′ Tumbling Record" ring dive, IIRC but Out Of This World has the Heilongjiang Provincial Acrobatic Troupe. Honestly, I don't know.
posted by mikelieman at 7:12 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


As a small child, I saw Ringling Bros twice. As a teenager living in a God-forsaken desert town a circus came.
Tingling Bros was quite the spectacle. I won't lie, I enjoyed the circus, but I liked zoos a bit better. Even the less good older zoos.
The small circus which came to my town had one elderly female elephant, she was very sweet and I got to touch her. She seemed well treated and I now know a bit more about elephants. I can say she was well cared for, other than being chained when outdoors and not working. She was a HUGE favorite and everyone at school was jealous of me for living at the edge of town and being allowed to go visit any time I felt like it.time. They had several lionesses and my mother was taken with them. They had a cute yearling she-camel who escaped sometimes, many many horses. They had a Highland cow they said was a yak, and a tiny Herferd cow that was under two feet tall and under two feet long. She had tiny, perfect horns. I found her tiny perfection enchanting, but felt sorry that there probably was no bull her size in all the world.
We went at least twice with our mother. People carte
d away the elephant's dung in wheel barrows.
Most of the performers were Roma people. They actually had a tent and the lionesses roared at night. Lionesses roaring under a full moon is a marvelous sound.
Later I read stuff about how badly Ringling's elephants were treated.
I do have Facebook friends who worked for Ringling and they basically explained that elephants who didn't like the road didn't have to travel. Also internships at Ringling's elephant facility are sought after by people in the process of becoming Zookeepers. Zoos like to hire former Ringling interns.
I think as an earlier commenter said, the real problem is the off-stage conditions for elephants.
Elephants seldom if ever get cancer. The former circus elephants are being used in cancer research, mostly of a genetic nature. They will live in a suitable climate and are going to be well cared for. I honestly expected this turn of events. It's expensive moving all those animals around, keeping them healthy and avoiding untoward incidents.
It's probably better for elephants and people.
Elephants get a form of TB which people can get. They like calm surroundings and an upset elephant isn't something you want running loose. Elephants don't owe us entertainment. They and other animals deserve to live in peace, whether wild or in a zoo.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 7:25 PM on January 15, 2017 [9 favorites]


A deep seam of cruelty and creepiness runs through almost every aspect of human culture that is in any way compelling, if you look at it plainly.

Yeah, how about keep the animals out of it, at least?
posted by osk at 7:58 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Tingling Bros

I've just had the most wonderful idea, buckaroos
posted by Existential Dread at 8:02 PM on January 15, 2017 [39 favorites]




I never understood how a child can't feel serious empathy for an animal in captivity, forced to perform, etc and not want to at least ask some questions, but I wasn't brought up in that part of the country where shooting wild animals with a bb gun or rifle is seen as a masculine right of passage at an early age and people keep hunting dogs chained up on short chains outside occasionally throwing them scraps to eat either.
posted by osk at 8:06 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


( I always thought playing in the Circus Band must be the best job ever... )

One of my best friends from college has been a keyboardist with Ringling for the last 15+ years. He once told me that you're absolutely right; it's the best job ever.

I'm surprised I haven't seen this linked yet.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 8:42 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's too bad. I wish the circus and their elephants had been left alone

Well, good news! The elephants were left alone, chained standing in dark boxcars for days at a time. That is, when they weren't being beaten with bullhooks.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:43 PM on January 15, 2017 [5 favorites]


Glad my fat fingers could help!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:04 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Did anyone else see the Bros.' Circus in the 80's when they had a 'unicorn?' I remember being unimpressed with the goat with one twisted horn in the middle of its head. I was pretty young. I remember being entertained by the rest of the circus. But yeah, it seems like entertainment in a barnyard. It has its charms...but not something that can keep up with this century.
posted by hot_monster at 9:13 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


Got me thinking about Ziggy I think every single kid asked why he was chained up. It just looked wrong even to toddler me.

