Last weekend, a married man dropped out of a plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute and landed in a net below. The whole potential catastrophe was captured on a live feed. If he had splattered a couple feet wide of the net (he did land near the edge), the whole world would have seen it in real time. But he didn’t go splat and instead rose from the net, fists pumped in triumph. Lots of people thought it was an awesome display of courage. I thought he was insane.
To torment me, my youngest son will show me videos of crazy Russian people climbing the bones of skyscrapers without guide wires, without a net, and then taking selfies hanging out above the city thousands of feet below. I am terrified of heights and just watching these people makes me feel sick to my stomach. If you care to have a blood pressure boost, here are some examples:
One of my favorite YouTube videos of crazy people doing stupid things is a basejumper Jeb Corliss “grinding the crack” — flying down a mountain like a human bat. There’s also great music by Awolnation.
Here he’s flying through Tianmen Cave in China:
YouTube is full of terrifying feats of stupidity. Parkour, skateboarding, swimming with sharks, hugging lions who are your best friend… the list of heart-stopping nonsense is endless. So, that leads me to a question: Why go to the Circus?
A couple weeks ago, my son was given free tickets to go to the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus. It was interesting and strange. The Show opened with a dance number of people who couldn’t really dance very well. There were clowns and acrobats and jugglers.
There were no elephants. Elephants, you see, deserve to roam free, and Circuses are abusive. We missed them. They last performed in May, 2016.
There were tigers. There was a truly terrifying element of the circus: one tiger tamer stood alone with sixteen huge cats surrounding him. As part of our special tickets, we got to see the tigers, divided into threes, in huge cages before the show. One Bengal decided to sit on one of his cage mates. His pouncing and squashing ticked off another, more dominant tiger sharing his cage. His energy also woke up the rest of the lounging tigers. Many began pacing excitedly. When these same tigers came into the pen with the brave human trainer, I felt that trickle of dread: please don’t eat the nice man while my children are watching. The nice man survived. The tigers seemed happy, well-fed, and thankfully, not murderous.
No other act scared even a wussy like me. The high wire act didn’t seem all that high. There were harnesses anyway. There were sky dancers on trapezes — also harnessed. Strangely, there were people jumping on trampolines but not that high — certainly not as dramatically as the human spectacle circus Cir Du Soleil.
There were people doing flips on bikes. This is when I decided that the Circus has little chance of surviving. I’d seen more exciting stuff on YouTube and the stunts before me didn’t seem all that scary. I mean, this is just sweat-inducing:
This, from another Circus performance is cool:
We didn’t see it, though. I don’t know if we received the bargain version or if the stunt had been ended. Either way, in a world of RedBull and guys falling from the sky, what chance does the Circus have of surviving?
The circus seems like other things that have faded in the wake of world-connecting technology. Teenagers don’t care about driving. Why drive when they can Skype? Why go to the circus when you can watch YouTube videos of people doing death-defying feats?
I felt like I was watching history at the watered down “safer” circus. The nostalgia was there but so was the irritation that groups like PETA had prevailed — robbing circus-goers of some of the tradition and excitement. The heavy hand of the safety police produced an overhyped, underselling spectacle. The modern music blared, the half-hearted hip hop dancers danced, the not-so-high wire act acted, and the experience was as transient as the fast food that cost over $50 for four.
Someday, the circus will come back in popularity and be a central rite-of-passage once more. An EMP will wipe out civilization and the amusements will be few and the circus will ride again with the elephants who escaped the zoos. There will be high wire acts with no harnesses. Until then, there’s YouTube.
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