The animal rights movement celebrated a victory recently, when Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, announced that the circus was no longer financially viable to operate, and would soon cease to exist.
The timing of it all just really struck me. Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I got to talking about how much fun we had when we took our oldest kids to the circus, back before our youngest was born. I also told her (again) about how much I loved it when my parents took my sister and I to see the circus when we were little. We discussed how we wanted our youngest child to be able to enjoy the same magic.
Suddenly, taking him to see the circus just got a little more difficult. There will still be other circuses, but the most famous one, the one dubbed “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is going six feet under.
The demise of the circus
It’s no secret that circuses aren’t as popular as they were in the 20th century. Gone are the days of “Circus of the Stars” on television, even though we can still cherish the memories of Loni Anderson walking on broken glass and the dude that played Carmine Ragusa on “Laverne & Shirley” being shot out of a cannon.
But television, the internet, video games, increased emphasis on sports, and shorter attention spans made the circus less relevant as an entertainment option for families. I’m certain those low-lifes who dressed as clowns with the intent of harming children last fall didn’t help matters, either.
But also influential were the animal rights groups like HSUS and PETA.
Back in my days as a newspaper editor, I got a call from a PETA spokesperson who wanted to share the story of what the group viewed as inhumane conditions the elephants and other animals in the circus were subjected to. This call was made several weeks in advance of Ringling Brothers’ approaching appearance at a city in our region. Even though some of our readers were likely planning a trip to the circus, I politely explained to the caller that the city where the circus was to appear was a little out of our regular coverage area. As a result, their agenda didn’t reach our readers.
But the anti-circus campaign still reached readers in more pertinent markets, and many of those readers took note.
Don’t underestimate the influence
In a sense, history has repeated itself. Just last year, we saw a push from well-funded animal rights organizations translate into vows from every major grocery retailer to transition into only selling eggs from cage-free hens, causing a major disruption to the egg industry.
The animal rights people saw a cause, fought relentlessly to achieve a goal, and, for the most part, attained that goal. And they have done it again with Ringling Bros.
They aren’t finished. The push to have all U.S. pork to come from farms that don’t use gestation stalls continues, and the push to transition the broiler industry to using slower-growing breeds is just getting started.
If you disagree with the animal welfare claims on those types of production, you had better start pushing back. Otherwise, you’ll be left just sitting there eating your cage-free eggs and crate-free bacon while watching a three-decade-old “Circus of the Stars” episode on YouTube.