Making the Greatest Show On Earth Again

When I was about eight years old my father took me and my brothers and sister to see Ringling Brothers’ Barnum and Bailey Circus at the old Madison Square Garden in Manhattan.  Before the performance, we walked through the menagerie and saw lions, tigers, zebras, a huge bored gorilla and most importantly the elephants.  They were the stars of the circus and from the point of view of a little boy, the real reason to go to the circus.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked the other acts too, the tightrope walkers, the clowns, the lion tamers and the trapeze acrobats.  They were fun and some were exciting.  But what I wanted to see were the elephants.  Watching these giants go through their routines and seeing the trainers perform their acrobatics on the backs and heads of these amazing monsters was thrilling.

When I had kids of my own, I would bring them every year to the circus.  At this point I preferred the Big Apple Circus because they provided a retro and more intimate experience.  And of course, they had elephants.  My kids loved the clowns and the trapeze acts but what always brought the oohs and aahs was the elephants.  There weren’t as many or as big as the ones I remember from my childhood but they did the trick.  When my kids were a little older I decided to bring them one last time to see the circus.  Much to everybody’s surprise and disappointment there were no elephants.  I assumed that the Big Apple Circus had fallen on hard times and couldn’t afford them anymore.

Over the last few years I had heard that animal rights activists were the reason that circuses had been forced to eliminate the elephants.  They worked to get municipal laws passed making elephant training and control equipment illegal.  They picketed the circuses and harassed the patrons.  Among all the other outrages of the Social Justice Warriors I never considered how this particular campaign would impact the world I live in.  A few years ago, I went with my grandsons to the Ringling Brothers show and there were the elephants.  All was as it should be.

Today I read that Ringling Brothers’ Barnum and Bailey Circus was going out of business this year.  The last performance will be this spring.  Reading the article I discovered that the last year or two the circus finally caved in to the pressure and eliminated the elephants from the circus.  The circus officials attributed the large drop in attendance to this change.  The article said the Barnum and Bailey Circus was 146 years old and was actually older than baseball.  So, the SJWs killed the circus.

Well, that’s about the perfect emblem of our era.  Politically correct harassment and knee-jerk regulation strangled one of the most legendary symbols of happiness and childhood adventure.

For the activists who supposedly did all this for the sake of the elephants, I think it might be interesting to consider what the law of unexpected consequences might have to say about this development.  Now that children won’t be thinking about elephants as much anymore there’s a chance they won’t grow up quite as interested in elephants.  Currently, elephant populations are under enormous pressure in their native ranges.  In fact, both Asian and African elephants are being decimated by the combined pressures of habitat destruction and poaching.  A time may come when only a concerted effort by conservationists using heroic efforts will preserve a population of elephants.  This would require a large amount of money on a continuous basis.  This money will not come from Asia or Africa.  I think it is entirely possible that if governments aren’t in a position to underwrite something like this for political and financial reasons it will require the sympathy of individuals in first-world countries to make this effort possible.  However, if elephants are no longer a popular or common concept perhaps there will be little interest in underwriting their well-being.  So, if Dumbo isn’t a figure that parents remember fondly, maybe they won’t bring their kids to see the new version.  And one day the kids will be unaware that elephants are any more interesting than sewer rats.  And when they drop off the face of the earth the activists can rail against the callous ignorance and selfishness of people.  And no one will know or care.

In the weeks and months going forward President Trump may be able to make many American institutions and aspects of life “great again.”  Unfortunately, I don’t see any hope of making the Greatest Show on Earth “great again” or even making it again at all.  And we are all poorer for it.