We don't have a zoo around here. There's a nature center but it has nothing my son hadn't seen in the wild.

So I took him to his very first state fair. Not the big one in Raleigh just our little western one. We got there early on a weekday and kind of had the place to ourselves and kiddo gets off one of the rides and reports that there is an Elephant over there. I thought that was unlikely but he was right. As we got closer I became very uncomfortable because there was nobody minding the elephant and if we walked up to it it was going to be just us and an elephant and my son's three and I don't always know what he's going to do but that day it was run away from daddy and straight at the elephant and stop two feet in front of it. I figured I'd make it kill me too so I wouldn't forever be that guy.

But it was ok. A lady came out of a porta-john and introduced us and the four of us walked over to the tent where the circus was going to perform. She said that elephant always needed to see the whole area around the tent. We got to watch them get ready and dress the animals. They had another elephant, horses, a Tiger, and Poodles. It's the only circus I've ever been to and it rocked. It was a family from Argentina and I wish I remembered their name.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 9:15 PM on January 15, 2017 [3 favorites]


I never understood how a child can't feel serious empathy for an animal in captivity, forced to perform

I'm not sure the cruelty is that obvious in the performances- as several people have said it's what it takes to get there and what happens in between.
posted by atoxyl at 9:38 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think that I mostly have nostalgia for the idea of circuses, not the reality. I visited the museum at Baraboo and found myself wishing that they still had the freak show. (In my defense, I was about nine or so and was fascinated by the extremes that the human body could take.) Never much liked clowns; there were some who could be genuinely funny via physical comedy, but they didn't need the greasepaint and big shoes for that. (I am 100% with Terry Pratchett on that.) The elephants were fine--that was well before I knew about the abuse--but I could also see them in zoos. The high-wire acts were the best, even with my acrophobia. Cirque du Soleil is really more my thing; got to see them a few years back and they were great.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:39 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


One of my best friends from college has been a keyboardist with Ringling for the last 15+ years. He once told me that you're absolutely right; it's the best job ever.

Ten years ago I lost a member of my tabletop RPG group when he ran off to join the circus. Well, he got an offer to work for Cirque de Soleil, but it sounds less impressive phrased that way.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:52 PM on January 15, 2017 [6 favorites]


I can agree with the comments on moving beyond animal cruelty as a source of entertainment, but if we lose out on stuntmen riding their motorcycles inside the Sphere Of Death then civilization is poorer for it.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:52 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Was taken once as a kid, couldn't really understand or even see what was going on down there, mostly remember the people moving up and down the aisles selling all kinds of unusual items, not just cokes and hot dogs like at a ball game. Won't miss it, but no question the idea of the circus is powerful, as was the notion of running away with the circus.

The massive bowel movement happened because elephants are vegetarians, they eat a lot, and a lot of what they eat is roughage.

According to The Fate of the Elephant they only process about 45% of what they eat, and since they strip whole branches off of trees while feeding you can find whole, intact fruits like apples in their scat (a survival tip, if you're ever separated during your safari).
posted by Rash at 10:03 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


And on the playlist for this thread, not only "For the Benefit of Mr Kite" but also The Circus Song by the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.
posted by Rash at 10:12 PM on January 15, 2017 [1 favorite]


If anyone is looking for Australian stats

1833 year of the first circus entertainment in Australia

1950 23 working circus elephants

2015 0 working circus elephants

14 number of family circuses touring today

posted by panaceanot at 10:31 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]



.
posted by pan at 10:37 PM on January 15, 2017


If anyone wants to read a gorgeous and biting novel about what it's like to grow up Roma, travelling through Europe as part of a family circus troupe, I can't recommend Aglaja Veteranyi's Why the Child is Cooking in the Polenta highly enough.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 10:42 PM on January 15, 2017 [4 favorites]


I was about to say that the Big Apple Circus has a dog act that mostly employs rescue dogs and that the company takes good care of the dogs. Then I learned that the Big Apple Circus folded.

