In This Ring . . .

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I
have read John C. Dvorak for over 20 years. He writes about computers.
He recently wrote about podcasting. Podcasting
is a new way to create Web-delivered audio files so that people
with Apple iPods can download them and listen to them.

Now
the idea is to have full-time radio without FCC permission or satellites.
This is a way for every pastor on earth to get his sermons out to
the public. I’m not sure the public will listen.

Dvorak
says the technology works fine with iPods, but it’s kludgy with
Windows-based or Linux-based systems.

To
show his reservations regarding the development at this stage, he
ranked it on a list of fun entertainment. Here is his list:

Circuses
Nightclubs
Movies
Sporting events
Cable TV
Network TV
County fairs
Talk radio
PBS
Whittling
Fingernail clipping
Podcasting

The
second half of the list is where he gets contemptuous. I was happy
to see PBS on the list. He forgot about public radio’s All Things
Considered.

At
the top of the list is circuses. I had not thought about it, but
he is on target.

WHAT
EVER HAPPENED TO CIRCUSES?

Circuses
were the greatest form of mass entertainment in the late nineteenth
century. Families would wait all year for the circus to come to
town. The county fair was great, but the circus! That was something
special.

Before
the days of the animal satellite TV shows — Darwinism in tooth
and claw, mostly — there were circuses. Zoos were wonderful, but
only big cities had them, and families did not go every year. But
the circus came to towns with no zoos. Well, not every town every
year. But when it came, it was an event.

It
had something for everyone: all ages, all tastes, all cultural layers.
It had elephants and tigers and weird animals. It had people with
strange deformities. It had people with amazing skills with no marketable
value other than amusing the masses.

It
had three rings. This was a century before multi-image digital TV
screens. Unlike multi-image TV screens, there was something worth
watching going on in at least two of them at all times.

The
circus gave the lie to Marxism every time it came to town. Here
was an event where the masses went, but the ruling classes went
too — or secretly wanted to. Here was the free market in action.
There was nothing the State did after the fall of Rome that matched
the circus for its entertainment value for the masses.

Nothing
had a longer run. There were circuses in ancient Rome — hence,
bread and circuses. Here is a medium that held the attention of
mankind for as long as there are records. The circus delighted young
and old for millennia. I can’t think of any other public spectacle
that gave more fun to more people for a longer time span than the
circus.

I
can remember Ringling Brothers. The company still tours, but not
since Eisenhower’s first term have I gone. I can remember taking
my kids to a Clyde Beatty circus, the remnant of a once-widely
known competitor to Ringling Brothers. It’s still touring under
the big tent — not some sports arena — as the Cole Brothers. The
performers appear to be mostly Latino. This is not a career move
for Anglos.

The
last circus I went to was in the late 1980s. The younger kids liked
it. I liked it. I can still see some guy balancing himself on his
index finger. (I earn my income in much the same way.) Two of my
kids got to ride on an elephant, along with half a dozen others,
and the saddle almost fell off. Adventure!

Does
any family fondly remember sitting around a TV?

TOO
MUCH, TOO SOON

We
live in an entertainment-glutted era. Our lives dribble away in
front of television screens. We are satiated, addicted. There are
few entertainment events in our lives that are touchable events.
They are mostly digital. We even call this virtual reality. It provides
virtual pleasure. We can cheer at a ball game, but unless it’s a
minor league baseball game, and unless there is a sense of participation
among fans, there is not much to remember. Some team won. Another
lost. Not an elephant in sight!

We
are not only satiated, we are jaundiced. It is all ho-hum. We have
seen it all before, from age 6. Our children develop antibodies
to family fun at a young age, rather like the man I knew who ran
a woodlot and was immune to black widow spiders after three decades
of bites.

Christmas
perseveres, but it is toy-centered, not events-centered. Families
do not sit in the stands, jointly enraptured by the sight of people
doing incredible things 50 feet above the ground.

I
have decided. The next time a circus comes to town, I’m going, even
if I go alone. These days, I can’t see a circus on television, as
I could a generation ago. Ed Sullivan is long gone. Besides, a circus
is meant for participation. It is meant for once in a while.

I’ll
take some kids from church. I wonder how young they have to be to
still enjoy the specialness of the event? Maybe they are so far
removed from circuses that they will experience what children experienced
a century ago or a millennium ago.

If
Las Vegas can still pull us in with “Circus Circus,” we are not
completely gone culturally. If, to lure us in to throw our money
away on the law of large numbers, the marketers of Las Vegas have
identified a longing for the big top, then there is still hope.

We
all know the story of the six blind men who examined parts of an
elephant. They were doing something worth remembering. Six blind
men watching Jerry Springer aren’t.

March
29, 2005

Gary
North [send him mail] is the
author of Mises
on Money
. Visit http://www.freebooks.com.

Gary
North Archives

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