I was never a huge circus guy as a kid, probably because I wasn’t a very good athlete – although the acrobats did impress me. Of course, being feet from large wild animals was thrilling! (except for the smell!) And being a ‘semi-professional’ magician (starting in the Fourth Grade) I was drawn to performers like clowns – even considering crossing the makeup line and becoming a clown magician myself! I’d read of Harry Houdini, and how he got his start in traveling carnivals performing feats of strength and ‘oddities’, like being able to pick up needles with his eyelashes while hanging inverted! (How one does this for an audience – who knows?)
But what really got my attention were the oddities, the Sideshow. The beginnings of the traveling circus. People and animals with disabilities or birth defects – Siamese twins, women with beards, two headed snakes – that sort of thing. Obviously, middle-America in the early 1800’s needed some kind of diversion, right?
And this is precisely why the circuses are ending. If one wants to see an elephant, there are thousands on You Tube. The same for magic, people with birth defects and feats of strength. No longer must one wait in line for tickets, endure the crowds, animal smells and over-priced popcorn to see such things. The circus can come to you! And there are TV, movies, shows – all stream-able to your TV, computer or cell phone.
Jeff Cooper sometimes spoke of seeing the elephant. In the olden days, a farm youth (as most were prior to 1920) had little or no exposure to life outside that which was on the farm. Birth, death, butchering, harvesting, hunting, planting – all hard physical labor. But little else.
When a boy ‘came of age’, his father would shove a few dollars in his pocket, point him to town, and tell him to go ‘see the elephant’. The circus was coming to town! The boy would dutifully go, see the elephant, the sideshow, perhaps have some liquor and engage in games of chance. If he had any money left, he might find a woman of ill-repute with whom to ‘spend some time’.
It was all about a rite-of-passage. Learning something about the outside world.
But, in today’s instantaneous electronically-connected world, there is no rite-of-passage. Boys (and girls) learn about sex from the Internet. Not exactly seeing the elephant.
No wonder instant gratification is the motto for the Millennials.
And we as a society are lesser for it.
Go see the elephant before the circus closes forever! Reportedly, they will stop using elephants by 2018. of course, the circus will end before that…
Find a woman?