Ah, fuck, I'd seen the Big Apple Circus twice, most recently early last year when my kid was 2 and too antsy to sit through the entire show. I was looking forward to trying again when she was older.

.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:15 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


.

I, like many, have mixed feelings. I can feel good that animals (and people) aren't being exploited this way. I can also have a moment of silence for a part of Americana gone.
posted by greermahoney at 11:30 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's too bad. I wish the circus and their elephants had been left alone

I don't even know where to begin with this. Like... Do you mean...gd liberals have to ruin everything? Even our animal abuse?

I think you can mourn the passing of an era and still admit that era was really flawed. We don't have to continue terrible practices because they elicit nostalgia.
posted by greermahoney at 11:41 PM on January 15, 2017 [8 favorites]


Relatedly, if you asked an 8-yo me what sex was, I was 87% sure it involved the highwire. To this day, I have no idea why I thought sex had anything to do with gymnastics in the air, but I assure you, back then, I was convinced.
posted by greermahoney at 11:44 PM on January 15, 2017 [13 favorites]


"#NOTALLZOOS"

I grew up going to the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and while they had some of the old houses still standing, they were very much at the forefront of the natural habitat zoo trend back in the '80s — they had several acres of indoor rainforest built where a bunch of different animals would all live in the same enclosure, etc.

A couple years back, I went to a conference in DC and stayed a couple blocks from the zoo. I took an extra couple days after the conference to see the Smithsonian, etc. and on the final day before my flight, went to the zoo. It was one of the most depressing experiences of my life. It was straight-up animal jail. All the chimps looked like inmates counting time; the elephants relentlessly headbutting the gate that kept them from going outside. There were scores of tourists cooing over the pandas rolling around — if you read the signage opposite their enclosure, the same antics were described as what pandas do when they're overstressed and anxious.

There's a fight right now over the LA zoo, and I know that zoos can do great stuff, but despite being here a decade, I still haven't gone to the LA one. I'm just worried that it's going to be a crushingly depressing animal jail and I'm going to have tacitly supported a horrible institution.
posted by klangklangston at 11:45 PM on January 15, 2017 [2 favorites]


"You know, we've gotten rid of slavery, child labor... how in the hell do we still have the circus? Honestly, the circus, which, look: I'm sure -- I don't when they invented the circus, in 1 AD -- I'm sure back then when there was nothing else to do except be afraid of the sun, the circus was great! But imagine pitching the circus now, as an entertainment destination..."
--Patton Oswalt, "Finest Hour"
posted by Rhaomi at 12:17 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Mitheral: "Rail is quite cost competitive with trucking when there isn't any need for scheduling flexibility (this is why you don't see for example coal being long hauled over interstates)"

Rail is considerably cheaper and fuel efficient than motor transport. The problems are that it's slower, and the railroads are a huge pain in the ass for shippers to deal with (partially due to lack of competition, partly just culture).

[/transportation derail]
posted by Chrysostom at 12:20 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


... and not forced to do any tricks they don't enjoy.

I feel the same way towards employees.
posted by Twang at 1:10 AM on January 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


A very good friend of mine worked as a clown and occasional ringmaster for Ringling for years. This is what he had to say -

"Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear."
"There is a sucker born every minute."
Feld's official press release about the decision has a notable trait: it allows animal rights activists to say they won AND it allows people so inclined to blame the animal rights activists. A look through history should be able to dig up parallels. A look at current events should yield the same.

It's business. It's Sun Tzu's The Art of War. It's smoke and mirrors.

Circus can most definitely continue without animals. Don't think for one minute this was all about "we can't have a show without animals." It was never just about the animals. Business decisions yield results. Continue to make decisions along a certain path, born from a certain approach, and those results accumulate and feed each other. This is the endpoint of a lot of decisions and actions taken over at least 20 years: changes in management, changes in leadership, the ability to adapt and evolve (or the lack thereof). And the animals thing provided a coincidental and convenient series of events for this recent action.

What's next? We don't know, but something's next.

