Before we go too far,
let's get one thing straight. I flat out love the old Circus
Side Shows. Nothing would make me happier than to visit a
carnival or fair with a handful of back-end shows scattered
around. I am still tickled pink to line up to see some poor
born with a turtle's body or a curvaceous centerfold who has
Isomehow ost her head and still manages to live through the
miracle of science - made all the more amazing by the fact
that this incredibly sophisticated medical equipment can be
easily housed inside the confines of a small tent!
You say you have a full-grown cow with six legs? I'm right
there, ready to charge inside with some loose pocket change
clutched in my fist.
The problem today is not the shows themselves, it's the
almost total lack of them. Today the Side Show or Back-End
Show has almost completely disappeared, clearing the way for
the multitudes of rides and games that are "considered" to
be the lifeblood of the modern day carnival. Where once they
were legion, now one has to actively seek out the few
remaining Shows on the various carnivals. Like the Drive-In
movies theaters, Grind Shows are slowly vanishing from
American culture. This sort of extinction is simply not
acceptable to the many fans of this type of outdoor
showmanship, but how to combat it still remains a mystery.
Many carnival owners still cling to the term "Show" to
describe their operations and they go one better by
self-labeling themselves "Showmen". Yet a quick visit to
most of these "shows" reveal neither a show or any
showmanship. Perhaps we've begun to accept that a lot full
of rides, games and grab-joints (fast food stands)
constitutes a show of some kind. This, clearly, was not the
case in the past.
One quick look through Joe McKennon excellent books, A
PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE CARNIVAL (volumes I -III), will
convince anyone that things have gone mighty far askew since
the old days of outdoor showmanship. Carnivals used to
feature only a small handful of rides, (much harder to come
by then because they were hand-produced) but the shows
stretched out for miles. Shows of every kind and nature used
to ring the carnival, bringing almost every type of live and
not-so-alive entertainment to the hungry masses.
When motion pictures, radio and television did not reign as
kings of the quick entertainment fix, it fell to the
traveling carnivals and circuses to supply that much needed
form of relaxation, amusement, and amazement.