Recently, I had the pleasure of going to see "The Greatest Showman," a movie directed by Michael Gracey. The musical was stunning to view, with their choreography and musical numbers on point–at least to me, an average viewer.
The sure-to-be iconic musical number, “This is Me” is truly inspirational to everyone who feels like an outsider or different in some way. Sung by Keala Settle with a beautiful voice, “This is Me” is an empowering song that pushed the movie along to its dazzling story: the creation of the famous Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, formerly known simply as the P.T. Barnum Circus.
However, in reality, everything was not as beautiful and amazing as it seems.
In May 2017, the circus was officially disbanded after 146 years. The show came under fire from criticism from numerous animal activist groups, who questioned the safety and well-being of the circus animals performing. To a child, the thought of seeing that many elephants in one area or seeing a human right next to the open mouth of a lion is the most amazing spectacle to witness. But to someone who might be more aware of the conditions necessary for animals, it’s not so amazing to see.
In 2004, a young lion died from its living conditions while traveling across the Mojave Desert. With a lack of access to water and extremely hot temperatures, the young lion suffered the ultimate consequence. This isn’t the only case of animal cruelty, either. The circus also came under fire for forcing a sick elephant to perform in 1998, along with other critics advocating for the circus to stop using animals in their shows. The circus had to pay whopping fines as a result of their animal mistreatment but yet continued to force animals to perform, show after show.Beyond that, one of the actual founders of the circus had a questionable background. P.T. Barnum began his life as the son of a tailor, and from there had many different occupations as he tried to make a living. What’s problematic about him, however, was how he willingly owned and exploited a slave, named Joice Heth. After finding a loophole in the law that allowed him to basically rent her for $1000, Barnum used her as an exhibit in his show, claiming she was George Washington’s former nurse.
Barnum put Heth to work six days a week, sometimes for as long as 12 hours a day. Even after Heth’s death, Barnum used and exploited her body by charging admission to a public autopsy of her body. Her own death could not have been peaceful, as Barnum chose to make a profit off of his slave’s body.
With a foundation of not only animal mistreatment, but also human mistreatment, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus left behind a hefty legacy. It’s understandable why "The Greatest Showman" wouldn’t include this in the movie, as it doesn’t fit with the magic and amazement that came with the creation of a circus. However, it’s still something that is important to talk about. "The Greatest Showman likely lead to many people to wonder why the Ringling Brothers circus shut down, and while these issues weren’t the sole reason, they definitely were a part of the reason. The next time that the circus comes into town, it might be time to question whether or not it’s truly worth it to go see. As the famous phrase goes, all that glitters is not gold.
It’s December 18, 2017. Time Magazine just published their “Person of the Year” article, and the sexual harassment stories of multiple strong women come to light (though men and gender nonconforming people deal with sexual harassment with strength as well). The article truly exudes beauty through photographs and stories of unity.
It helps give sexual harassment the attention it needs and holds perpetrators accountable; it discusses the threats involved and the intricacies of barriers that minorities and women of lower socioeconomic status face. Could anything be more beautiful, necessary, empowering? We have one problem, though: one of the strongest celebrities I know, Kesha, doesn’t make the list. I’m deeply disappointed and utterly confused.
It’s October 14, 2014. Kesha just filed a lawsuit against her producer, Dr. Luke, on account of problems such as gender-based violence and emotional distress. He had threatened her career, called her “a fat f*cking refrigerator,” and abused her nonstop. He then proceeded to file a lawsuit for defamation. Both parties received some sort of gain, but in June 2015, Dr. Luke essentially won.
I realize that these events did not occur in 2017, explaining one reason why Kesha may not have been featured. But here’s the kicker: August 11, 2017, Kesha’s album Rainbow released. The songs could not portray her strength better. She sings songs like “Woman,” in which she shows her confidence and feelings of proudness surrounding her womanhood, despite Dr. Luke’s gender-based violence.
She sings songs like “Praying,” in which she depicts her inexplicable strength by telling how she prays for her perpetrator. These songs represent only a couple of the stories and insight she shares throughout her album. It’s incredible. Kesha humbly shows us her courage, strength, ability to forgive, and resilience.
She shares openly about the abuse she dealt with for years, despite the fact that her perpetrator is still out there somewhere. She writes songs of empowerment and light that can apply to any tough situation. She gives us hope.
On a more personal note, these songs came out at a time when I was dealing with my own similar issues. I remember walking to the office of one of the Gender Violence Services Coordinators, listening to “Praying,” nearly in tears.
When I needed something to help me feel, when I needed to try to understand, when I wanted to know I was not alone, and when I needed empowerment when someone stole all of mine, you gave it to me, Kesha. For that, I am eternally grateful.
All of the women -- the actors, the hospital workers, the former dishwashers, the singer-songwriters, et cetera -- in Time’s 2017 “Person of the Year” article are my people of the year too. But Kesha, so are you. You are, and always have been, the Person of Multiple Years. Thank you.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment in any form, know you are not alone and that people are here for you! The Gender Violence Services Coordinators at UNC (linked above) are a great resource, as well as www.rainn.org.