The circus is in town,again. The grand old Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus that started in 1907 and was the circus of my youth. I have a clear as day recollection of riding in my grandfather's gorgeous jet black Cadillac to the circus when it came Denver in 1978.He had passed away the year before and my father had been driving it,determined to keep it pristine. He was obsessed with the noises the car made, and any squeaking or jiggling or humming would cause him to request total silence as we drove along so he could determine the source.
We stopped a few times on the way to the circus because of a slight hum in the front speaker but made it to the parking lot with about ten minutes to spare. We drove into the lot, past the various circus cages where the animals were either on display or awaited their turn in the ring. As we passed the enclosure housing the black panther-which was pacing frantically- it lifted up its tail and sprayed the side of the Cadillac.It never even broke stride. I remember my father letting out a strangled yelp and declaring that the panther had,in fact, pissed all over the side of the car. He went on to explain that the acidity of the urine was devastating to paint and after that I don't remember much. It was always a funny family story about that time that we went to the circus.
I am afraid that my kids will not have the opportunity to tell their "when I went to the circus" story,because I have no plans to take them. It isn't my fear of panther piss. I just cannot sit there and clap while the elephants perform tricks that they were bullied into doing. They are too smart to be circus freaks and they are endangered to boot- so where is the joy? It seems unfathomable that Halle Berry can take her kid to the circus and not notice that it seems a little weird that an elephant is doing a conga line, or that the lion tamer needs a bull whip to get the lion to balance on a tiny stool.The circus seems wholly unnatural and entirely passe, in my not so humble opinion. The food is worse that a minor league baseball game, and ever since it was discovered that John Wayne Gacy enjoyed dressing as a clown, I've run out of reasons to go.
One of my favorite quotes on the subject of animal suffering is by Matthew Scully "When we wince at the suffering of animals, that feeling speaks well of us even when we ignore it, and those who dismiss love for our fellow creatures as mere sentimentality overlook a good and important part of our humanity". To accept the circus as entertainment is simply inhumane on it's most basic level. It isn't a brutal as dog fighting or cock fighting,but it is the pimping of defenseless living things for financial reward. I realize that many of these circus animals would otherwise be dead or awaiting certain death on the plains of Africa as the poachers circled, or they would be stuck in a tiny zoo in some godforsaken place.I know that plenty of humans suffer a lot more than having to do cartwheels when they don't want to. However, the majority of humans have a voice and reason and could ask for help if they needed it.
I doubt that any of the Cirque du Soleil performers are being held by chains between performances or poked with cattle prods before they shimmy up the high wire to balance on a chair. And if the tiny Malaysian spool throwers were being beaten with metal hooks and forced to toss heavy wooden spools to one another with small pieces of string, you can bet that Amnesty International would be on the case.
It is time for us to decide what sort of society we want to be. If the heir to Baskin Robbins can give it all up in the name of animal suffering, then can't we let the lions be lions and the monkeys go back to the trees? Does it truly enrich our lives to go to the circus or is it just a habit?
I think we all want our kids to know what we knew,to have the same idyllic memories of childhood that we had. I fear that time has passed, and, because they will inherit generations of laziness, greed and complacence, we will have to forgo the jaunts down memory lane and ready them for the rough road ahead.