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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. "Professor" Gentry's show started as a dog and pony show, but evolved into a full circus show. Other historical dog and pony shows include Harper Brothers, and Sipe & Polman.
Often, because of tight budget, these small shows which were more "style than substance" and "ostentations presentations of unimpressive acts", gave rise to the modern term of "dog and pony show", referring to a lamely contrived presentation. By the latter part of the 20th century, the original meaning of the term had largely been lost.
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