In some ways, this is also a result of the long-standing devaluation of circus and arts-based forms in the USA. The propagation of a cultural view that enjoying ones work is folly, that money and getting ahead matter more, that serving others tangibly or intangibly isn't as worthy (further demonstrated by relatively low wage scales). Circus as a form of art, expression, entertainment, and cultural exchange is mighty and flexible. Things that inspire and tend to the spirit are of immeasurable value, and our national culture crushes that. Many artists — circus and otherwise — stand, live, love, and work in defiance of that steamroller.

What's next? When the jester's telling of cultural truths steps aside for the selling of smirks, I say: small batch circus. Craft circus. Artisanal circus arts. A metaphoric donning of beards, horn rimmed glasses, buffalo-checked shirts, and Decemberists albums. Smaller collectives, Cirque du Soleil bouncing back (because that and Ringling are all USAmericans largely know about circus). Maybe some odd, unforeseen (or maybe in some circles,
rumored) resurrection of Big Bertha, rising like a phoenix.
There's plenty out there waiting to be created, waiting to be done.

posted by louche mustachio at 3:55 AM on January 16, 2017 [15 favorites]


Just wanted to note a failure to distinguish between domesticated and wild animals in many comments above. Horses and dogs are bred to do tasks for humans, over thousands of years. They are not adapted to survival in wilderness. They are responsive to human emotions. Wild animals never signed up for this shit. They don't have any instinct to please us or perform for us. "Training" and enclosing them is *always* abusive and cruel. It might sometimes be necessary, or even humanitarian on the level of an individual animal (like a wounded one that can't go back to the wild). But it is never humane on a species level.
posted by spitbull at 4:56 AM on January 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


There are still a few families touring the UK and Ireland

There are four in Ireland: Vegas, Fossetts, Gerbola and Duffy. Most of these would also tour the UK. I only know one of the families, but they are Travellers and I suspect the other families are as well. They tour only with horses and no other animals, for at least 10 years now. I am conflicted about the horses because on the one hand, I am opposed to all circus animals but on the other hand, I am also opposed to further suppression of a very oppressed ethnic minority with a horse-focused culture going back hundreds of years.

Unfortunately, while a number of EU countries have banned circuses with wild animals like elephants and camels, Ireland is not one of them, so while as far as I know we've no Irish circuses with wild animals, we do get touring circuses with wild animals from other European countries. The ISPCA is leading a campaign, The Big Stop, to stop these from entering the country.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:10 AM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thorzdad: it's hard not to wonder how they lasted this long, given how much of an anachronism it is. Much like Blockbuster, the circus has been rendered obsolete.

Their parent company is Feld Entertainment, which is responsible for all of those LICENSED CHARACTER LIVE! shows that are always coming to a city near you. I suspect that these productions kept the circus arm afloat for as long as it did.
posted by dr_dank at 6:19 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


Their parent company is Feld Entertainment, which is responsible for all of those LICENSED CHARACTER LIVE! shows that are always coming to a city near you. I suspect that these productions kept the circus arm afloat for as long as it did.

I remember discussing with the executive director of the local 2800 seat theater how The Doodlebops, a Feld Entertainment Prod. was the top merch$/seat ratio event ever.

We're not going to discuss my totes inapprops feels for Lisa Lennox.
posted by mikelieman at 8:03 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


some compound German word for that feeling of double surprise when someone or something dies that you didn't even realize was still alive.

I would go with Totgeglaubtentodesnachrichtdoppelüberraschung, which is composed as follows: Totgeglaubter is someone who is or was believed to be dead, Todesnachricht is news of someones death, and Doppelüberraschung is double surprise.
posted by erdferkel at 8:11 AM on January 16, 2017 [10 favorites]


Which one was the second greatest show on Earth? Have they been informed of their promotion?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 9:47 AM on January 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


> "Which one was the second greatest show on Earth? Have they been informed of their promotion?"

