The Circus Spectacular That Spawned American Giantism

How the “Greatest Show on Earth” Enthralled Small-Town Crowds and Inspired Shopping Malls

When Barnum and Bailey’s “Greatest Show on Earth” rolled into American towns in the 1880s, daily life abruptly stopped. Months before the show arrived, an advance team saturated the surrounding region with brilliantly colored lithographs of the extraordinary: elephants, bearded ladies, clowns, tigers, acrobats, and trick riders.

On “Circus Day” (as it was known), huge crowds gathered to observe the predawn arrival of “herds and droves” of camels, zebras, and other exotic animals—the spoils of European colonialism. Families witnessed the raising of a tented city across nine acres, and …

How Alpine Yodeling Mutated Into American Blackface Minstrelry

Vestiges of the Racist Entertainment Persist in Art and Politics

In 1822 the Austrian emperor Franz I and his ally Tsar Alexander I of Russia held a meeting in a remote valley of the war-torn Tyrolese Alps. They were entertained …

Cleveland Rocks, Even in the Dead of Winter

The City’s Unpretentious Music Scene Thrives Year Round, Under Bridges, on Porches, and Outside of the Country’s Most Famous Music Hall

In the middle of February, when the temperatures dip below freezing, Clevelanders are frequently found huddled together for warmth in one place: outside—yes, outside—under the crisp night sky, watching local …

America’s First ‘Indian’ TV Star Was a Black Man from Missouri

Stymied by Hollywood Racism, Korla Pandit Reinvented Himself as a Mystical Brahmin Pianist

Turning on the TV in Los Angeles in 1949, you might have come face-to-face with a young man in a jeweled turban with a dreamy gaze accentuated by dark eye …

Why American Satire Doesn’t Need Jon Stewart

The Daily Show Host Made an Old Tradition New Again—Which Is Why We’ll Do Just Fine without Him

Like the legions of other admirers of Jon Stewart, I’m eager to hear who will
succeed him at The Daily Show. In my research on political satire around the world, …

When Will Hollywood Figure Out That Diversity Sells?

The Most Successful Movies and TV Shows Reflect America’s Demographics, But Executives, Writers, and Directors Are Still Catching On

Just a few days after an Academy Awards ceremony that host Neil Patrick Harris joked honored “Hollywood’s best and whitest,” entertainment insiders at a “Thinking L.A.” event co-presented by Zócalo, …