The Greatest Show on Earth is going out with a bang. The 146th installment of Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus is rolling through Washington, D.C., Baltimore, and New York City one last time before it closes forever.
This was a planned extinction. Deep-pocketed radicals outside the American mainstream won a long-sought victory against the circus.
This final edition — known to circus aficionados as Ringling’s “Blue Unit” — is touring as “Out of This World.” On May 21 in Uniondale, New York, an American institution that began when Ulysses Grant was president will be no more.
At a recent stop in Washington, D.C., I enjoyed the show that thrilled generations of Americans, and that the institutional Left has destroyed.
The opening act lived up to expectations. A trio of astronauts balanced on a narrow, rotating Simet wheel high above the audience, seeming to defy gravity, while Quindar tones interrupted conversations from ground control and back.
Was this irony deliberate? Memories of Apollo opened the show, with cultural references that, in a generation or two, will be unknown to most Americans. Two great American institutions — our astronauts walking in space, and a grand American circus rolling across the land — will fade from collective American memory.
Yes, the circus is a great American institution. That’s why it was targeted like so many other American institutions.
The circus was the product of American industrial might and organizational ingenuity. When the mighty Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey trains rolled across the land, there was nothing else like it in the world. No other nation could duplicate Ringling’s ability to organize and move hundreds of performers, roustabouts, and exotic animals from one town to another as a self-sustaining business enterprise. America has existed longer with a Barnum and Bailey circus than without one.
The circus wasn’t targeted by PETA activists because the elephants were mistreated. The issue is never the issue.
If elephants could choose between living in their natural environment where elephant pox, poachers, and lice prevail, or in a Ringling Brothers circus with veterinarians and an endless supply of bamboo and hay, they’d choose Ringling Brothers.
Then again, elephants don’t have the cognitive ability to make this choice. Which takes us back to our story.
PETA radicals waged a long propaganda campaign against the circus. Even in victory, they still protest. Year after year, these activists badgered families arriving at the circus, handing out coloring books to children that appeared to be part of the show — but instead contained coloring cartoons of animals being tortured. Surprise, surprise for Johnny and Jane.
For reasons I’ll never understand, the protesters were almost always morose-looking women, standing their vigil and protesting against joy. Thousands of smiling children never seemed to deter them. Who cares about happy kids when there are enslaved donkeys to be rescued?
Had the woeful protesters seen the animal menagerie this day, they might have gone mad.
Llamas and donkeys marched in unison. Enslaved horses galloped on command. Billy goats did balancing acts on pain of being turned into chivo guisado. A kangaroo hopped furiously through the arena. A dozen lions and tigers decided to let lion-tamer (PETA translation: “overseer”) Alexander Lacey live another day. To ensure PETA’s madness, a small dog was hoisted high in the air to jump safely into Lacey’s waiting arms.
It was the diving horse without the horse! How I wished the woeful animal rights activists were there!
The one place animals have no rights is in their natural state. The complete list of “animal rights” in the wild consists, first, of the right to eat other animals, and second, the right to try to flee being eaten. There are no other animal rights in nature. Animals do not have abstract thoughts and cannot combine ideas. Their cognitive abilities, to the extent they even exist, are wholly distinct from the sort meriting rights.
For this dispute, the circus has died.
But Ringling Brothers management isn’t free from blame for the demise of the circus. In 1967, Irvin Feld rescued Ringling Brothers from hard times by buying it. Two generations later, his granddaughter Nicole will oversee its demise.
Last year, in an effort to buy peace from the animal rights radicals, Feld Entertainment capitulated to PETA and removed elephants from the show. The elephants left, but the protesters didn’t.
After all, Ringling Brothers still held captured slaves. Tigers, dogs, pigs, leopards, horses, kangaroos, goats, and lions. PETA aimed to free all the enslaved animals.
By ending the elephants in the show in 2016, Feld Entertainment abandoned the signature Ringling Brothers act. Whenever the circus train rolled into a town in the 20th century, the elephants would parade from the railyard to the venue. Some towns would shut down entirely, and thousands would line the streets for the Ringling elephant parade.
After the elephants left the show last year, so did many customers. Ringling Brothers without elephants is like the Indianapolis 500 without cars.
Feld learned that capitulating to PETA was bad business, and also learned that middle America doesn’t share PETA’s radical values. Feld tried to blame “changing public tastes” in the smartphone age, yet will still be producing similar touring shows such as Disney on Ice and Marvel Universe Live. These other Feld productions seem to rely on the same entertainment paradigm as the circus.
The truth is that the difference between Marvel Universe Live and Ringling Bros. is PETA.
PETA destroyed the circus, not the smartphone. Radicals destroyed an American institution which began in 1871. Enjoy your victory, PETA, and move onto the next institution you aim to destroy. Send out more fundraising letters, because the issue is never the issue.