This past week, my family was given complimentary tickets to see Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey‘s epic circus production, Built To Amaze. Not being a fan of captive animals, and having never been to a circus, I googled “circus animal treatment” before agreeing to attend and (possibly) write a review for this blog.
It didn’t take long for me to find horrific accusations from groups like PETA and the ASPCA and although these organizations spend millions of publicly donated dollars to fund lawsuits and slander the circus owners, I also found that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey (Ringling) seem to take animal safety seriously (24-hour vet care, an Animal Open House for the public to get up close with their animals before every show, training with food/treats instead of fear, etc.). I also couldn’t shake the feeling that the animal rights organizations were grossly exaggerating the circus’ conditions and treatment of the animals. And yes, I watched the “undercover” Youtube videos.
So as our family walked up to the arena entrance, it was no surprise that protestors held up disgusting posters trying to shame us for going to the circus and “exploiting” animals. Our young boys were a bit shocked by the images but having done my research, I assured them that the animals of this circus were well-cared for and that it’s every person’s right to protest for the things they believe in.
I will start this by saying I don’t believe animals deserve the same rights as humans (although PETA would disagree — I mean, seriously, this terrorist organization doesn’t even want you to have a dog) but I do believe that humans need to use our species superiority with wisdom and respect.
So therein lies my struggle: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus’ Built To Amaze production was exactly that: amazing. I spent the better portion of the evening with my jaw gaping wide open and my eyes bulging out of my head. I kept looking over to my boys who were mesmerized with the athleticism, the death-defying feats, and of course, the entertaining animals. Be it the silly rabbits used for a tongue-in-cheek “magic” show, the ridiculously cute poodles showing off their dancing skills, or the EIGHTEEN caged tigers bowing to the commands of their human master — the animals made an already incredible show even more incredible.
Although I’m not fooled by aggressive animal rights’ organizations (who seem to have this ridiculous expectation that elephants in the wild must leap and bound in non-stop excitement and any captive elephant who’s not leaping and bounding must be “inhumanely treated and bored”), I still wonder if we should be taming exotic creatures at all. I tend to side with Ringling in that I do believe they are only doing what’s “necessary” to tame and house these animals safely and that their use of bullhooks and whips isn’t as bad as animals rights groups like to have us believe; but I still wonder if we should be taming exotic animals in the first place?
Which brings me to my next thought…exotic animals make up only a small part of the circus experience.
Someone walking the monkey bars with their feet, upside down, while 30′ in the air? Yep, that’s there.
Bicycle riding and jump roping on a high wire? You bet.
Incredible feats of balance and strength? No prob.
A female Human Cannon Ball rocketing out of cannon at a g-force of 7? Of course!
A man dressed up like a hot dog doing “the worm”? They even have that.
Throw in some showy mechanical clown vehicles, massive choreographed routines, and crazy gymnastic feats and for most of the show, you really don’t even know where to look! It was an ADD paradise.
So do we really need tigers and elephants? And would a circus without exotic animals even be profitable? Would people come to see the incredible live performances of hilarious clowns, death-defying stunts, and incredible acts of athleticism if there were no exotic animals to be seen?
Oh right — they do. It’s called Cirque du Soleil.
Well having been to Cirque and now the world’s biggest circus, I can say that the two shows have a lot in common and are also nothing alike. Cirque is a lavish date night with expensive tickets and a sophisticated theatrical event. The circus is geared to families with young kids and makes for a casual and easygoing outing. Although Cirque du Soleil has made a very successful venture out of high-end circus-like entertainment (without the use of animals), I doubt Ringling could cross over without taking a major financial blow. Yet after seeing the show, I truly believe the performance would still be worth the ticket price, even without the animals; sadly, I doubt the average consumer would believe that. We’ve just been so conditioned to think that animals are the best part of the circus.
Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not one to fight for animal rights. The biggest reason I believe in sustainably raised meats and well-treated livestock is because the way they are treated greatly effects the quality of our food, not because I care about the animal’s “feelings”. In fact, I believe it’s a form of idolatry to put animals on some sort of pedestal, as if they’re equal to humans. And yet even still, I couldn’t help but feel like the animals were the only part of the show that left me feeling a bit uncomfortable — like I had taken selfishly advantage of something majestic, just because I can.
Ultimately, each family must decide if the circus is something they want to support and I’m not sure if I’ll ever attend another one. But if I’m honest, I have to agree that it was one of the greatest shows on earth.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Built To Amaze circus is showing in the Bay Area
until September 2. Find your tickets at Ringling.com.