Some animals hunt, while others gather, but the modern descendants of the monkeys need a circus environment in which to perform. In our young, immature domestic pets whose parents’ instincts tolerate playing, pretending, and other nonsense like nipping harmlessly at one another, we can observe some basic, natural animal propensity to be show-offs. All versions of the more sophisticated homo sapiens species strive to fulfill their need to be the center of attention through expected or unexpected, usual or unusual, accepted or unaccepted behavior.
The audience required for our youthful human antics include parents, siblings, or classmates. Later, the audiences are unknown theater goers, faceless sports fans, unseen readers who purchase books, newspapers, and periodicals, anonymous viewers of TV shows and Hollywood movies, and lonely, disguised visitors to Internet chat rooms. Sometimes the audience is a group of adults invited to evaluate their response to an expensive advertisement campaign or a candidate’s propaganda barrage. On other occasions the audience may be just one individual who is sitting at a small computer screen typing the draft of a manuscript. A wannabe writer who will never sell one copy of his “masterpiece!”
Somewhere in our human psyche, the lessons of life have convinced many of us that we have to perform for some audience. We have to ingratiate ourselves to others who will render approval (and heaven forbid, disapproval) of our actions. The reactions of our audience will ultimately determine the fate of our attempts to garner our basic sustenance through our “performance.”
We usually call this “work,” but that word is insufficient. What we do for the money we need to pay for our existence has to be stylized, attention-getting, efficient, effective, and pleasing. What circus performer would be worth his or her salary if the audience was not amused, amazed, or astonished? What employee would be retained if the boss were not satisfied? What homeless, society-reject would be granted charity without some genuine show of out-of-luck destitution?
Yes, “The play’s the thing,” as Shakespeare wrote, and “image is everything,” quote a modern spin doctor. A job well done is very important, but it has to be observed, and its value must be recognized by the applause meter of the appropriate audience. It is of little value to be a hero in a lost war. It means little in sports to be an outstanding athlete without the championship ring. There is no opportunity in the government for an honest, sincere, and competent, but not elected, political candidate.
The classical painter or musician receives small remuneration for work that is unappreciated by the less than talented masses who buy paintings and music produced by commercial exploiters of tasteless fads. In the past the best teacher was someone endorsed by the students, the school administration, and even the pupils’ parents! Now the test scores of the pupils are being used to evaluate teacher performance.
You have to understand your audience, its demands, its idiosyncrasies, and its preferences. Doing the “right” thing may not please the boss. His or her agenda or criteria may be driven by some higher motive than you can understand. The American audience was split over the first O. J. Simpson trial results. The opinion of the population of the modern world is not unanimous in judging the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. And who knows just what God actually thinks about the six billion sinners that overpopulate the Earth today?
But the “show must go on!” Placating the Deity may be important down the road, but today we better “show” up for work, “perform” at a high level of proficiency, “execute” as we have been practicing, and “dazzle” our audience. If not, our competition, eager to out-perform us, will certainly make a serious effort to dethrone us, capture our audience, and pocket the rewards.
In spite of our smiles, pleasing behavior, and genuine efforts, we may lose out. We may not achieve the garlands promised. We may be disgraced. We may even be fed to the hungry lions.
Well, it beats hunting and gathering, I suppose, especially for those of us who are myopic, spastic, and incompetent at hunting in the forest or fishing at sea. Not many of us would like to return to the farm: sweating in the sunshine, shoveling manure in the barn, picking cotton in the field, and hassling with the all the negative effects of inconsistent weather.
Yes, driving in traffic is almost bearable, dealing with the inconsiderate is generally tolerable, and handling irate customers is preferable when compared to that simpler, primitive life before man invented the circus. A circus provides us with many “rings” to exhibit our rare talents and skills honed to please the most discriminating of audiences. It offers us unique opportunities to achieve feats of daring and intelligence. It creates a much more diverse jungle that demands death-defying risks and examples of extraordinary courage. It allows clowns to show-off their uniqueness, their unnatural gifts, and their deviant behavior.
We may call our circus Western Civilization, but it is really a “combined show” like that of the Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey. Male and female alike can participate in the American circus. We only need to present ourselves to some ring master who is putting up the circus tent in our neighborhood. After we demonstrate our qualifications for the jobs available, we sign on to perform the specialties needed.
Some of us are jugglers, some musicians, some animal handlers, and some costume designers and seamstresses. The more outgoing become barkers and overseers of the games featured on the midway. A whole community of people become organized to produce a circus and rake in the loot from the curious, the awe-struck, and the bored that are looking for amusement. It’s all there under the “Big Tent,” in the nearby colorful straw-strewn carnival midway, or in the sweet smelling area that used to be just a large vacant lot.
See the exciting parade, the glamorous stars of the show, the astounding acts, the trained wild animals, the freaks, the clowns, the roustabouts, the carnival barkers, the rides, the games, the candy cotton, and the whole exotic spectacle that constitutes the circus.
We’ve come a long way from the jungle! But the excitement is merely a ruse and an excuse to motivate us to participate, to become the performers in a more complicated activity that replaces hunting and gathering in our mundane lives.
Even a “circus minimus:” an insignificant job on the treadmill of life, is more attractive, don’t you agree? If not, I’ll bet I can guess your age within plus or minus 3 years!