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Ringling Bros circus shuts tent flaps forever – time to cry or celebrate?

(BUSINESS NEWS) After a 146-year tenure, The Ringling Bros announced “The Greatest Show on Earth” is submitting its resignation. Is this good or bad news?

ringling bros

The last Greatest Show on Earth

After a 146-year tenure, The Ringling Brother’s announced “The Greatest Show on Earth” is submitting its resignation. CEO Kenneth Feld says the show’s final performance will be in May, citing high operating costs and trickling attendance as the main factors in the company’s decision.

The show was a staple of entertainment for over a century, enchanting generations with bright lights, sparkly costumes, happy cheesy organ music, exotic animals, and phenomenal performers.

Those that experienced the circus speak of memories filled with wonder.

The circus gave its patrons a chance to experience a slice of the world, showcasing people, talents, and animals from around the world.

A turbulent history

Traditionally, the circus provided a place for many who couldn’t find gainful employment elsewhere – a place to gain some autonomy. The classic trope of running away to the circus actually existed for some. In the circus, performers were given the chance to spotlight their incredible skills for audiences around the nation. The circus showcased feats of human talent as well as phenomenal animal performances.

Despite the glitz and glam, the circus also demonstrated the prevalence of harmful attitudes and practices. Animal rights activists have long advocated for shutting down elephant, big cat, and other exotic creature’s roles in the circus.

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[clickToTweet tweet=”Yes, the circus provided something astounding. But it was at the cost of the lives of its performers.” quote=”Yes, the circus provided something astounding. But at the cost of devaluing the lives of performers, especially the animals.”]

Modern day criticism

Criticizing Ringling Bros isn’t about being a buzzkill for a classical cultural staple. It’s about deconstructing the ways performance and presentation allow harmful attitudes and practices to prevail at the cost of a long-standing business model. Though circus-goers were largely unaware of what was happening behind the scenes, various activist groups pointed out problematic practices.

Shifting customer attitudes and expectations played a large role in the decline of circus attendance.

Adapting the show

Ringling Bros adjusted some of its performances, including retiring its elephants, but the changes were met with mixed reviews. Attendance dropped following their removal of elephants from shows for varied reasons.

Some applauded the company’s efforts to respect animal rights, while others lamented the loss of animal performance as an iconic experience. For some, the loss of animal performance means the end of a wholesome era for family entertainment. For others, it marks a step in the right direction for more socially conscious performances.

Other companies are following suit by reducing or eliminating animal acts from their performances, but this speaks to a larger problem.

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[clickToTweet tweet=”If a company can’t adapt quickly enough, all the bright lights in the world can’t save it.” quote=”If a company cannot adapt quickly enough to meet the needs of its customers, all the bright lights in the world can’t save it.”]


Written By

Lindsay is an editor for The American Genius with a Communication Studies degree and English minor from Southwestern University. Lindsay is interested in social interactions across and through various media, particularly television, and will gladly hyper-analyze cartoons and comics with anyone, cats included.

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