Return to Circus Wonderland

Holding your mother’s hand tightly, you could almost feel your heart darting out of your chest at the sound of the second whistle which signaled the start of the ‘spectacular show’. Your eyes watered as you tried to drink in as much of the scenery in front of you as possible, transfixed at the sight of a beautiful princess wrapped in silk cascading down the center of the tent, a prince stood mightily on top of a motorcycle and you could almost hear the neighing of his noble steed…

Gone were the days when children would be astounded at dogs that could do math, or laughed at the clown juggling on his mini unicycle, as 3D transforming robots and talking animals on the big screen wedged their ways into people’s preferences. The circus was the equivalent of the cinema for many Vietnamese children back in the 1900s and the early 2000s; it was the ultimate treat after a week of hard work in school. Yet the vintage beauty of the circus is cast aside to make way for the vividness of Technicolor. The seats of the Quoc Te circus in Saigon are no longer packed like it was before, with no more than twenty audiences clustered at the front, the circus performers still gave them the show that they came for. Perhaps it’s just the trick of the light, but behind their heavy makeup face and perfectly practiced jubilant smile, the eyes of the circus performers no longer had the glimmering exhilaration whenever they look down at the excited crowd that egged them on. They are, after all, performers with the utmost desire to please the crowd, but what happens when there is no longer a crowd to please?

Even though we are sympathetic, and perhaps even mourning for the forgotten symbol of our childhood, the reasons as to why circuses lose their appeal are blatantly obvious. The entertainment void that circuses once filled was not just in the days before the Internet, or television, but before anyone could listen to the radio or go to the movies. With their impressive big top tent, loud blasting music before the show starts, cages full of animals in velvet jackets and thin silver hoops igniting in flames aligned in quirky formations, it was hardly rocketed science that they attracted visitors like a firework display. Technology, however, advances in such a speed that we no longer feel the need to watch monkeys balancing on a ball; instead we opt for talking CGI apes that conquered the world. The animation industry continues to flourish, developing and catching up with the trends for modern audiences, whereas the circus has its limits. The magic is no longer as blindingly bright, and people are no longer amazed like they were before, as the increasing variety of entertainment choices for children steer them away from the classic show of ‘weird and wonderful’ and into the path of the popular culture.

Once upon a time, the circus with its vaudeville allure was captivating for both children and adults alike, and some of us might just feel ever so wistful as the memories of our first trip to the circus resurface in our stream of consciousness. Isn’t it nostalgic when we can almost see the lights, the colors, hear the wind gushing from the breakneck speed and the recklessness of the ‘flying’ motorcycles that kept us on our toes? The circus had served its purpose well, but in order to maintain in today’s rapidly growing world; we are looking for a revolution of culture, or the breakthrough of a new idea that perhaps only advanced technology can provide? Yes, it is regretful that the circus is growing steadily dimmer in the eyes of children in the 21st century, a beautiful tragedy. But let’s not lament on the loss much further, and let it be a lesson learnt that everything has a price, the brighter the flame burns, the faster it will fade away.

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