Watching Bill Moyers & Company on television this afternoon, while interviewing his two guests, authors of the book Winner-Take-All-Politicis, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, Bill asked them a searing question:
"Do we still have a middle class?"
Answered Pierson, after only a slight hesitation, "No, we don't."
And if we don't, then neither do our struggling circuses. It made me wonder just how much of yesteryear's tickets sales were made to a thriving middle class?
Perhaps this growing gap between the super rich, who have the money to throw at Cirque du Soleil, and those at the bottom fighting to make ends meet, leaves America big tops mired down near the bottom, too.
In fact, had there been a stronger middle class, perhaps the Circus Chimera that James Judkins tried offering the public, might have fared better. I think Jim's aim was to offer the public a bargain basement Cirque du Soleil experience; I think the audience for such a venture did not exist in sufficient numbers. Not in the numbers necessary to put more bodies in the seats, thus leaving Jim far short of the money he needed to grow the show.
So, then, does Ringling also play mainly to the 99-percenters? Hard to say. What does seem clear is that, like most of our mid sized and smaller shows, Ringling pitches almost directly to the kids, banking on their naive enthusiasm to take the bait, which in turn turns them and their parents through the turnstiles.
Perhaps if there was a more resilient middle class, there would be more money to spend, and the producers would have more money with which to upgrade their shows to higher levels. When you end up pitching to the poor, your options are severely constrained.
All of which, I fear (am I being too kind? An apologist?) , only makes the future for our American circuses look ever more precarious.