Oddly enough, the second greatest show on Earth was the summit of Mt. Washington.
posted by kyrademon at 9:57 AM on January 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


Finally.
posted by New England Cultist at 9:59 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


louche mustachio, your friend sounds like he would be an awesome Mefite, if he has the time. For all that I participate in the general piling on of clowns, I have to say that professional clowns today really are "the hardest-working [people] in show business," as the saw used to be. They've trained very hard to live a life dedicated to physical comedy as an art form, and are dedicated to working for young people as well. They do this for no prestige and next to no money. The parallels between clowning and teaching should not be so close in this country, but they are strangely apparent.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:46 AM on January 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


I read a bit about circuses in the middle ages, and in the early US frontier: our ancestors, as adults, certainly loved the circus, but what they wrote about is now also history: the geeks, the freaks, the bull-baiting, the bear-baiting; bare-fist, dog and cock fights and associated gambling, sideshows designed to separate a mark from his money (ok, that's still with us), plus the somewhat-justifiable-back-then assumption that all the pretty half-dressed ladies in the show were prostitutes, as were some of the lads, and so on. Not exactly kids stuff today, though I've come across no mention of age limits, just plenty of racial and gender discrimination about who was allowed to see what. I fear that the circus has become, at least in its Ringling Bros. 3-ring acrobatic and animal-centric incarnation, "for the kiddies," with the adults whose wallets fund the tickets becoming ever-more-concerned about such kid-unfriendly aspects, relegating the whole thing from a spectacular a child will remember until adulthood into something so safe and boring it is barely remembered the next day. TV, video games, even modern "extreme" sports coverage is more interesting than sitting in a nose-bleed bleacher section of an arena, eating stale popcorn and staring at the action several hundred feet away. Adult-oriented (or at least adult-friendly) shows such as Cirque du Soleil have much more of a future, while I would hope that this show, sans animals, might see a second life in a new format, I suspect that they would do better to start up a drama and action based cartoon show, with associated apps and games, and leave the sawdust and big top (both already abandoned for fire issues) on the scrapheap of history.
posted by Blackanvil at 12:35 PM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'm much more a fan of acts like Cirque Du Soleil, all the fun without the animals (and with much nicer clowns as well).

The only time I went to Ringling Bros. was about 20 years ago, when I chaperoned a field trip with my oldest son's class. It was fun enough, but the kids all had the best time when the elephants spent their whole turn in the center ring pooping, pretty much in unison.
posted by lhauser at 1:29 PM on January 16, 2017


Considering the timing, maybe the elephants were Never Trumps.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:53 PM on January 16, 2017


Next the bits of the rodeo that abuse animals, hopefully.
posted by waving at 2:05 PM on January 16, 2017




"Circus can most definitely continue without animals. Don't think for one minute this was all about "we can't have a show without animals." It was never just about the animals. Business decisions yield results. Continue to make decisions along a certain path, born from a certain approach, and those results accumulate and feed each other. This is the endpoint of a lot of decisions and actions taken over at least 20 years: changes in management, changes in leadership, the ability to adapt and evolve (or the lack thereof). And the animals thing provided a coincidental and convenient series of events for this recent action. "

One of the other news stories I saw covering this had an interview with a retired performer (acrobat?) who pointed out that the Ringling Bros. had made a specific decision in the last decade or so to try to transition away from promoting featured entertainers, and that this was more related to their demise than the loss of elephants. Roughly paraphrased, they said that Ringling had tried to have a circus without stars, and that of course a circus without stars would fail.
posted by klangklangston at 3:53 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


greermahoney: "Relatedly, if you asked an 8-yo me what sex was, I was 87% sure it involved the highwire. To this day, I have no idea why I thought sex had anything to do with gymnastics in the air, but I assure you, back then, I was convinced."

Yeah, and I can also blame Ringling Brothers for giving me an interest in excessively flexible women at an unhealthy age (with a completely adorable blonde contortionist).
posted by Samizdata at 6:50 PM on January 16, 2017


mikelieman: " Their parent company is Feld Entertainment, which is responsible for all of those LICENSED CHARACTER LIVE! shows that are always coming to a city near you. I suspect that these productions kept the circus arm afloat for as long as it did.

