Yesterday, I posted my immediate, sarcastic reaction to the news that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will be shutting down. I’ve since had a few other thoughts about it.
It may seem out of place to use the word “relevant” when discussing people riding motorcycles inside a steel globe, but that is exactly what the circus ceased to be. Even as far back as the 90’s, when we took our daughter Casey to the circus, it seemed more like a rite of passage than a must-see event. It was something parents were supposed to do with a young child, like going to the mall in December to visit Santa Claus.
I’m pretty sure Casey enjoyed Sesame Street Live! more than a bunch of people riding elephants.
Somewhere along the way, going to the circus became like going to Colonial Williamsburg. It was a quaint historical artifact. But instead of watching actors demonstrate how to churn butter, you saw lion tamers and acrobats while feeling as though you needed to say something to your child like “Do you believe people used to be amazed by stuff like this?”
Anything with a name like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus couldn’t be relevant to today’s kids,. If it wanted to be modern, it would have become RingBaBaCo a long time ago. Or Cirque du Ringling.
Could anything have saved it? Maybe if it had co-branded with Disney. “Disney Princess Three Ring Extravaganza.” On Ice.
Or perhaps if all the performers were Marvel superheros: Spiderman on the trapeze! Iron Man shot from a cannon! Hawkeye shooting an apple off a clown’s head!
The problem with the circus is that it couldn’t be hip. It could not be presented ironically. It couldn’t become hip-hop. How could The Greatest Show on Earth compete with what’s on the Internet?
Its 19th Century charm just didn’t play in our 21st Century World.
Charm isn’t real big in our society. As evidence, just think about the circus that’s coming to town on Friday.
See you soon.
P.S. As an interesting aside, look at the line at the bottom of the poster above and think about how the meaning of the word “gratuitous” has changed since the 1920s.