Thursday, January 23, 2014

The "Extinct" American Circus? Astounding Huffington Post Misinformation Drives Big Top Reporting to New Low ... Monte Carlo Affirms Circus Art Sans PC Apologies ... Paul Binder Honors the Net

If anyone needs evidence of how new media in the digital age is degrading the higher principles of journalism, there could be no better example than a recent piece in the Huffington Post -- "Is the American Circus Industry Extinct or Will it Rise From the Ashes?”

From out of our vulgar past: Circus as "spectacle, illusion, a lot of confusion."

The writer, one Preetam Kaushik, pits a thriving Euro circus arts scene against, as he argues, the very opposite here in the poor downtrodden U.S. The totally ignored Felds and their circus -- remember Ringling? -- should sue for journalistic malpractice.  Kaushik informs those foolish enough to believe that in France alone, there are over 450 circus troupes and 600 schools.  We learn that circus arts are “booming all over the world.”  Except, of course, here.  The notable exceptions mentioned, such as San Francisco's Sweet Can, below, are so obscure as to suggest Kaushik spent too much time talking to the anti-circus academics.     

Sweet Can, founded in 2006, is news to me.  Named by Kaushik as exemplary of new Arts Institution troupes worthy of funding.  The troupe's website announces, "Sweet Can presents the circus performer as a human being."  How cutting edge.

"Spectacle" has long been a dirty word with the "new circus" movement, as are words such as “trick” and “circus act.” American circus spectacle, in fact, brought about the ruin of American three-ring big tops, argues the colorfully clueless Mr. Kaushik.  His report is so ludicrously ill-informed (among its assertions, "circuses are completely banned in Connecticut"), that I will simply leave it there and spare myself and you overindulgence in fret.  

No wonder that old-school journalists rue the degradation of journalism in the digital age.  I now fully understand why the Huffington Post has come in for some harsh criticism.

Douglas McPherson on the Downside of Public Funding

I queried British author and journalist Douglas McPherson (Circus Mania) on the sweeping distortions that underpin the Huffington report, in reply to which, some of McPherson's more pertinent comments:

‘Too many companies seem to exist only to get public funding, so the work is tailored to the political ideals of the funders instead of creating shows the masses might want to see

“As a result most of the subsidized circus (and theatre) I’ve seen hasn’t been very good compared to the commercial sector because almost by definition it has to be uncommercial to qualify for funding.”
I love that remark!   And more ...

“You wouldn’t get a grant for a big top show with elephants and tigers, for instance, because it would be considered un-PC, even though it’s arguably the traditional shows that most deserve preserving as part of our heritage.

“What we are need are showmen with a vision of what the public wants.”

And what we need are fewer writers who haven't a clue, and fewer academics ready to feed them such self-serving drivel.  If I were to believe my local newspaper, the "center" of the new circus movement is right here in Oakland.  Yes, Oakland.  

Far from Oakland: One of the acts at Monte Carlo 2014 -- just to remind ourselves what circus can and should be.

Binder Wimps Out?

In the Huffington article, Paul Binder is quoted.  His words are eloquent, and then he stumbles over his own timidity, PC perhaps but circus, hardly, to which, in part, this:

“Watching an acrobat throw a triple somersault affirms our uncanny ability to look improbability in the face and to jump, knowing that a net will appear."

A net will appear?  Under the new emasculated big top, perhaps, but at the same time, the audience will disappear.   I have never understand Binder's apparent refusal to acknowledge courage as a key component in circus art.  But then again, maybe I totally misunderstand him; this remarkable quote seems to reveal an interior allegiance to safety over risk.

Monte Carlo 2014 Delivers the Goods

Kudos to H.S.H. Princess Stephanie!   I always get tingles looking at pictures of the latest circus festival, feeling a pride for  the circus arts around the world.  Especially do I admire Princes Stephanie’s steady unflinching resolve to keep all performing animals in the competition.  She does not have to grovel for funding.

Don Covington attended, as he will other festivals in France.  He liked what he saw, writing this to me:

“I thought that the jury did a good job this year in selecting the winners.  It is interesting that the two Gold Clown winners both have ties to Big Apple Circus.  Desire of Flight, the Russian couple who performed on aerial straps, was one of the acts in last year's BAC production, LEGENDARIUM.  The Sokolov teeterbord troupe was formed by Dimitri Sokolov after the Kovgar Troupe of teeterboard artists disbanded.  Dimitri and about half of the other acrobats in his new troupe were part of the Kovgar troupe when they performed with Big Apple Circus in PICTURESQUE.”

Oh, what a wonderful shows that was.  Made in America.

Big Apple Circus is still on the road.  So are all the other regulars -- Cole, Carson & Barnes, Vargas, UniverSoul, Kelly-Miller, etc.  Not to mention our still-vibrantly thriving Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.  You might quibble about some of their offerings, but there is still much to see, and still evidence of American invention that once produced the greatest shows on earth that were the envy of the world --- indeed, the coveted destination for Europe's top tanbark talents.

I think a writer like Preetam Kaushik needs to take a break from the classroom, get out into the real world, and rub his nose a little in the free marketplace.   

1 comment:

Douglas McPherson said...

A further word on funding. I think corporate sponsorship is a better match for circus, as it is with rock and pop tours, sport and so on. Corporate backers want the same thing as showmen - a big audience to see their advertising, so if a show wants sponsorship they have to put on a show with popular appeal.