Monday, September 29, 2008

Circus: a parable and critique

When my two-year old daughter yawned at the circus, I was convinced it was a bust. We'd looked for reasons to clap, laugh, ooh, and aah. But none came until the final moments, when the little elephant, dwarfed by age and shame, sat in its own excrement. This, of course, was not a choreographed move, but it aroused the audience from its slumber. I whooped and clapped and came to my feet.

There were signs that Baron von Applesauce's traveling show would flop from the beginning. The very name, billed under the auspices of nobility, concerned me. Nor was I convinced that the location--a vacant car lot in Warsaw, Indiana--provided the Big Top feel of Barnum and Co.

In addition to Poop the Elephant and Baron the Tamer, the supporting cast comprised a pony that could lift its leg only when struck by a whip, two yawning tigers, three climbing goats, and four pre-pubescent children, whose talents ranged from hanging upside down to juggling fire to bending over backwards and making eye contact with the audience from between arched legs.

As if the exploitation of the circus-children wasn't enough, the audience received its turn. The transition between acts frequently showcased a 'limited time offer' for circus schwag. Apparently, three-dollar cans of soda and twelve-dollar tickets weren't bringing in sufficient revenue. Thus patrons were tempted with 'limited offer' color books, bags of peanuts, bull whips, and tranquilizer guns. The last item several parents purchased to survive the final moments of the show.

After the rebate, the experience cost me eighteen dollars and two hours of my life. I've spent time and money on worse things, but I fear my daughters may be forever scarred. This was their first and only experience of a circus. This is their filter, their schema, their ruberick for what a circus is like. They may never want to come back.

But if they do, there's always another show on Sunday.

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