Image courtesy of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus
Strobe lights pulse to the beat of a live band as white helmeted astronauts blast off into space. Massive bubbles dangle from the ceiling, filled with flexible, tumbling women swinging their ponytails.
No, this isn’t a BangOn! warehouse party in Bushwick – it’s the final season of the Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus. With ticket sales down and the elephants no longer in the show, well, they just can’t keep up with the changing times.
The circus is indeed closing. Just another of those things you thought would always be there – and then suddenly it’s not.
A radically shifting culture has made it so. To wit, there’s a great running gag in Modern Family, where gay character Cameron is always insisting his clown act is perfect for children’s parties – with the little ones ultimately concluding that he’s totally lame. Yeah, there’s a “gay prejudice” metaphor in there – but it’s mostly about the kids thinking that the circus is kind of icky old people stuff.
And with the rise of cosplay, the selfie generation can dress up all year round and be photographed, rather than paying to see someone else do it. Ringling Bros was up against a changing zeitgeist.
As for the disappearance of the elephants? Pressure from animal rights groups.
Some things never changed, though: the smell of buttered popcorn still fills the air. Hawkers sell swords with flashing lights and bags of cotton candy larger than your head. The sounds of children crying and laughing can be heard in equal measure.
And yet, this is the Barclays Center, where you can purchase a kosher pastrami sandwich or a locally sourced burrito. The beer selection is sublime and local with a range of New York State brews.
Nevertheless, the final show is anime brought to life. The ringmaster’s jacket glitters with crystals as he introduces an intergalactic showdown with a go-cart riding Tatiana who threatens to take over the circus. Lions and tigers roar and roll over each other at their trainers’ command. The clowns have a snowball fight…on ice skates! A nearby boy, swinging a glowing light saber is asked about his favorite part of the circus. His reply? “Everything!”
The Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey Circus is a right of passage that will be lost to all future generations. Still, for some of us, the $12 elephant cup filled with shaved ice may be overpriced – but the memories certainly aren’t.
(Ringling Bros Circus will be at the New Coliseum in Uniondale, NY from May 12 – May 21)