After nearly a century and a half (146 years), the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is coming to an end.
On one hand, I’m a little sad that the circus is ending. Sure, this isn’t the only circus, but Ringling Bros. is THE circus. If someone mentions going to the circus, this is what I assume they’re going to. Even if the claim is a little grandiose, it’s “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Sure, it’s hyperbole, but it has a ring to it. I’ve been going to the Ringling Bros. circus since I was a kid, and it hurts to think that my kids won’t get to see it again, and probably won’t remember seeing it when they did.
On the other hand, the circus really is a product of its era. Through the late 19th century and early 20th century, the things in a circus were genuinely a wonder to see. In the modern day, it’s not all that impressive. I’m not saying that I personally could do the things that circus performers do, but I can see these things done from the comfort of my own home in the form of a YouTube video. Why bother taking the family out to see these spectacles from the top row of an arena, when I can stream a video to my TV with a front row seat to the action?
When I went to see the Circus XTREME in Greenville, SC a few weeks ago, I wasn’t impressed at all. The elephants were gone, which sucks, but I expected that when it was announced the previous year. However, the Globe of Death stunt with motorcycles in a spherical cage was gone. That has been my favorite act in any circus that I’ve been to, and it was quite a letdown when it never showed up.
I think the appeal of the circus in previous generations was that it pulled together a number of impressive feats into a single place. On their own, each act might not be THAT impressive. Together, though, it was a big deal. Again, this isn’t really something to brag about with the world wide web at our disposal. I can go from watching funny cat videos to seeing Nik Wallenda cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope in a single search.
Maybe we as society are collectively jaded. We’ve seen so much impressive stuff, so many times, performed by so many different people that we just aren’t impressed by anything anymore. It doesn’t mean that the act itself is less impressive, it’s just old hat when you’ve seen the trick thousands of times over.
One of the reasons that Feld Entertainment has given for closing the Ringling Bros. circus is high operating costs. It makes sense, they’re paying a ton of people to do various parts of the show, from the Ringmaster, to the musicians, and all the various entertainers. They have to pay everybody in the show, cover travel between venues, take care of the animals, and still turn a profit. I dropped $80 on tickets for 2 adults and 2 kids, plus another $40 for souvenirs. At the end of the day, I can’t say that I got $120 worth of entertainment.
Ultimately, when I heard that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would be ending for good in 2017, I was going to see it when it came to town. Even if I didn’t think it was worth the money, even if my kids weren’t old enough to really remember it, I was going to see the last run of the circus when it came around. We’ll probably see another circus some other time when the kids are a little older, but it won’t be Ringling Bros. When I’m older and someone asks me about the Ringling Bros. circus, I can say that I saw it the last time it came through. If nothing else, I can say that I was there.
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