I remember discussing with the executive director of the local 2800 seat theater how The Doodlebops, a Feld Entertainment Prod. was the top merch$/seat ratio event ever.

We're not going to discuss my totes inapprops feels for Lisa Lennox.
"

Once again, Metalfilter educates me. Up to now, I had not a single idea what a "Doodlebop" or a "Lisa Lennox" was. Now I know.
posted by Samizdata at 6:58 PM on January 16, 2017


I work next to the downtown basketball arena where the RB circus appears in my city. Every February I see the animals being handled, gently, as they are led between the tents and corrals in the parking lot. The handlers are gentle but it's still a fundamentally disgusting spectacle, and I'm always happy to see the PETA protestors. Good riddance.
posted by intermod at 8:53 PM on January 16, 2017


My kids are the right age, and we've been to the RBB&B circus two or three times in the last six or eight years. Maybe I'm an ignorant and insensitive troglodyte, but I was pretty impressed by the shows (both the animal and human acts) and I'd probably go again if it came to town.

But holy cow, the cost. Four seats somewhere way up high in the arena, and deciding not to be That Dad who growls you don't need any souvenirs as we walked the tired hungry children past the million junk kiosks on the entryway, and I was out $250.

I wrote on Metafilter before about my wife taking the last elephant ride ever as a volunteer at our then-local zoo; have to wonder about what sorts of things take place backstage at the circus.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 12:47 AM on January 17, 2017



Did anyone else see the Bros.' Circus in the 80's when they had a 'unicorn


I recall it as one of the cornerstones of the fall of Michu. Like he was up there are with Gunther Gebel Williams as a big star and then he was upstaged by a goat and an even tinier woman from China. 2016 apparently came for Michu as well.

I remember the souvenir rotating lights I used to get and how poorly they lasted. As an adult I couldn't stomach the animal conditions but am sad to see a venerable institution fall, especially one tied to America's original huckster king. We took the kids to the less conflicting and expensive Circus Vargas which is a different kind of great but like minor league ball. We'd always meant to go to the big show, never expecting childhood to outlast the circus.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:40 AM on January 17, 2017


If anyone is interested in New Circus shows which don't involve animals, there's a lot more than just Cirque du Soleil

I think there's a life for human circus performers beyond Ringling Bros--I have seen a number of acrobats/trapeze artists, fire-eaters, and others on the Renaissance Faire circuit. Not to mention an animal act that I love--Cirque Du Sewer, a fabulous young acrobat who also trains performing rats and, more recently, a Siamese cat. She adores these animals and their act is freakishly cute.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:46 AM on January 17, 2017


Please tell me that is pronounced "Sirk du Sooway".
posted by kyrademon at 9:19 AM on January 17, 2017 [2 favorites]


My wife and I took our then-5-year-old son to the circus last year in Boston, and it was a wonderful experience -- the highwire/trapeze stuff was impressive as always, and as always the experience of a hardworking expert performer flying through the rafters risking serious injury right there in front of you is a world away from watching Youtube bullshit at your desk. It's pulverizingly loud, but that's par for the course; even the movies are much too loud nowadays.

The circus train coming in to Cambridge has been one of my favourite local rituals for years. It's a piece of the past, and of the national culture, piercing our little cultural bubble.

The animals...seen 'through my son's eyes' they were beautiful and even scary. I was grateful to the animal handlers for the work they put into building relationships with those creatures, screwy as they might be. Like any reasonable person I have qualms about the animals' treatment, the constraints on their existences, but then there they were, lions and tigers (and bears? were there bears? I can't remember) oh my. It was inspiring, weird, silly, and seemed somehow secret, with a train full of painted people and exotic creatures stealing into town in the night...

The poster who described the vibe as 'something ancient and occult' has it exactly right. The elephants are better off without something like the circus, but we're not.

And anyone whose basic feeling about the circus is 'how uncool' should grow up.
posted by waxbanks at 11:04 AM on January 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


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