November 10, 2013

5 Things I Saw at the Circus That Made Me Sad.

My husband is a big believer in over the top entertainment.

He is forever buying concert tickets, extravagant meals, and seats to any and every show that comes through town.

To be fair, he loves the simpler things like walking in the woods and having a toasty fire too, but his penchant for all crowd pleasing activities—Disney, in particular, is well documented. So I wasn’t surprised when he announced that we were going to the circus.

We have been to the circus before, and it is, of course, an orgy for the senses—kind of like watching the Olympics tangled up with two or three musicals and crammed into a Medieval Times arena.

I always go reluctantly for many reasons, not the least of which is the in-your-face sales of $15 tubs of popcorn, $8 sodas, and $20 illuminated spinny things that are broken before you even get out the door. But I go anyway, because the kids love it, and I don’t want to be a party pooper.

Well, I hate to say it, but I’m about to poop on the party.

I don’t think I can ever go back to the circus, and am even considering joining the few PETA protesters standing outside the stadium in the freezing cold wind hoisting signs  decrying the abuse of circus elephants.

Here’s why:

1) Elephants really shouldn’t be in a circus environment.

I don’t know if they are being physically abused as PETA says they are, and would in fact doubt it, based on the obvious love I saw between the elephants and their trainers, but my heart broke anyway as these magnificent animals turned and sat and bowed and lifted up their great tree trunk feet for the amusement of a few thousand people under a heartless dome.

They had stars spray painted on their hind quarters and sequined blankets a top their backs, and all I could think of when I saw them trying so hard to please their people was what was ever done to please them in return. March them back to their dark cages, pile them onto a truck, put them on the road, only to unload them, drape them in sequins once more, and parade them about until they die, pitifully unconnected to the savannas and forests where they belong?

2) Ditto for all the other animals involved, except the dogs.

There were rabbits in boxes, snakes, donkeys forlornly pulling carts of clowns, and of course I can’t forget the tigers. The tigers might have been the saddest of all, because they were clearly pissed off. There were at least 20 of them in a massive cage being dominated by a small Russian man dressed in what appeared to be an outfit for a gay bar in the West Village on Halloween. They snarled and narrowed their eyes with tangible fury, and I couldn’t help but be disturbed by the cruelty of it.

Of course, I’m the sort of person who thinks making a house cat live indoors is cruel, so I am extra sensitive, but still. Once you’ve seen a big cat in the wild, which I’ve had the good fortune to do, and then you see them in a place like the circus, it doesn’t take much to realize something’s not right.

(The dogs, on the other hand, were the jolliest bunch of pups I have ever seen, and I am perfectly okay with a dog in the circus if he is treated well. In fact, I would love to see an all-dog circus, but I doubt that’s spectacular enough to draw more than a few freaks like me.)

3) It’s not just the animals, but the people I felt sad for. With the exception of a precious few, the performers are underpaid and overworked, casting themselves about without regard to their human limitations in a frantic bid for attention. At least that’s how it appeared, it’s possible I’m way off base here.

4) And it’s not just the performers, but the audience I felt sad for. My God, this audience. I don’t know what this says about me, but when I see a massive group of people, the vast majority of whom are grossly overweight, sitting in the dark cheering as they shove basketball sized wads of cotton candy down their throats, I see a lot of pain.

5) And it wasn’t just the audience, but my son I felt sad for. There he was, with his nine year old face, eyes wide, bracketed by his parents who brought him to this place, watching a drama of epic and devastating proportions unfold in the name of a few laughs. I mean really, why don’t I just take him to see gladiators fight each other to the death next time?

The whole exercise felt primitive and unnecessary.

When we choose to entertain ourselves at the expense of the health, sanity, safety, or natural state of being of others, we are participating in a great evil. Saying it’s just in the name of good fun is no excuse. We must think carefully about how all of our actions affect others, even seemingly innocent ones like going to the circus.

Next year when my husband announces he wants to go to the circus, I’ll gently suggest we go see a movie instead.

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Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Photo: Caras Ionut on Pixoto


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