How odd that I, not a sports fan, should be drawn to sports talk shows.
Why? I love hearing host and callers debating issues. And rarely without calling each other moron or Hitler sympathizer – as so often happens on your typical mud-slinging right-wing or left-wing take all talk show.
If only circus fans could carry on in like manner. Most of them — you too? — would rather, it seems, spend a weekend deep sea diving over the Bermuda Triangle than dare issue an opinion in public. Such as: what did you really think of that circus? That act? That show owner’s decision to (fill in the blanks). Such as, do you turn off your brains the moment you hit the midway?
Full disclosure. Living here in Oakland, I couldn’t care less about the Oakland Traitors wanting to shuttle their booze and brawn back to LA, the Warriors angling to head for hoops over in Playground-for-the Rich San Francisco, or even the Oakland A’s, of whom I — my one token nod to sports — am a fair weather fan, staging more mediocre Billy Bean-dead seasons in some other town’s field of dreams.
So I have little reason to listen to sports talk shows, except that, of all talk shows, sports fans display the greatest talent for engaging in lively debate without going ballistic. They possess great passion and they take chances.
Why can’t circus fans take chances?
It happens in all other venues. I exchange views on theatre, cinema, TV and music with friends who share those interests. We may have sharply differing views, but we can learn from each other, and the open conversation can itself be a great pleasure.
But why not the big top buff? Here’s the biggest reason why. Call it the backyard seduction. Many fans would rather spend time in the backyard hobnobbing with circus folk than actually sitting in a seat and watching the show. And because the fans are allowed such intimate social access, naturally they form friendships. And wanting to preserve those friendships, they naturally refrain from sharing in public or in print what they really think about any performer or any show owner, etc. Makes sense?
Think it out: In what other form of entertainment are patrons allowed such extraordinary direct association with the artist? Can you imagine yourself inside a theatre walking backstage during a performance and speaking with the actors while they are waiting in the wings between scenes? Or freely hanging out on the set of a TV show being filmed? That's what you are virtually able to do at many circuses.
There is a reason why your are pampered behind the scenes. Down through the years, circuses — in essence, gypsy companies — have needed to foster beneficial relationships with towners as insurance against times of liability and distress. Who better to speak for the circus than a local attorney or doctor or hardware store owner? The CFA (Circus Fans Association of America) was there in many cities to provide moral support, as well. Two of its founding slogans were "we pay as we go" and "we fight anything that fights the circus." Little wonder it would shun critical reviews.
Were this not so, were you barred from such extensive social contact, can you imagine how easier it would be to participate in a radio talk show discussion of such matters as:
Should clowns wear less makeup?
Does PETA have a good case based on the barbaric Tim Frisco elephant training You Tube?
Should the Felds have retired the elephants?
Miguel or Tito?
Bello Nock got a Gold Clown at Monte Carlo. Grandma, only a Silver. Fair?
How do today’s flyers using multiple riggings and action compare to the older style flying return act?
Is Cirque du Soleil a circus?
When Kenneth Feld is gone from the picture, what are the chances that his daughter(s) can keep the show successfully on the road?
How much to blame are the Shrine temples for degrading the image of circus art by serving as their own clowns and by the obscenely long concession-stuffed intermissions they allow?
How much was Kenneth Feld himself to blame for events forcing him to retire the elephants? Let me know what you think after we return from a brief commercial break!
Yes, I know, you’re not going on record. And I understand why the shows you see will not likely be as good as your "reviews" of them sent off to White Tops or Circus Report -- as long as they pamper you back of the big top. I understand this because I value friendship and a friend is someone' whose aspirations you support rather than debate or critique in the public sphere.
And may all your days be backyard days!
(Photos by Sverre Braathen: Top image: fans in the Cole Bros. Circus backyard, 1941; Clown Otto Griebling with fans, Cole 1947; CFA members during the 1933 convention in Baraboo: Walter Hohenadel, White Tops editor, is third from right. From The Milner, Special Collections, Illinois State University)