Crashing a Feld Myth? I was gratified, reassured, reinforced and retrofitted, validated and exhilarated to discover that Crash Moreau, sometime recently on his blog (you’ll find it to your right) has challenged Kenneth Feld to fire the animal trainer(s) responsible for the abuse that is all too convincingly obvious on the tape made by an undercover PETA agent, a tape that has left many of us aghast. Here are the main points in Crash's posting:
“I have to express my feelings ... I am not an animals rights activist as I believe animals should be in the entertainment business. But what I saw and I know, this is not an old video clip as one of the handlers has been with Ringling since 2008 which makes it an updated video ...The time has come for the Ringling organization to do the right thing. First: Anyone involved on the tape should be ... fired with no exceptions. This does no need to happen for any reason ... Second: Ringling should bring up charges against all the ones that were beating on the elephant and the judge should throw the book at them PERIOD.”
I can only hope-assume that most in the circus community share Crash’s outrage and demand for corrective action. I would add one other request: Ringling needs to immediately back up the claim it put out in a press release alleging that the video was “deceptively edited.” If so, Ringling, how, how, HOW??? Mr. Feld: my long-held respect for what I perceived (naively, I'm afraid) to be your total micro-attention to proper treatment of your animals has been shaken to the bone. I no longer believe you. Now, if you can prove to us that the video was "deceptively edited," once again, I ask you to show us now. Thank you, Crash.
Another Big Apple Circus Charmer: The annual New York Times valentine to Big Apple Circus in the form of a thoroughly positive review was composed this year by one Ken Jaworowski, who gives them a full White Tops endorsement: He loved Bello, found nothing to carp or question. “This is one terrific troupe.” New York, you are one lucky town!
Remembering a research master of many index cards: The passing in June of circus historian Stuart Thayer, as covered with profound affection by Fred D. Pfening III in the latest issue of Bandwagon, is a sad story. Sad because if Thayer was, as Pfening alleges, virtually the greatest in his class, why such anonymity? According to Pfening, Thayer’s “best work is the best ever written on the subject ...the quality of his scholarship is unprecedented and unmatched.” What is so puzzling is why Thayer could not find a publisher to promote his work and get it out to readers beyond the CHS. “He had little interest in impressing anyone,” Pfening writes. “He self published his books, usually with minuscule press runs.” We are not told whether or not Mr. Thayer actually tried to find a publisher. And if not, why not? Was he forced in default to publish himself? (I know, through countless humbling rejection slips, how hellishly difficult it can be to find a regular royalty publisher out there.)
I could not purchase any of Thayer’s books on Amazon if I tried. All “unavailable.” I did a world library search to discover that one of his tomes is on the shelves of only six libraries, another on just sixteen. Compare that to Earl Chapin May’s 1932 masterwork, Circus From Rome to Ringling, which remains in well over 500 libraries. A brief Wikipedia bio of Mr. Thayer that reads as if it were penned by Pfening is preceded with this note from the editors: “This article needs references that appear in reliable third-party publications. Primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject are generally not sufficient for a Wikipedia article. Please add more appropriate citations from reliable sources. (June 2007).”
Because I have great respect for the CHS (recent Bandwagon articles by Bill Taggart on Ringling grift, Mike Straka on phone rooms, amount to courageous revelations), I have to give Pfening’s Thayer claim strong consideration. But Pfening is a human being, too, with opinions of his own; he previously slighted the magnificently rich (in my opinion) May work. Why not, Pfening & Pfening, an article in your words telling us why Mr. May’s book is so “overrated,” and listing the top three books on American circus history from your well-informed points of view?
Truth has a hard time finding an audience, I fear, if there are too many foot notes, too much contextual detail, or too little narrative thrust. Now, if it was Stuart Thayer who tracked down the first portable circus tent back to J. Purdy Brown in 1825 (identifying a signal turning point in U.S. circus history), that is the sort of research that merits lasting respect, whether found in a compelling read or a finely wrought thesis.