There is a theory I have about how the Circus is like the Mafia.
Seriously. Think about it for a minute. When an old school circus set up in a lot, there was a main boss, sub-bosses and variety of workers. The games are crooked, there’s likely pick-pockets wandering about, and if you’re lucky, you get to be a mark. In case you did not know, that means you are gullible and flashing around your money. Don’t worry, we a have nice safe spot for it in our pockets.
There are few rules in the Circus [I am using the term to generalize, so this includes carnivals, sideshow, burlesque, etc.]. Should you be an unfortunate townie that happens to break one of them, well then you’re in store for some good old fashioned Carny Justice. And if you think that’s just something out of a television show, you obviously have never seen the wooden bats hidden amongst plush toys at a game booth.
One of the most important rules is: you do not fuck with the Carnies. Much in the same vein as you do not fuck with the Mafia. There are dire consequences for doing so, and I’m not talking about the shit you see in Hollywood movies.
Like the Mafia, the traditions of Circus are passed from one generation to the next. If you fail to see the connection at this point, you should just stop reading and waste your time elsewhere.
Taking this one step further, as silly as it may sound [and this is just in my humble opinion], when it comes to the whole of sideshow in Philadelphia, Red Stuart is at the top of the game. He is the oldest living sword swallower, holds multiple Guinness Book records, has traveled across the country numerous times, and has done more tent shows than anyone I know of. Suffice to say that he is, indeed, the Godfather.
It seems that many performers have a better-than-thou attitude when it comes to certain things. While at first it is comforting to know that they have so much confidence, it gets to a point where one cannot help but wonder why they strut around like their shit doesn’t stink. They are not the end-all and be-all of sideshow, though certainly desire to corner the market on as much as they can. Is it to bring a dying form of entertainment to those who may not otherwise have seen it? No my friends. They are doing it for the almighty dollar, and that is a blow to each and everyone of us who have slaved to pitch a tent.
Obviously one can expect some sort of compensation for entertaining audiences. However, in the old days, just having this opportunity was enough to satisfy. There were many moments when each penny was scraped together, just so that everyone could have a decent meal. Animals were more important than the humans who cared for them, because it was far easier to replace a roustie than it was to get another lion. Of course there’s also those stories about how people would get tossed off the train in the middle of the night if they were considered to be dead weight.
Perhaps my head has been clouded by visions of what it must have been like in the early days of Circus, when everyone pitched in and worked their hardest in order to give the best performance possibly. The sheer joy evident on the faces that surrounded you as applause filled a canvas tent was something that others could only fantasize about. It’s something that you either understand or you don’t, and if you fit into the latter category, perhaps you should take some time to learn a little something called history. People lived and died for the Circus, but I do not see the same commitment from those who dare say they are carrying on the same traditions.
Certainly there are plenty of movies, television shows and even books that are full of common misconceptions. Going back to the original comparison of Circus and Mafia, do no let anyone fool you into believing that neither one of these are highly organized businesses which deal with large volumes of cash. Stereotypes exist, and unfortunately are played into any time the media picks up on a negative aspect. However, in my heart I believe that some people truly get it, and will forever remain with it.
The theory of having a Family composed from a variety of individuals who all work together for a common purpose seems to elude many. In the end, everyone will do whatever they want and there’s no use in trying to change that. Instead, I am will always remain loyal to what I know and love, because Family is all I have.