Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Circus Fun or Social Folly?

Ladies and Gentleman… Boys and Girls of all ages…

Ever since I was a little girl I have LOVED the circus. When I was about Gracie's age my parents took us to Circus World in Florida.

It was AMAZING. Actually - I remember very little - I know we got our faces painted because we had photos of that… but not much else.  Growing up we did NOT make going to the circus a regular thing.  I don't have any memories of ever going actually.  I am sure it was probably because of the cost associated with that entertainment - it is shockingly expensive!  As I matured my fascination of the 3 rings just grew.

For almost 150 years now the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus has been entertaining people with their acts and their animals. It was wonderful to share the excitement and fun with my kids (and spouse who thought I was a little crazy for wanting to go).  As my regular readers, know I have been seeking to play more this year.  As a birthday wish, I asked that in lieu of any party, the 6 of us we go to the circus. We saw it all.

Even the Chick-Fa-La cow outside.

Our local paper did a beautiful highlight of the show (complete with amazing photos) and my little phone won't do justice to the performance pictures so check out their review if you want more details.

We got there early enough for the pre-show and even got to try on the costumes.  After our recent lice-capades I was a little tentative to try on the acrobats garb… but I risked it anyway.

How many chances will I have in life to try on an old, stinky, acrobats jacket?  For a former gymnast this is a big deal.

We watched the elephant up close do his artwork, kick a soccer ball, and saw the amazing unicyclists.

I was fairly impressed with just the pre-show!  And I even clowned around a bit.

Then we got up to our really good seats (thanks honey!),

and settled in with our $8.00-a-box popcorns. 

Wow - my mind was blown.

Anna had a similar reaction. I don't know what I watched more that first act - the my kid's faces or the show! 

It was better than I could have imagined!  Two hours, two popcorns, and one cotton candy later, we all left the arena really impressed and all on a little circus-high.  It was really fun!

As we walked out of the cool building and into the heat our senses were blasted.  The heat, the brightness, and the noise.  There was a beautiful blond from PETA with a bullhorn shouting at us about elephant abuse.  Really?  Pop my bubble.   So while we got our bearings and tried to figure out which light-rail stop was closest, the kids listened to her graphic tale of an elephant being tied up, stabbed, and beaten with chains and clubs.  Ugh.

So now the serious part of a post (because apparently I can't ever just leave it with the fun stuff and cute pictures).

My kids were more interested in the Chick-fa-la cows dressed up a clowns than they were by the lady with the bullhorn.  But the whole thing got me thinking - which is exactly why she was there. I am sure there have been animal abuses in the past and social activism has done a great service sparking improvements in our civilization.  But I really take issue with targeting the audience - because it is a bunch of kids mostly.  There was a field trip group of 4-8 year olds right in front of us.  Do these kids need to leave the circus with images of elephants being beaten and stabbed? Will that help improve ANYTHING? Honestly, I want to hear from you, so please comment below if you feel strongly on the matter.

I think there is a place in society for social activist groups to act as our group conscious - bringing concerns to the proper places.  I have prayed (not yelled at, harassed or exposed gross photos) outside Planned Parenthood (okay just once) during 40-Days for Life.  I think it can be done well and can be effective. I personally was uncomfortable even with that however which is a whole different post for a another day.

But this woman got me thinking about how they train the animals, so I looked into it a little.   The ASPCA brought a suit of animal abuse against the Ringling Brothers to the courts in 2000.  That case was settled in 2012 with Ringling Brothers coming out $9.3 million dollars ahead (Huffington Post).   The courts decided the veracity of the claims against them.  In this case the activist group was unable to make a case after a dozen years.   More recently RB paid $270,000 in fines to the USDA for animal care citations.  Just as it is good to have people watching out for abuses and pushing to improve conditions for those without a voice, it is also good to keep some things from our past and improve them.

The majority of the circus acts this weekend did not actually HAVE animals.  There were the lions and elephants and a 'zoo' act with dogs, pigs and goats, as well as a horse and rider performance that was amazing.  Okay that sounds like a lot of animals but I think it was only 3 acts.   We can see animals up close at the zoo.  The elephants were beautiful of course - the big cats were just scary. The horses were amazing though. Really. Fabulous. But the females in our house are a little obsessed with horses at the moment.  My family's favorite things were the trapeze artists and the motorcyclists and the acrobats.

Maybe, as suggested by Hannah Sentenac of the Miami New Times, the circus will evolve away from using animals and focus more on the amazing human acts.  If that is so they need to make sure they invest more in their rigging and safety or the complaints or animal safety will transform to greater concerns over employee safety.

I do hope that the circus survives the cultural shifts.  I hope they are able to improve upon what ever animal welfare issues exist and I hope my kids will be able to attend the circus with their children.  Because it really is the greatest show on earth!

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