Reaction to news that the 146-year-old Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will close in May often fell into two main categories Sunday: cheers from animal rights activists and, perhaps just as prominent, comparisons by both the left and right to America’s three-ring political landscape.
In announcing Saturday night that “The Greatest Show on Earth” will close, Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive of parent company Feld Entertainment, called it “a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
The announcement follows the May decision to remove elephants from Ringling Bros. shows and to send the animals to live on a conservation farm in Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.
A host of factors contributed to the end of the show, including declining attendance and high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and fierce, longstanding battles with animal rights advocates. When Ringling brought its latest show to L.A. in July, producer Alana Feld and big-cat trainer Alexander Lacey defended the continued presence of animals in the production and emphasized additions to the production, including ice-skating acrobatics. But those changes apparently were not successful enough.
As news spread of the announcement, social media lighted up with opinions on the end of an era in live entertainment. Arguably the most vocal were animal advocates such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
PETA tweeted out its praise for the end of a show that “showed the world the plight of animal captivity,” calling it “the saddest show on Earth.” The organization then implored other animal circuses to “follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times.”
Hollywood producer, writer and director Seth MacFarlane (“Family Guy,” “American Dad,” “Ted”) also spoke out.
“The closure of Ringling Bros. circus ends 146 years of animal humiliation for human amusement,” he tweeted. “Good riddance.”
Although the decision to close the circus was heralded as a win for animal rights proponents, PETA already had begun turning its attention to other forms of entertainment, including roadside zoos and parks such as Sea World. Some have begun to use the hashtag #EmptyTheTanks.
For others, however, the news was an opportunity, once more, to point toward the unsettled political climate that comes with the inauguration this week of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
Both comedians and political pundits pointed to the political ring as its own circus, with Trump, Republicans and Democrats engaged in a Barnum-level spectacle. Conservative commentator Ann Coulter tweeted that the circus “couldn’t compete with the Democrats since the election.” Comedian Warren Holstein shared that without the circus, “the only place we’ll get to see a mean man abuse elephants into doing what he wants is in the White House.”
Actor and activist George Takei added to the conversation, tweeting an expletive-laced joke that the title of “Greatest Show on Earth” goes to the daily show “coming from the President-elect.”