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"Dog and pony show" is a colloquial term which has come to mean a highly promoted, often over-staged performance, presentation, or event designed to sway or convince opinion for political, or less often, commercial ends. Typically, the term is used in a pejorative sense to connote disdain, jocular lack of appreciation, or distrust of the message being presented or the efforts undertaken to present it.
The term was originally used in the United States in the late-19th and early-20th centuries to refer to small traveling circuses that toured through small towns and rural areas. The name derives from the common use of performing dogs and ponies as the main attractions of the events. Performances were generally held in open-air arenas, such as race tracks or public spaces in localities that were too small or remote to attract larger, more elaborate performers or performances. The most notorious was “Prof. Gentry's Famous Dog & Pony Show,” started when teenager Henry Gentry and his brothers started touring in 1886 with their act, originally entitled “Gentry’s Equine and Canine Paradox.” It started small, but evolved into a full circus show. Other early dog and pony shows included Morris’ Equine and Canine Paradoxes (1883) and Hurlburt’s Dog and Pony Show (late 1880s).
By the latter part of the 20th century, the original meaning of the term had been largely lost.
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