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Monster Mistake, Take Two?

Friday, January 11, 2019

Monster Mistake, Take Two?

Capitulating to radical, anti-gun extremism has become acceptable to some within the business community in recent years, especially for companies that seem to care little about our rights protected by the U.S. Constitution.  We’ve seen banks cave in to small, but vocal groups of gun-ban advocates when they have pledged to restructure how, or even if, they will do business with manufacturers and distributers of completely lawful products.  Dick’s Sporting Goods made news when it decided to publicly embrace the anti-gun agenda.  Things have not gone so well with that decision.  But anti-gun political correctness was raised (or should that be lowered?) to a new level by Feld Entertainment, which owns the touring monster truck show known as Monster Jam.

First, a little backstory.

Feld Entertainment also used to run Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.  That circus no longer exists, of course, and its demise should be a cautionary tale for any company that feels that it will benefit from surrendering to the threats of extremists.

For decades, radical animal “rights” zealots had been calling for a boycott of Ringling Bros., primarily due to the use of trained elephants in the circus.  The boycotts seemed to have little effect, though, as the circus remained a popular draw for families.

With boycotts proving to be ineffective, the zealots tried their hand at suing the circus into submission.

The litigation battle began in 2000 and involved some of the usual radical animal “rights” groups like ASPCA and HSUS.  The groups suing Feld/Ringling alleged the treatment of Asian elephants by the circus was a violation of the Endangered Species Act.  That suit, however, was dismissed in 2009.

While defending itself against the suit that was eventually dismissed, Feld/Ringling responded with a lawsuit of its own, citing the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.  The circus alleged that the groups involved in the 2000 suit were illegally conspiring to harm its business.  It appears that suit had merit, as the animal “rights” groups eventually settled, paying out a total of more than $25 million to Feld/Ringling.

Even after being vindicated in the courts, however, Feld Entertainment still decided to try to placate the extremists, who continued to promote a boycott of Ringling Bros. performances.  This decision proved to be fatal to the circus, which had been in operation since 1871.

In 2015, Ringling Bros. announced that it would cease using elephants in its shows in 2018, later moving that deadline forward to May 2016.  With the elephants gone, ticket sales plummeted, and on May 21, 2017, Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus held its last show.  The Greatest Show on Earth was dead at the age of 146, one year after giving in to the radicals.

In January 2017, while speaking about the pending closure of the circus at a news conference at Feld Entertainment’s company headquarters, chairman and chief executive Kenneth Feld stated, “Since last May, when the elephants were taken off the show, the downward trend (of ticket sales) was much more severe than had been anticipated.”  He went on to admit that “when the elephants left the show we did not anticipate the impact that would have.”

The extremists claimed they drove the circus out of business and gloated over its demise.  In reality, though, radical groups like PETA and HSUS were simply an annoying nuisance.  What actually destroyed Ringling Bros., and led to the eradication of over 400 jobs, was the shortsighted, ill-conceived attempt to please people who were never going to be pleased.  The radicals wanted a scalp, and Feld handed it to them by eliminating what had been a primary draw of the circus for over a century.

So, were there lessons to be learned from this experience?  Perhaps.

First, in entertainment, you need to know your audience.  Feld/Ringling seemed to forget that people who attend a circus want to see circus acts; and trained elephants were comfortably ensconced at the top of the list of favorite circus acts.

Another lesson that Feld Entertainment should have learned was to know your enemy.  The animal “rights” extremists that targeted Ringling may have ranted and raved about elephants, but they want to eliminate any use of “captive animals.”  Even a tiny bit of research would have shown that groups like PETA and HSUS want to eliminate ANY circus that uses ANY animals in ANY form for entertainment.  Even after the elimination of elephants from Ringling Bros., the calls for boycotting continued.

Feld should have realized this would be the case, as circuses aren’t the only targets of these extremists.  Aquariums and zoos are also on their list for elimination.

Ultimately, the animal “rights” militants haven’t been too secretive about their goals of making America abandon virtually every activity that would involve humans using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, companionship, research, etc.  Feld Entertainment apparently thought appeasement was an option, but they quickly learned that they would have been far better off worrying about their audience, and not their enemy.

So, did Feld Entertainment learn anything?

