Sunday, January 15, 2017

Greatest Show is Gone

We all knew it was coming.  Or rather it's not coming...any more.  After more than a century, the Ringling Brothers Circus will be no more.  Definitely a sign of the times and the evolution of social change and attitude change as well.  When the elephants went a few months ago, the entire "Greatest Show on Earth" was sure to follow.  It did.
This is not something to be mourned, but rather acknowledged.  Just think we don't have the dissonance any more about how wonderful the circus coming to town is for kids and how barbaric it has been for the animals under the big top.
As entertainment evolves, the circus had too much to compete with these days.  Although some of the smaller boutique circuses seem to do well and a number of performing horse shows seem to be free of any public outcry.

If anything is sad about the loss of a big circus, it might be the magic and the sheer delight reflected in the eyes of children watching three rings of spectacular entertainers, from cars full of clowns to trapeze artists, to performing horses, bears, elephants, camels, and, on occasion, birds and penguins.
Like the minstrel show and the "freak show" of yesteryear, the circus has run it's course.  To be sure, the time has come, but the tradeoff is still fascinating to look at, if not nostalgic.
All the major circuses used to have a "side show."  Like the stereotypic "freak show," the side show would feature all the acts or people who had to be seen up close for full effect.  Much like the pay to enter tents in county fairs, the side show was off to the side with a separate entrance fee.
When I was about 5 or 6 years old, an elderly couple whose kids were grown and lived across the street form my family took my sister and me to the circus.  Maybe they did that for us, or maybe for themselves. I'd seen pictures in the newspaper of the train pull into downtown Los Angeles, but never dreamed that I would be able to go.  While I recall the elephants and the clowns, the cotton candy and the peanuts, the side show left the biggest impression on my young mind.
Much like walking through carnival booths, I saw a true melange of human experience and existence.  There was a "Giant" who drank a six pack of 7-Up at one sitting, a bearded lady, and a woman in a short yellow dress with no arms or legs.  The Giant was about 8 feet tall, thin and probably suffered from some pituitary disorder. The bearded lady had hormone issues, and the limbless woman smiled, all the while as people gawked and occasionally asked questions.  In my young mind they were celebrities and proud to be on display.  At age 6 it seemed like a great day job to me.
 I saw a sword swallower, ( he swallowed fire too) and a man who, when he removed his bathrobe, had "alligator skin on his back."  Yup alligator skin...I saw it, or something like it.  I'm sure there is an explanation, but it was a greenish brown, and covered his back and shoulders.  He smiled all the while too. Thinking back now, no wonder this left such an impression on me.  All the people in the side show were happy, or so I thought.  They were gracious, informative, and seemed to enjoy their lives with the circus.  What did I know at that age.  That's the way  remember it...and that memory is clear. Before we went home, the couple who took us to the circus, Doris and Henry, said we could each have one souvenir.  My sister picked out a baton, as I recall.  It was red white and blue and all glittery.  She had to wait until we got home to show me her twirling skills.  I went for a plastic sword, so I could play...you know what.

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