‘Many circuses killed resistant elephants in ritualistic public executions that—no accident—mirrored and coincided with the horrific lynchings of black men in the American south. In challenging human control, an elephant unknowingly challenged not only the barnmen trying to goad him into a rail car or the exasperated trainer desperately commanding her to salute to the crowd before the applause stopped. Those elephants also unknowingly resisted the entire culture of human supremacy undergirding circus animal acts then, and even now.’
Guest post by Susan Nance
It was big news recently when Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus finally bowed to public pressure and their accountants to announce that they will phase out live elephants in their traveling shows by 2018. The circus company is the last one to hold a large herd of elephants. Consequently, it appears that the two-hundred-year window in which Americans pioneered and popularized elephant acts as a part of circus entertainment is closing. Ringling Brothers and their parent company, Feld Entertainment, are pros, and there is no question they will refine their shows and prosper for decades to come.
“The Funny, Wonderful Elephant Brass Band,” Buffalo: Courier Litho. Co., 1899. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2002719165/
So, how do we make sense of rise and fall of the elephant in circuses over the last two centuries? To me, the iconic performing…
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