This month, author and investigative journalist William Johnson re-released his critically acclaimed expose into the animal entertainment industry on Amazon Kindle in eBook format (and out of print copies!). Spending almost five years traveling worldwide from across Europe, into the former Soviet Union and in the United States, Johnson interviewed circus owners, dolphin dealers, law makers, councilmen, former trainers and workers, to get answers behind the curtain of the circus industry, the traveling sideshows, and ever-popular marine parks and dolphinariums. Nor does he cut any slack for the exploiters and the lawmakers, unable to live up to their duties to prevent such abuse from happening.
While the original printed copy was published in 1990, and several facilities followed in the novel have closed since, it still remains as a damning - if not haunting - testament to humanity’s inclination to exploit any living creature for the sake of the almighty dollar. Additionally, the investigative piece remains relevant due to the parallels mentioned in the pages continue to run rampant in the circuses and marine parks of today.
While most animal rights-themed investigations would try to sucker punch the reader with an overflow of emotions and exploitative drama, Rose-Tinted Menagerie does not. Johnson proves his point through available reports, documentation, interviews of the proponents and opponents of the circus and dolphinarium industry, as well as logical questioning of how and why these ‘freak shows’ are considered acceptable in society. He introduces the circus and dolphinariums by illustrating their history, which began to as entertainment in Roman Colosseum, and in P.T. Barnum’s circus tent, respectfully, showing just how long this field of entertainment has been going strong, all while having hands stained with blood.
Fast-forward to circa 1985-1990, and the industry has become more sophisticated, if not more gaudier. From the account of the Swiss entrepreneurial dolphin dealer that abandoned his own dolphins at an Egyptian hotel pool, to the reports of CITES and other fauna management organizations standing idly by as the animals plucked from the wild and into the confines of captivity, Johnson leaves no stone unturned as he untangles this web of questionable morals and ethics, animal abuse, “edutainment” and corruption.
My summary above barely scratches the surface. For those who seek for the bitter truth on the other side of the performing stage curtain, look no further: this book is just for you. While occasionally overwhelming with information in some pages, it is worth your time. But be warned: the ringmaster and his staff will flippantly attempt to make you wear a pair of rose-tinted glasses before you enter.