Monday, January 16, 2017

The Circus is No More


First Save or Die! And now this. 2017 is getting off to a pretty rotten start.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus just announced that it was shutting down after 146 years.

The official explanation involves animal rights lawsuits, blockbuster movies and shortened child-attention spans.

The business model didn't work anymore. So they said. 

I think this is a social milestone in the same sense as smart-phones and the Pope's acceptance of divorce.

And yes, it's a minor tragedy.

Like I really want to run away and join Cirque du Soleil.

Man, I Ioved the circus as a kid. We went every year. My mother wouldn't let us buy those whirling glow sticks even though all the other kids had them...

...But she did buy for me the expensive historical programs. I read and re-read them reverently. I learned about the trapeze artists (many of whom perished), the Chinese ladies who drank tea while hanging by their hair, and that guy (Unus) who could stand on one finger.

Even Ernest Hemingway was touched by him.

How did all of those clowns fit inside the car? I hypothesized a trap door. Later, in my maturity, I understood that it was just, as it were, good clown packing.

Clown College shut down twenty years ago.

It wasn't just the clowns, or the tightrope walkers, or the animals. It was the...

I don't know, it was the promise...

I graduated from Tufts University, which was initially funded in large part by P.T. Barnum. The stuffed carcass of the huge elephant Jumbo presided in the entrance hall of the science building. Students used to put coins in the trunk for good luck on exams - until Jumbo (and most of the hall) was destroyed in a fire a few years before I entered.

Now the circus, too, will be gone.

May all its enemies go to hell.

From the New York Post:
Send home the clowns 
After 146 years, the curtain is coming down forever on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 
Its last performance will be May 21 at the Nassau Coliseum. 
The show stoppers included high operating costs, declining attendance and changing public tastes. 
Not to mention a long and costly legal battle with animal rights advocates, which ended with its hugest stars — the elephants — being pink slipped. Elephants had been the symbol of the circus since an Asian pachyderm named Jumbo joined the show in 1882. 
Employes were told the sad news Saturday night in Orlando. 
The circus will perform 30 more times. Besides the show on Long Island, there will be one in Brooklyn. Other stops on its last tour include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia and Boston. 
With its exotic animals and death-defying acrobats, the big top had been a huge draw from the mid-1800s to the mid 1900s. 
Phineas Taylor Barnum had made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. 
Its clowns, acrobats, horseback riders — along with their animals — were transported across the country in special cars on extra long trains. 
New York staged its own yearly spectacle. When the circus came to town, the performers, along with invited guests, rode elephants from the Sunnyside rail yards through the Queens Midtown Tunnel and then along Manhattan streets to Madison Square Garden. 
In its heyday, the circus attracted huge crowds. It had such a glamorous image that kids famously dreamed of running away from home to join.
But as years passed, children grew less enchanted. 
First blockbuster movies, then television and finally, video games and the Internet captured the circus’ core audience — both the youngsters and their parents. 
“The competitor in many ways is time,” said circus owner Kenneth Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children — are throwbacks to another era. 
When the Feld family bought the circus in 1967, the show was just under three hours. Today, it’s 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes. “Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” Feld said. 
Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. 
In May of 2016 the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent them to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. 
In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants. 
Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. While many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them. 
The Felds said their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. 
In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. 
“We tried all these different things to see what would work,’’ said Kenneth Feld. 
“We weren’t successful in finding the solution.”

Crossposted at Mahound's Paradise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Save or Die! is Dead

DM Mike, DM Liz and DM Jim

Save or Die!, the pre-eminent OD&D and OSR podcast is dead.

A few days ago on Facebook, Dragonsfoot and the OD&D Discussion Proboards, the three current members of the podcast, Mike and Elizabeth Stewart and latter addition Jim Wampler, announced that they were "moving on." 

Shortly after, it was announced that the show would continue with a new cast, including for the moment, Vince Florio (an original member and long-time producer of the show), Glenn Hallstrom (another former member), James Spahn and Erik Tenkar.

With respect to Vince (who was largely responsible for the success of the show, both on-air and behind the scenes), Glenn (who nicely rounded out the other members for a few years) and well-known OSR industry people James and Erik, the show just won't be the same.

Founding members Mike and Liz were in my view the heart of the show, and the fact that the Save or Die! cast seemed like "family" to many listeners was partly because Mike and Liz were actual family - a married couple. But I think the show gelled even more when Jim joined the cast a few years ago.

I confess to being initially dismayed at how the thing seemed to go down. There was no mention of it on what would turn out to be the last episode of the old cast - #130 - and indeed, as on most episodes there was talk about various OSR things the "SODcasters" would cover in the future. The quick non-explanation and "thanks" at the beginning of episode #131 (with the new cast) almost sounded like the corporate speak of the new boss after the popular old boss was suddenly replaced.

But Mike, Liz and Jim have been very classy in their farewells. If there's any deep secret here, everyone seems comfortable not talking about it.

More likely, I assume it was a combination of "life-moves-on" things: Mike is a history professor as well as a free-lance games designer, Jim is now one of the primary figures at Goodman games and Liz is completing her studies in graphics design. She'll probably be making more money than any of them soon.

And of course, we must be careful as "fans" not to get into the position of feeling like one's podcast heroes owe us anything - like doing the same podcast for the rest of their lives. Obviously they don't.

It's time to let them set up their baronies.

So instead of any further gnashing, I want to just say thanks. The 130 episodes (plus a few mini-ones) were the gold-standard in gaming podcasts. They succeeded first and foremost because of the personalities of the members. There was a huge amount of good-will and "chemistry" between them, especially with the final cast. I know that sounds soppy, but there it is.

There was also a great amount of knowledgable commentary, reviews and interviews - both with original TSR people and new OSR authors. I won't recommend any episodes because I would have to list half of them.

If you're unfamiliar with the  show, flip through and find a topic or interview that grabs you. Or better, just start with #1.

Indeed, the six years of the show almost serve as a kind of audio-library for the history and analysis of OD&D (D&D using the original booklets and supplements) along with a chronicle of some of the most important personalities and happenings in the new OSR.

In the interests of full disclosure, the crew gave a nice review to my own game a few years ago. I admit that that review just about made my year. I wasn't expecting it. But I admit that if it had been a bad review, I might have been devastated.

Save or Die started just as I came back into the hobby, and I learned more from it than any written source. It was also inspiring. Listening to an intelligent conversation about the history or craft of game design from such diverse minds as, say, Tim Kask, Jennell Jaquays, Zak S or Jon Peterson helped to motivate me.

I should also mention here that Vince had one of the last (the last?) interviews with Jean Wells before her passing.

The show was also just flat-out hugely enjoyable and entertaining to listen to.

DM Mike, DM Liz and DM Jim will be missed. But I'm sure they will be successful in their future endeavors.

Save or Die! is dead. Long live Save or Die!

Thanks, again.