Striking The Tents
The circus is no longer coming to town:
The company has faded over the decades, its grandeur eclipsed and its animal acts seeming fusty, but make no mistake: Something irreplaceable will be lost when Ringling closes up its tent for good — a tradition of inspiring awe that connected parent to child, generation to generation.And, sometimes, the world is worse off for it...
Ringling didn’t invent the circus, whose modern origins date to around the founding of this country, but it supersized it, increasing the blockbuster visuals and the travel. P. T. Barnum and his partners led the first circus to transport its entire show (including animals) on newly built transcontinental railroads and coined the phrase “greatest show on earth.” After joining with a competitor in 1881 to become Barnum & Bailey, they toured Europe, gaining steam before merging with another competitor, Ringling Brothers, in 1907. What resulted was a cultural behemoth.
What really distinguishes Ringling Brothers are the animal acts. They have long been the bread and butter of this circus — one of its most classic posters promises “the world’s most terrifying living creature.” And in this show, they were out in force: llamas, hopping dogs, a donkey, lions and tigers, a kangaroo and a lumbering pig.
This menagerie has inspired furious protests, including activists outside this show holding photos of tigers that read: “Whipped for your entertainment.” For those who want their circuses cage-free, Cirque du Soleil shows that you can offer crowd-pleasing spectacle without lions and tigers and pigs.
In response to the criticism, Ringling stopped using elephants last year, sidelining perhaps their most famous stars. (The word “jumbo” derives from the African elephant P. T. Barnum brought to America and showcased in his circus.) Perhaps it’s for the best. The world moves on, even when a link to the past is broken.