Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Show Business Has Changed"

Once upon a time, to be in show business, you had to know how to do something.

And by “do something”, I mean more than have the technical ability to show yourself having sex on the Internet.

(Not that I’d be able to do that. Either part of it. I’m just saying it’s not what old show business called “talent.”)

Being in show business once involved showcasing identifiable skills. Skills you learned, practiced and perfected, and if it turned out, you did them as well or better than anybody else, you got a job, performing those skills before an appreciative, and more importantly, money paying audience.

Now let me be clear here, before I go into my dance. It is my belief that, both now and in the past, there are/were more talented people than the system ever unearthed and offered opportunities to. Before the Internet, the situation was exponentially worse. There were a miniscule number of gatekeepers – agents, studios, talent scouts – who, fairly or unfairly, wisely or unwisely, insightfully or ignorantly determined who got their showbiz shot and who did not.

Today, no more gatekeepers. You put your stuff up on YouTube, and off you go. It’s better. More democratic. You don’t have to know someone. You don’t have to “play the game.”

The system is more egalitarian. Everyone gets a chance. Can you still be overlooked? With the volume of content coming at you – of course. But lacking connections and “insider” know-how no longer automatically means “Law school for you.” There are available options.

But today’s post isn’t about opportunity. I’m talking about skills. It is more democratic for more people to have an increased number of available outlets. But it’s a totally different matter to say, “All talents are equally worthy.” And that all of them have an equal right to our attention.

That’s not democracy. That’s Jackass-3D.

Imagine a guy wants to play football in the NFL. Five-foot six, a hundred and thirty pounds, no aptitude for the game. He can’t run, throw, catch passes, kick field goals, punt, tackle or block. He just wants to play NFL football. It looks like fun.

Would anyone say the NFL is undemocratic by denying this bozo a chance? More likely, they’d call it a ridiculous waste of time.

“Give me a tryout.”


Football has specifically defined standards of ability. You meet those standards, you have a chance. You fall unreasonably short, and you don’t. It’s not democracy. It’s meritocracy. Not entirely. I’m sure are were players who were cut who believed they could play, but for the most part, a team wants to win, they take the best players they can get. Meritocracy.

Today’s show business is different. Today, show business has expanded…no. I was going to say show business has expanded the range of what’s considered to be show business, but there’s a sharper way of putting it.

Today, anything that sells tickets is show business. Which includes dog fighting, until they found out where they were doing it, and made them stop.

Sarah Palin is in show business. (What else can she write on her tax form under: Occupation? Politician? Where?) The actors in Celebrity Rehab are in show business. (“We can’t be in show business as actors anymore, so we’ll be in it as people who completely messed up their lives.”)

The ladies hustling crap jewelry on the Home Shopping Network are in show business. The guy who teaches dog owners to make their puppies behave is in show business. The real estate agents who shlep the couple around on HouseHunters is in show business.

Have you seen Locked Up Abroad? Drug smugglers stuck in South American prisons? It’s a show! Those drug smugglers are in show business!

What happened to talent? Call me narrow-minded, but to me, sticking vials of cocaine up your butt is not talent.

Singer. Dancer. Comedian. Acrobat. Juggler. Trapeze artist. Plate spinner.

Okay, “plate spinner.” As an example. You suspend a number of ceramic plates on the tops of narrow, wooden sticks, and get them all spinning at the same time. The greatest practitioners? They’re a marvel to watch.

Can you become a world-class plate-spinner overnight? Of course, not. Plate-spinning training requires a significant investment in time. And plates.

Plate spinning mastery takes years of practice. Can you imagine the thousands of broken plates? How many times the people in the apartment just below them called the police?

“He’s doing it again!”

Can you imagine the perseverance it took?

“How many did you drop today?”


“You’re improving. You used to drop them all.”

How long can you stay with it? No money coming in? The mounting broken plate expenses? The pressure to give it up must be huge.


“Stop it, Lazlo! Enough with the plates!”

“But I can’t! It’s my dream!”

Then, finally, it all comes together. One day, two days, three days – not a broken plate can be heard. The downstairs neighbors thought they moved away.

Having mastered the basics, it was on to the tricks – his dazzling entrée into big-time entertainment.

His specialty – “The Amazing Body Spin.” Six sticks, balanced on his forehead, his nose, his chin, one raised knee, and both his hands, swiveling plates in the air at the very same time.

It took thirty years. But he had finally perfected his craft.

It was time to go to work.

Unfortunately, by then, show business had radically changed. Nobody wanted plate spinners anymore. They wanted a guy with his pants down, playing Yankee Doodle with his farts.


Neal... said...

To be fair, it took me *hours* to get those farts tuned to concert pitch.

Max Clarke said...

Show business HAS changed.

Know what you mean, Earl, I used to marvel at the plate spinner on Ed Sullivan. I think the music was the Sabre Dance, something like that. Exciting.

But I would never go back to that time. Take music, for example. There are more good singers around than ever. There are more capable songwriters than ever. You have to do some work to find them, but then you're in.

If anything, we have a glut of talent. Too much of the junk, sure, but more good stuff than I can ever listen to or watch.

You mentioned football. I know golf. It used to be the depth of talent on the PGA tour was shallow. A few truly great golfers, and a lot of capable touring professionals. These days, there is so much depth, the winner could be almost anybody in the field.

I take photos, that's what I love. When I grew up, Ansel Adams was the star, the benchmark. Everybody else was presented to us as a distant second at best. TODAY, you have more photographers of his quality than you can imagine.

Time to stop worshiping the days gone by.
Show business HAS changed. Good!

PG said...

Plus ca change, Earl.
I used to show an excellent CBC/BBC documentary series, "Dawn of the Eye" to my students about the history of film and news broadcasting.

It may surprise you to learn that, from the beginning, the subject matter of the most popular and fascinating movies was 'boxing cats'!!!
Following this talented display were what used to be impolitely referred to as 'freak shows' followed by chubby models in bathing suits or the latest hats.

I agree with you about some of these shows but it might also be that the older we get, the more difficult it is to surprise us.

There is an element of surprise in a lot of successful comedy.