Earlier, we mentioned that the company that engineered the demise of Ringling Bros. currently operates Monster Jam, the touring show of monster trucks.  For those unfamiliar, monster trucks are motor vehicles (traditionally pickup trucks) that have been equipped with giant tires, elevated and strengthened suspensions, very powerful engines, and numerous other changes that allow them to do things you would never consider doing in your own vehicle.

In the early days of monster trucks, they were often known for running over, and smashing, other cars as part of their exhibition.  These days, they compete in races, usually over a short dirt track that includes jumps that result in the trucks becoming airborne for great distances.  The jumps regularly are made over cars, perhaps as a nod to the early days of car crushing exhibitions.  There are also “freestyle” competitions, where the goal is to put together a routine that includes impressive stunts, like wheelies and donuts.  Some trucks will even do backflips.  We don’t encourage you to try this with the Ford F-150 or Chevrolet Silverado in your driveway.

Monster Jam events are loud, potentially dangerous (although the safety record is fairly good for the major exhibitors), and high energy.  With tires over five feet tall, engines putting out 1,500+hp, and menacing truck names like Devastator, Grave Digger, and RAGE, one might consider this form of entertainment to be unapologetically in your face.  It is unlikely that those who attend Monster Jam exhibitions buy into much of the overly-PC culture being pushed by many radicals on the far left of the political spectrum.

So why in the world would Feld Entertainment decide it needed to “sanitize” Monster Jam by eliminating any firearm-related names of imagery from its rowdy events?

While it appears Feld wanted to keep this decision secret for as long as possible, a recent story in the Tampa Bay Times brought it to our attention.

It is unclear why Feld decided firearms might be offensive to the Monster Jam fanbase.  The article implies corporate executives seemed unwilling to discuss the decision, and simply offered a vague PR release that said nothing about guns, but mentioned Monster Jam as being “a family-friendly brand.”

Should we take that to mean that Feld considers going to the range with your kids, or taking them hunting, is not “family-friendly”?  NRA, respectfully, disagrees.

So, what, exactly, was eliminated?

The truck formerly known as Gunslinger has been renamed Slinger, and had firearm images on its bodywork replaced with slingshots.  Two trucks with military themes—Soldier Fortune and Soldier Fortune Black Ops—had prop machine guns removed, although they were allowed to retain their names.  A truck called Metal Mulisha, was forced to remove the image of a firearm from its bodywork in 2017, but has now disappeared entirely from the Monster Jam lineup.

Feld even changed the name of a competition for inexperienced drivers from the Young Guns Shootout to the Double Down Showdown.  We can only presume that this is an indication Feld Entertainment considers gambling to be “family-friendly.”

Admittedly, firearms were never a big aspect of Monster Jam events, so it’s hard to determine what to make of this action.

Perhaps Feld Entertainment was being quietly “encouraged” to eliminate firearm images, props, and references by anti-gun radicals, lest there be a public campaign.  If that’s the case, they learned nothing from their previous dealings with radicals.

It is only a matter of time before the left-wing “green” movement starts demanding monster trucks put an end to glorifying the unbridled use of fossil fuels, and insist all vehicles convert to electric power.  Remember: Know Your Enemy.

Maybe the corporate bosses that oversee Monster Jam thought its customers were offended by the image of firearms.  If that’s the case, then why keep the decision so secret?  Probably because they knew their audience wasn’t so triggered by simple images of Americana.

This could indicate that they did learn something from the circus fiasco.  After all, when they publicly capitulated to animal “rights” extremists, and pulled elephants from Ringling Bros., their audience abandoned them in droves, killing a 146-year-old entertainment icon.  By trying to keep the eradication of firearms from Monster Jam, they may be hoping it will go unnoticed.

Which leads to the final lesson for Feld Entertainment.  In today’s world of technology and 24-7-365 news, virtually nothing can be kept secret.  Now that more people are aware of the company’s decision to remove any image of, or reference to, firearms from Monster Jam because they are apparently not “family-friendly,” we’ll have to see how their audience responds.

​​A prior version of this article could have been read to include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ("PETA") in the group of organizations that sued Feld Entertainment for violating the Endangered Species Act and was in turn sued by Feld for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act​. PETA was not a party to that litigation, and the article has been edited to clarify this fact. 
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