Kenneth Feld has a PR disaster on his hands. He has been virtually kicked out of the City of Los Angeles, by a unanimous city council vote of 13-0. Bull hooks have been outlawed, meaning that, come 2017, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will no longer be allowed to parade its performing pachyderms into Staples Center.
Location. Location. Location. The ban could not have taken place in a more glamorously conspicuous, incessantly watched city. L.A. is the epi-center of popular entertainment. The world watches L.A.'s every move. So, this major setback for Feld Entertainment will have a far greater and potentially more lasting impact on the future of not just Ringling, but of all other circuses -- than it would have had the city council been that of say, Denver, where such a similar ban was considered but voted down.
There was a reason that Cirque du Soleil, when first venturing beyond Canada, went to Los Angeles, gambling its fragile assets on a make-or- break date there in 1987. Overnight, raving local tinsel town acclaim put the show on the world map. Just as now, Ringling’s eviction from LA. amounts to the worst kind of imagery.
Kenneth Feld is used to having his way. His father, Irvin, no doubt taught him how to work the media with cunning and force, how to buy the best legal advice money can buy, how to market the circus. But, in the end, what the Felds could not market away was damning filmed evidence of apparent animal abuse on their own premises; I'm thinking four years ago, when a PETA operative filmed a line of elephants backstage being lined up and readied to go on. Hardly a match for the horrific Tim Frisco Carson and Barnes You Tube made over a dozen years earlier; but, together, both unflattering videos serve a complimentary purpose, advancing through time a lingering narrative that is, Kids, not pretty.
Feld claimed the You Tube was "deceptively edited," and then proceeded to never explain how. Call it hubris. In a packed L.A. City Hall last week, with a number of celebrities lending their weight to the vote, according to one report, "there were tears in the audience over graphic undercover video reportedly showing elephants being trained."
That our nation’s most honored circus institution stands to end up on a cutting room floor will only hasten a long-running movement in this country to ban all wild animal acts from circuses, which is a pity. Make that a provisional pity. The jury is still out, as collectively the public makes up its mind about the kinds of performing animals it can comfortably accept and enjoy.
When I think of what it would be like, had I children of my own, to take them to Ringling Bros. Circus these days, the thought of having to explain to them the enlarged photos held by animal activists on our way out -- I don't think I'd want to go. Why? Because, there is sufficient evidence for me to consider anything that Mr. Feld may say as pure spin. And that's putting it politely.
Fifty years ago, the public was not armed with concealed cameras, such that, fifty years ago, brutal training tactics could not be secretively captured on film for subsequent posting on an Internet yet to be.
Kenneth Feld may have to make contingency plans for a new version of his greatest show on earth. He may have to retire the sad pandering spectacle of an elephant draped in the American flag being dragged out for a pandering rendition of the national anthem. Of course, he may have no problem skipping Los Angeles. But, how many other cities, yet to take up such bans, will it take before he does have a problem?
This is a huge story, the reporting of which brought to this blog an unprecedented storm of traffic. Nothing like I have ever seen before. A fluke of blogger stats? Or a reflection of the magnitude of the story?
I’d guess the latter.
Next: How much pain, really, do circus animals experience? How telling -- or misleading -- is the evidence?