When I was a kid, I used to love the Circus. I admit it. I mean, it was so exciting! All those great animals performing tricks for our entertainment. The Circus came to town every year, Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey. It was the greatest show on earth. And who could resist that junk food? Candy apples were my favorite. I loved the three rings, the wide elephants, the smell of hay and peanuts. Plus there was the Freak Show, and I could definitely relate.
The Circus, to me, was a real treat.
When my nieces and nephew were little, I also took them to the Circus. Why not? This was FUN, a kid’s paradise. Truthfully I never gave it a second thought. Until one time we went to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey, and I noticed something disturbing.
The tigers came out in a parade. Oh, they were magnificent! Bengal giants with their coats of orange and black.. The tigers paraded in a line, then a circle. But something was peculiar. There was this one tiger. He would not go with the rest. He backed away, snarled, would not walk in the circle. I don’t remember the trainer being particularly cruel. Just that the animal was stubborn. I watched. The tiger clearly was NOT going to perform his stunts. He rumbled, backed up, growled, shook his head. This big cat was definitely NOT okay.
I know enough about animals to know that if one does not want to do something, you should not force him. An animal can be coaxed, loved, persuaded, even bribed to do your bidding, but not forced. The tiger was then taken out of the line and put somewhere. I don’t know where. It had to be a solitary confinement. I remember saying, “That tiger is gonna blow. Oh yeah, he is gonna explode! Mark my words.”
I realized something was very wrong. Then, all of a sudden, the whole Circus was wrong. There were stunt people. I remember a woman who got locked up in a glass box, flexing and folding her limbs until she somehow perversely fit in this tiny cage that could not even hold a kitten.
There was another woman who twirled by her teeth on a rope. I remember her spinning around, long hair flailing. I worried about her neck snapping, her teeth becoming dislodged.
Grandma asked the nieces if they wanted dolls. There were these plastic dolls for sale, souvenirs that actually resembled the dangling tooth woman. The girls did not want them. They looked at me with wide morose eyes. Yep, the kids knew better. In that moment it all became creepy. Dear god. Who ran this place? Could it be? The Circus was actually – an institution of cruelty? This was exploitation, blatant and unmitigated! Why hadn’t I noticed before? What the heck were we even DOING there?
Most revelations in my life have come like this – big flashes where all of a sudden I realize:
EVERYTHING I KNOW IS WRONG.
This was one of those moments.
That night on the News we heard a report that the Ringling Brother’s tiger escaped. Not only did the animal blow his temper, but he apparently blew the entire pop stand as well 🙂 Goodbye PT. He escaped your cages, busted out of your Alcatraz traveling show.
What happened to that tiger? I do not know. Somehow I could not bring myself to learn the follow up. He was, no doubt recaptured. Probably hit with a stun gun. Personally I liked to picture him in the wilds of Africa, roaming the plains. But I am sure that did not happen. Even I am not that naïve.
After that we boycotted Circuses entirely.
But I gotta admit — I still love candy apples and a great Freak Show 🙂
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