This article was originally published on Medium.
Future generations will consider it a relic of the past.
When I was five or six, I remember my mom and I driving through downtown Chicago on a hot day in July. We were stuck in traffic, a bottleneck on Madison. I remember the window glass burning me when I pressed my forearm against it. In that moment, I was miserable.
“Look!” said my mom, cutting through the silence.
I looked up. An elephant was a car length in front of us, plodding across the downtown intersection. Behind it was a caravan of clowns and trainers and animals. I remember seeing a kangaroo.
"An elephant was a car length in front of us, plodding across the downtown intersection."
“They must be doing a show at the United Center,” said my mom. “Can you see, Eddie?”
I remember feeling mesmerized by the impromptu parade. Watching it, I felt like I wasn’t on Earth anymore, as though the sight of these magnificent, foreign animals and people had sucked me into another world, a place where things were suddenly very exciting.
“Yes,” I said, “I like it!”
For 146 years, Ringling Bros. made audiences — children and parents alike — feel the same sense of wonder and disassociation.
That’s why I was sad to learn the fate of the iconic group:
Going out of business.
“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the soon-to-be defunct circus. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
“There isn’t any one thing…”
Except there is: Time.
For centuries, acrobats and clowns and elephants and fire eaters were superb at capturing and keeping an audience’s attention. Not anymore, though.
When the Feld family bought Ringling Bros. in 1967, performances lasted nearly 3 hours. Since then, however, the shows have been considerably shortened and tightened, adjusted for a “modern” audience. An audience that has so much to do and less time than ever to do it all. When it comes to entertainment, we’re all stretched thin.
When it comes to entertainment, we’re all stretched thin.
And so the ticket sales just aren’t there.
YouTube won. SnapChat and PlayStation won. Time won, as it always does.
I won’t miss going to the circus.
As a kid, I rarely ever went. But I will miss knowing that the circus exists. That it’s out there in a relevant way. A way that entertains and inspires people. A way that gives people something to look forward to.
All that said, I’m happy dozens of animals will live better lives. It’s a nice silver lining, not to mention a necessary step in the right direction.
The final Ringling Bros. show will take place in May, 2017.