I took my kids to see the Ringling Bros/Barnum and Baily Circus this weekend.
The theme of the show I saw was built around a very skilled performer with the stage named “Bello.” Though I had never heard of him, his skills were amazing. Later research on my part indicated that he was in fact a rather well renowned performer (Time magazine’s clown of year, if you believe it!)
It occurred to me that growing up, some of the performers of this same circus were household names.
Gunter Gebel Williams and Emmett Kelly came to mind.
This led me back to another thought I had some time ago: that the more channels of entertainment we have, the less interesting our “celebrities” become. Our fractured interests either allow small groups to worship the top of their field (Alan Moore is a comic book god. Ty Murray is one of the greatest bull-riders ever. etc.) or pander to the lowest common denominator.
Back in my day (I always feel older as the month of August approaches, so please forgive my ranting*), when we had three channels, we might have all known who Bello was. If ABC, CBS, or NBC chose to put someone interesting on TV, there was a good chance they would become famous, and remain in the public eye.
Hell, Johnny Carson made dozens of people famous simply because HE found them interesting (Joyce Brothers, Jack Hannah,etc. Although Charro baffles the mind).
I think it is sad, because instead of interesting celebs, who actually had something unique to offer (Hannah taught me a lot about interesting animals), we have Frankenstein celebs from the worst kind of marketing shop, who are bland but beautiful (“That’s hot” springs to mind).
Who has become famous recently simply because they are interesting? Let’s cut out singers and actors (many of whom are not interesting), as they are famous for other reasons. I’m talking general interest celebs.
My go to guy on “wouldn’t be famous today?” is Evel Knievel. Without Wide World of Sports, he’d be a nobody. Today, a daredevil would relegated to ESPN Eight ('the Ocho!"). Instead, he is a household name for someone daring and possibly reckless.
Would we have ever heard of Milton Friedman today? How the heck was an ECONOMIST famous?
Even more alarming, in modern times I doubt people would pay much attention to some physicist who worked at Princeton. With fewer channels, however, he became so famous that he was able to take Time’s Man of the Century. Today, we would flip past that nerd with funky hair, and go watch The Hills.
Who do you find fascinating that would not have made the cut in modern times? I’ll bet there are some big names that wouldn’t be remotely famous today.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the multi-media. I like being able to “specialize” my viewing habits. But the cost of this opportunity makes me feel sad and old.
Now excuse me. I think I hear some kids playing on my lawn. I must address this situation.
*Duly noted that as ANY month approaches, one does gets older.