Ringling Brothers: The circus leaves town
“The Big Top is coming down—for good,” said Tamara Lush in the Associated Press. Feld Entertainment, owners of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has announced that “The Greatest Show on Earth” will close in May after a 146-year run. So ends a colorful chapter in the American story. From modest beginnings as a small zoo on wheels, the circus grew into a multiring extravaganza, wowing audiences with death-defying trapeze artists, lion and tiger tamers, and Jumbo, “the world’s largest elephant.” So what killed the circus? Rising transportation costs hurt; so did a 14-year legal battle with activists who claimed circus employees abused elephants. Though Feld ultimately prevailed in court, last year the company released all its elephants to a Florida preserve, and “ticket sales plummeted.” Technology is another culprit: Today, when we have a virtual fantasy world literally in the palm of our hand, “The Greatest Show on Earth doesn’t seem so great.”
Good riddance, said Ingrid Newkirk in the New York Daily News. A vast body of research has opened our eyes to the reality that animals think and feel, and to “the profound suffering endured by animals in captivity.” That’s why businesses that exploit wild creatures are doomed— including “smaller circuses still hauling chained and caged animals around the country,” and marine parks that jam orcas and dolphins into tiny pools. An increasingly enlightened public is repelled by the archaic sight of “a person with a whip forcing tigers to jump through hoops and elephants in headdresses being made to stand on a tiny drum out of fear of prodding from the bullhook.” Human domination of animals is not entertainment.
Still, “there is plenty of room for sadness,” said The Republican of Springfield, Mass., in an editorial. “One of America’s most enduring and endearing traditions,” the traveling circus brought wonders of the world to small towns across America. Perhaps time has passed the Big Top by. But for more than a century, these shows brought joy to countless millions. Remember, too, that not all circuses are dying, said Charles Passy in The Wall Street Journal. Witness the booming success of circuses featuring human rather than animal performers, such as Canada’s wildly inventive Cirque du Soleil, and the UniverSoul Circus, “a troupe that prides itself on its multicultural cast.” The circus isn’t ending—it’s just evolving.