This morning I awoke to the news that Ringling Brothers is shutting down the circus. When I was a child in the 50’s I used to watch Super Circus. I loved the handsome ringmaster and Mary Hartline — I even had a Mary Hartline doll.. And one of the first movies I remember seeing was The Greatest Show on Earth, a movie set in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus. I saw small circuses performing in tents when we lived in Germany. And one year when my children were very young, we took them to see the Ringling Brothers Circus, which proved to be too big, to busy and with too much to look at for them or for me to tolerate. And there was the Big Apple Circus which came to Portland and performed its delightfully lo-tech one ring tent circus in one of the parks. When my kids were in school, every year during spring vacation, the Shrine Circus came to town. So the circus was a part of growing up for them and for me.
These days with the rise in consciousness about animal rights, any of us likely has become at least ambivalent about circuses, relying as so many do on animal acts and thus the dubious issue of performing animals.
But still, it gave me pause this morning. What does it mean when the circus no longer comes to town?
The circus was entertainment, someplace we went to see and oooh and ahhh over the daring do of aerialists and acrobats. To laugh at the clowns. To be amazed and delighted by spectacle.
It means something that the circus will no longer come to town, the end of something more than an entertainment about which there are ambivalent feelings. As I think about the political turmoil of this past year, of the disbelief that I and so many others have that Donald Trump will actually soon become the next president, it seems more and more that the circus is no longer something you go to see but what we live in. Where perhaps it is we who are the animal acts. Where those in opposition are the aerialists and acrobats. And where the party now in power is the ringmaster, looking not at all benevolent nor concerned for our welfare.
Once upon a time I did so love the circus.