The Greatest Showman is a musical movie which was released in December 2017, it is based on P.T Barnum, an entertainer who started the circus show business. He has been sugar-coated as this legendary entertainer who changed the entertainment business back in the 1800s. He wasn’t as ‘Great’ as people make out, however, and his stars didn’t have the best life in this circus. The movie has faced criticisms for glorifying his horrific actions – as a vegan and animal activist, am I wrong for enjoying the movie?
P.T Barnum’s Dark Side
You may be asking “What exactly made him so bad?” Well, he used animals, and ‘freaks’ all to make a profit. Plus, it has been noted that he treated them in the most horrendous ways possible. I will discuss these below:
He was the man responsible for the myth that elephants could not feel pain through their thick skin. Which of course provided an easy convenient excuse for that cruel way he treated his animals in the shows.
He imported nine elephants from Sri Lanka, shipped in a cramped container for 4 months with no fresh air and insufficient space. By the time they arrived in America 1 of the elephants had died. Those who survived endured endless torture. Barnum and Bailey Circus used a horrific “burning method” to train the elephants by sticking a hot poker up their trunks.
It created a tradition of animal cruelty that has continued in circuses until the present day.
He had 9 Beluga whales trapped to display at his American Museum in New York in 1861-1865. The first 2 were kept in the basement in a tank of fresh water from the Hudson River with salt added to mimic their salt-water habitat. As you can guess, these whales didn’t survive, and sadly died just 2 days after being trapped.
A second pair died almost as quickly, despite salt water being pumped in from New York Bay. So, of-course being the con-artist that he is Barnum used the whales’ low life expectancy as a marketing ploy, “As it is very doubtful whether these wonderful creatures can be kept alive more than a few days, the public will see the importance of seizing the first moment to see them.” – to make a profit from the lightly death of these whales.
- Legacy continued in circuses where animals are chained, whipped, and beaten into performing acts unnatural to them, today.
- Many circuses in the UK still today, force animals to perform as the government is dragging its feet on legislation to ban them.
On the night of May 17, 1884, Barnum marched 21 elephants and 17 camels over the bridge from Manhattan to Brooklyn. The famous elephant Jumbo was part of the procession, as was “Toung Taloung,” a white elephant Barnum had recently acquired from Thailand. The parade was a priceless piece of advertising for Barnum’s circus, and the combined weight of the elephants—many of which tipped the scales at over 10,000 pounds—helped put to rest any worries about the bridge’s stability.
Barnum, not only tortured and exploited animals, but routinely exploited black people, the mentally and physically disabled, and deformed. Including conjoined twins and a child with dwarfism, all in the name of profit, for his ‘show-business’.
One of Barnum’s star turns was Tom Thumb (real name, Charles Sherwood Stratton), who suffered from dwarfism and stood just 25in high. Barnum had dressed him in military uniform and billed him as the ‘world’s smallest general’. In the film ‘The Greatest Showman’, he’s portrayed as a 22 year-old-man and not the five-year-old boy he was. He was put to work and began drinking alcohol as part of his act. Barnum routinely did this with his acts.
There’s no mention in the film of black conjoined twins Millie-Christine, or black brothers, Eko and Iko. These people had been kidnapped from their parents as children for ‘freak show’ value. They later made their way to Barnum. Or what about the dreadlocked black males who were displayed in cages as ‘wild men’? They weren’t shown in the film either. Instead it glamourizes Barnum as a hero to the ‘freaks’ in society back in the 1800s.
Along with his human and animal cruelty, he also was a master of manipulation. Lying to his customers about the acts in his show. He used the upper half of a monkey sewn to the bottom of a fish to promote “Fejee Mermaid.”
So, am I a hypocrite for enjoying the movie?
I was reluctant to see this movie in the beginning, due to the fact I am strongly against circuses and animal cruelty. It is morally wrong to inflict harm onto others. But I did end up going to see it. Surprisingly I did find myself enjoying it. But only in the sense of giving people the perspective that they can follow their dreams notwithstanding their flaws. You can be whatever you want to be, your appearance shouldn’t hinder that. I also loved the soundtrack. It is one of the things I found to be so captivating and inspiring about the movie. ‘This is Me’ a song that promotes the uniqueness and acceptance of that individual, which I love the idea of – it has a beautiful meaning and I have been listening to it non-stop.
Cruel man with a mind-set for money
The Problem I have with the movie of course is that – knowing the truth behind the man – the movie masks the real story of these ‘freaks’. They weren’t following an American dream, but in fact part of a slavery for entertainment and profit purposes. Like I mentioned the Greatest Showman, glorifies this aspect and leaves out parts of P.T Barnum’s circus that would raise concerns. He was a cruel man with a mindset for money and not the welfare of his animals and ‘freaks’.
If we are too promote and give this movie the credit it does deserve, in terms of production and music. Then the real story of the man behind the inspiration needs to be shared and publicised greatly. Not a lot of people know the real P.T Barnum and maybe it’s time the world needs to stop romanticising such cruelty. So, am I really a hypocrite for seeing this movie, and enjoying a part of it? Or is it a good thing to see something with a different mindset and think of ways in which it could have been improved?