‘Everyone’s got an act.’
P.T. Barnum recruits so called ‘misfits and outcasts’ to create the first circus. He creates false personas and back stories for them to attract and hoodwink the public. A tall guy becomes an Irish giant, an overweight guy takes on extra padding to become the heaviest dude in the world. Together they create a world of wonder, music, colour and spectacle.
Barnum is an entrepreneur, and not only is giving sidelined folks a chance, but he is making a life for himself. He came from humble beginnings and is determined to prove himself a success in life. Not only to himself, but to his wife’s father who refused to believe he would ever amount to anything. However there comes a point when he must be honest about why he is doing this. Is he a fake himself, merely hungry for affirmation and success? Or does he really care? This film keeps returning to the themes of fakery and reality.
We live in an age when we can create online personas, and the pressure to cover up can be very powerful. I am currently reading Robert Webb’s book How not to be a boy – his honest assessment of his growing up years, and the pressures to aspire to proper ‘manhood’. It, of course, makes me reflect on my own attitudes to boy and manhood. I grew up wanting to write stories, loving cheesy pop music and believing in God. None of which sets you up to be the coolest dude in school. So I mostly kept quiet about these things. But I realise now how daft we men can be, how we play the fitting in games because other options don’t appear to be available. A birthday card I received this year sports the picture of a blue sheep peering out from among all the other white ones, it carries the line – ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out?’
As I grow older, am I growing up much, I wonder? Jesus, like Barnum, beckoned to the outcasts and misfits and drew them into something new, something wonderful. Something not easy, but very precious. He gave them a whole new life, but not in order to line his own pockets or elevate himself. We’re told in the New testament, John’s blog chapter 13 verse 3, that he knew exactly who he was, where he’d come from, and where he was heading; he wasn’t seeking affirmation from others, he wasn’t hungry for any kind of success. He was happy to be himself, to stand out from the crowd. And he continues calling to this misfit, Dave Hopwood, and misfits the world over, to find a new start as ourselves, not a world-shaped, man-manipulated version of ourselves, but as the people God made us to be. Quirky, weird, wonderful and unique. I think it’s a lesson I shall need to go on learning. Day after day after after day after day after day after day…