The Circus is Over (If You Want It)

The Chik-Fil-A cows danced, but no one seemed to be having much fun outside the Citizens Arena in Ontario, California. The costumed shills gyrated, goofed and sauntered in that exaggerated “Keep on Truckin’ ” stride almost universally adopted by all mascots and theme park characters.

 Chik-Fil-A, the proud sponsor of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, had also erected a towering inflatable cow complete with rainbow wig near the ticket booth. I wondered about that wig. Was it all part of the “whackiness” of Chik-Fil-A’s campaign (a cow nervously recommends that people eat chicken instead of beef, ha ha), or an acidly ironic nod to the gay community?

 Aside from a couple flair-ups, one involving a vociferous woman wearing a sweatshirt featuring a bald eagle flying above the word “Alaska” who said, “NO, I DON’T WANT ANY LITERATURE. I DIDN’T COME TO THE CIRCUS TO SEE THIS SHIT,” the afternoon had a strangely muted, solemn and even desperate feeling. Maybe it was my projection, or maybe it’s just because parenthood is hard work, but many of the adults looked lost and tired. While some of the kids, too young to read, pointed at the signs and said, “We’re going to see tigers!” others looked rather solemnly at the images of downed, shocked and bull-hooked elephants.

 I felt sorry for these kids. The little girls in their pink ballerina skirts, magic wands clutched in their hands, made me think of the human longing for transcendence, our lust for the extraordinary. Who wouldn’t, regardless of their age, desire something beyond the bland landscape of business parks and box stores of corporate-sponsored arenas? For these children with their fairy sparkle shoes or super hero t-shirts, seeing a tiger jump through a hoop of fire might mean feeling the distance between fantasy and reality shrink just a bit.

 But kids also respond very powerfully to the truth.

 The most persuasive activist of the day was a child. Danielle was ten, I think. She wore elephant-patterned leggings and carried a red construction paper sign. On one side a circus elephant with a broken spirit languished in a muddy pen. On the reverse an adorable baby elephant, giant ears spread, galloped through the African landscape, trunk held aloft.  “Take some information,” Danielle said gently, but firmly, passing out flyers to families,  “Did you know that they hurt the elephants?” Some kids looked up at her with wonder, others kept their eyes focused on the ground.

 Maybe I still had some leftover optimism after the San Diego screening of “Cowspiracy,” at which the filmmakers said with a kind of quiet confidence, “This (meaning factory farming) is ending.” I feel the same way about animal circuses. Even if “ending” means decades, the Chik-Fil-A cows couldn’t dance fast enough to convince me that anyone at the Citizens Arena truly believed that anything about this kind of outmoded spectacle felt remotely magical to anyone.    


Day 351 6/21/14: More Deep Sea Gossip

1. Have space aliens created an underwater base off the coast of Malibu?

2. I hope this is true: Great white numbers surging.

3. Can you handle the cuteness of baby pygmy sea horses?

4. Great news: Obama expands Pacific marine sanctuary.

5. MUST SEE: White shark taste testsImage expensive video camera, spits it out.

Day 334 5/25/14: Empty the Tanks 2014

Yesterday’s Empty the Tanks protest at $eaWorld San Diego was a resounding success. Since 1989, I’ve attended demonstrations ranging from anti-vivisection rallies to marches through Beverly Hills on Fur-Free-Friday, I have never seen so many “normal” families turning out to support animals. I’m not saying that demonstrations are usually populated only by frothing, paint-throwing extremists—far from it. But yesterday’s crowd, though enthusiastic were quite well-behaved, so much so that the event organizers had to exort them through bullhorns with a COME ON! to sustain chants of “Boycott Seaworld!”

The crowd of over 700 held signs reading THANKS, BUT NO TANKS (a personal favorite of mine) included many children who sat on the grass with large black markers drawing whales inside goldfish bowls with awkwardly incisive declarations like: SEA WORLD? MORE LIKE POOL WORLD! Kids, of course, are all over youtube speaking out against orca captivity and getting busted for protesting the SeaWorld float at the Rose Parade, so I wasn’t completely surprised. It just felt good to know see that despite all of SeaWorld’s toothless arguments to the contrary, this is no fringe movement of “Blackfish”brainwashed weirdos, but evidence of a major shift in consciousness about animals in captivity and animal rights in general.

As I stood with my friends Connie and Gail on the side of the road, I chatted with Cassidy who’d driven all the way from Phoenix to attend the protest. A middle school speech teacher, Cassidy talked about finding ways to integrate Blackfish into her class discussions, and how she’s educated some kids about the reality of SeaWorld. Across the street, Sea Shepherd volunteers handed leaflets to families entering SeaWorld and I thought of late summer when the circus would return to Anaheim with its chained and swaying elephants and the tigers pacing in their cages. Beyond the road, I could see the tall turquoise tower of the SeaWorld roller coaster.

“Isn’t it weird,” Connie said, “to think that beyond that ugly parking lot beyond the roller coaster, there are actually whales?”

How surreal and nauseating to know that beneath the shrieks of delight from the park rides, beneath the surface of the water,  killer whales were swimming in pools. Maybe they were blessed out or hallucinating on the valium dispensed to them to deal with the stress of captivity or the grief of having their children sold. Maybe they were on antibiotics to heal the infections they suffered when other whales attacked them. Maybe they were just floating, waiting for the same stupid show to begin again.

And I thought for the millionth time, of the words of the activist who’d gone undercover at the circus, where the elephants spent 23 hours a day in chains who traveled from town to town in box cars, who suffered cigarette burns and hooks and baseball bats: “I still don’t know how they conceive of time.”

Things don’t change fast enough for me. I want revolutions, epiphanies, coups. I don’t want incremental shifts in human consciousness or one step forward and three back. But then there’s the persistent miracle of Blackfish, the children with their signs, the crowds of activists that keep growing. It feels good to be a small part of that change, to feel it actually happening.