Time perhaps to rerun an old column. Because it deal with what largely is responsible for the death of this institution.
A Shrine to Childhood under Attack
Change.org is circulating a petition on the Internet asking the Kingston Memorial Centre to refuse the Shrine Circus use of their facilities. The Shriners' offense is including trained animals in their show. “The circus is a cruel and heartbreaking place for the innocent animals who are forced to perform multiple times a day and are dragged from city to city, year after year.”
Sounds awful. What a hellish existence. Travel. Everyone looking at you perform and applauding. I'm sure no kid every dreamt of the nightmarish life of running off with the circus.
Besides the horses ridden by the Kambarov Cossacks, the only animals performing in the Shrine Circus, so far as I can tell from the playbill, are the Zerbini elephants. No lion tamer. No cute tiny dog acts. No ponies trotting in a ring, with a woman standing on their backs. It looks as though the Shriners have already taken a hit on this matter, and many of the traditional circus acts are no longer attempted. More modern circuses, like the Cirque de Soleil, no longer include them at all. I recall attending one circus with my son in Kamloops when he was tiny. All the animal acts were pulled, because a local ordinance made them illegal. It was a sad affair.
This is a grinch-worthy assault on childhood. It is all very well to be a social justice warrior. It is less well when it costs you nothing, when you are putting all the burden on other people, and yourself sacrificing nothing. But it is another thing entirely when you are robbing children. Kids love animals. The circus is one of the great halls of the empire of childhood. As e.e. cummings once said, “Damn everything but the circus.”
The real problem here is, as the puritans used to worry, that someone, somewhere, might be having fun. To begin with, are animals in captivity worse off than in the wild? It seems unlikely. In captivity, they are protected from predators; they are fed regularly. They die of old age. Someone has estimated that a feral cat, for exampkle, has an average life expectancy of two weeks. More than likely, if these animals did not have a job waiting in some circus, they would not even have been born.
Do animals dislike performing? Does it make them suffer? At most, the Kingston Vegetarian Network, initiators of the petition, cannot know this is so. Anyone who has actually owned an intelligent animal—a collie, say—will probably at least suspect that at least some of them love performing. Elephants are certainly such animals, uncannily smart and accustomed to domestication.
When the film “Free Willy” was finished, there was much concern over the eventual fate of its animal str, Keiko the killer whale. Millions of dollars were spent trying to reintegrate him into the wild. He was given supervises swimming sessions. He was airlifted to a killer whale habitat. It did not work. He never joined a whale pod. Years later, he was spotted in Skalvik Fjord in Norway, offering rides to local children.
Millions that might have been spent on, say, starving children, and all it bought was a life of loneliness.
|Keiko. Bit then, if you've seen one killer whale, you've seen them all.|
After all, if making animals work is unspeakably cruel, why not the same concern for humans? Are animals capable of more suffering than men? Surely, if it is immoral for animals, it is at least as immoral to expect human beings to work for their vegetarian bacon.
Then we can all go to the circus instead. To watch the performing robots.