Monday, January 16, 2017

1747 This Way to the Egress




When the milling crowds on the midway got too thick, P.T. Barnum -- so the story goes -- would put up signs pointing to the “egress.” Many thought that was another exhibition and left, allowing waiting patrons in. Too many people?


Barnum’s successors at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus haven’t had that kind of problem for decades.  So much so in recent years that current owner, Feld Entertainment announced this weekend that the circus will close permanently after this year’s tours.


Poetic justice:  The tattered and superannuated traveling show will make its final bows at the equally tattered and superannuated Nassau Coliseum on New York’s Long Island on May 21st.


Beside declining attendance, CEO Kenneth Feld cites protests from animal rights activists and changing tastes.  At least he had the grace to not blame the media.


One hundred forty six years of freak shows, scary and semi scary clowns, death defying feats of aeronautical acrobatics, overpriced food and trained big cats always on the edge of mauling and devouring any living being under 60 pounds.  


One hundred forty six years of bearded ladies, adult conjoined twins, three legged men, four legged women and “the living torso.”


Goodbye Lobster Boy, General Tom Thumb and the Human Unicorn.  Also jugglers, unicycle riders, tightrope walkers, human cannonballs, fire eaters and sword swallowers.


And with all that, dies a whole culture of workers from tent builders to boxcar loaders, the whole backstage crew, animal handlers and ringmasters.


Life has become so heart-in-mouth that there’s no more thrill to watching some skinny dude and a leggy woman do mysterious things on a pair of trapezes without falling to their deaths.  The real circus is going on all around you and there’s no admission charge.


Of course, Ken Feld’s announcement could be just another circus stunt.  Maybe he’s opened 30- million fake email accounts and contracted with some temp agency to write angry protests and demands that he keep the company running.


Probably not.  But don’t be surprised if you see the clown car up for auction.  And Emmett Kelly’s broom.


Shrapnel:
--For many years on Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday this space has railed against those trying to second guess what he would have said about these times had he not been murdered. Not anymore.  This year, it wouldn’t take much guesswork, though you won’t find any here.


--If you thought we were governed by the worst among us for the last few decades, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. We’re days away from government by kleptocracy.  We are days away from Alice in the rabbit hole where up is down, down is up and nothing is real.


--But we sincerely hope for the continued good health of the president- elect.  That’s not some sentimental statement of faux patriotism as once we offered for the health of George H.W. Bush.  You want this guy healthy because if he dies, we get Pence -- and that’s even worse.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
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