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Monday, January 16, 2017

The Circus Has Died

The circus is dead.

But who killed it?

Smokey Robinson sang:

Well they're some sad things known to man
But ain't too much sadder than
The tears of a clown when there's no one around

Well, today, clowns are weeping. Trapeze ropes hang still. Elephants are kneeling, tusks bowed. One of the great niche occupations of all time, ringmaster, goes the way of the typewriter repairman. 

Surely you've heard by now that the iconic American institution, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform its last show this May. That's when the Big Top will come to a big stop. They will be out of business, killed by the changing entertainment tastes and crushed by animal rights groups. 

The circus entertained millions of kids. They exposed them to a simpler, vaudevillian day when everything was center stage. No digital F/X were needed. Only entertainers and animals to bring that special smile. Even Jack Kent Cooke would let me take a break from stuffing season tickets to watch the show at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood once or twice a year. 

Vegas shows such as Caesars Palace's Absinth mocked the traditional circus.
When the commercials started airing on your local channels in between I Love Lucy episodes you would write down the dates and ask mom or dad to get tickets. It was a wonderful thing in a time before horror movies demonized clowns, turning happy minstrels into something creepy and malevolent (even I have been guilty of that...). It was before PETA decided that circus animals were being humiliated and mistreated. It was before the internet made the circus blasé. It was before showy Cirque du Soleil made traditional circuses seem about as hip as my Members Only jacket.

I'll tell you what...Charles Edward Ringling is spinning in his grave.

Declining ticket plunged further last year when the circus acquiesced to animal rights groups and retired their elephants. I'm not quite sure I got the outrage or the lawsuits over that. If a circus elephant, an elephant in the wild, and a zoo elephant all walk into a party, which one has the best stories to tell?

Partygoer: "What do you do?"

Elephant in the Wild: "I'm always running, living in fear of constant attack. Just last week a lion ate my son and I gored a tusk poacher after a blow dart narrowly whizzed past my trunk."

Zoo Elephant: "Oh, I mostly stand all day or take a bath in front of an ogling crowd. I'm in the living hell of a bar-less prison!"

Circus Elephant: "I was forced to retired. But before that I was an entertainer. I performed in front of sold-out arenas...cheered nightly. I was a star! Now I drink heavily, cascading in a spiraling abyss of depression and wallow in my own stink."

The sad part for the Media Guy is that now that all of the hoopla and ballyhoo of the Ringling Brothers Circus has has subsided, so does a once-incredible media budget. Estimated advertising expenditures topped $25 million annually in the last decade. That a lot of ads purchased. Now an entire collective of media buyers could be left without air time to buy. Which also means will probably have to see more Capital One, Geico and Progressive commercials.


Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey 
circa 1978

The Greatest Show on Earth is coming to town, courtesy of the Ronald McDonald doppelgänger.