Rarely do we see the end of an empire. Say farewell to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a powerful entity 146 years old. For some of us the sentiment is bittersweet and for others it was a long time coming, perhaps overdue. Somewhere on the spectrum between American nostalgia for the circus and the abhorrence for animal abuse, there lies a perspective that balances the two positions while exploring a third.
An American fabric that has existed from Post-Civil War division and conflict to the mass media and instant gratification present day, Barnum & Bailey represented much more than just entertainment. Imagine life before organized sports, screens, and instantaneous information; it was wrought with boredom, a true baseline for a potential audience. Now envision churning butter or something bleak and archaic, and then: a poster saying “Circus.” This was an event, not a form of entertainment. The Super Bowl entertains, the information on our phones feeds, and our relentless appetite for instant gratification desensitizes our perspectives. The circus did not entertain, it astonished! Wild tigers, lions, and elephants walked within a tent in every state and every decade mystifying an entire crowd. Some of the stunts and acts were beyond belief, which led to a powerful experience for the audience. Current Americans cannot fathom the potency of such an event. When’s the last time you were really scintillated and blown away? Barnum & Bailey’s Circus symbolized full astonishment for entire audiences beyond time and geography.
Even great buildings cast cold shadows, so why not this behemoth circus? The underpinning of ruthless animal cruelty was really the circus’ undoing. Quite simply, the animal rights movement grew too large and powerful for a circus, which had to combat radio, television, and Internet in its 146 years, to defeat. The level of astonishment was watered down by its competition and the leverage to stay in business began to disappear. The voice of a minority group put enough pressure on the “Greatest Show On Earth” to end its glorious or notorious run! People came together and expressed their discontent, specifically the mistreatment of elephants. The death of a major American enterprise is at the hands of a group for animal rights activists. That would not occur in 1950, so why now?
A multifaceted and comprehensive answer is necessary to tackle such an elephant, but we’re not tackling or subduing this metaphorical mammal. We are exploring the event, the death of Barnum & Bailey Circus. We discover above all else the power of unison. A unified voice, a product of many voices coming together, can overcome obstacles and defeat giants. But, how can small voices accomplish so much? Enough of one voice, amplified by the amount of people contributing, can overwhelm society and culture. Technology and information allow access to groups to communicate expediently, operate fluidly, and unify judiciously under more rigid standards.
This event illustrates a lesson about the power of groups, especially when they unify. To go further, the circus’ finality is only the beginning of such power. A voice that is in unison and strongly amplified can do almost anything; if the voice or message is coherent and supported by many, then it has real power. Is your finger on the pulse or more accurately, do you hear the future coming?
When Earth rotates and revolves enough times there are dramatic differences between points or times; but what consistently surfaces throughout locations and decades is change. Being in tune with the evolution of your field and projecting its path greatly enhances your chance to survive…go back to the 1900’s and tell people that their astonishing circus will be usurped by a group of animal activists, they’ll reply with a laugh and ask, “Are you part of the show?”