Once upon a time, and not so long ago, people who never went to a horse race still knew the names of famous horses–Man O’ War, Whirlaway, Sea Biscuit, Silky Sullivan, Secretariat, and on and on. But if my life depended on it, I couldn’t name a single horse racing today.
Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano weren’t boxing anymore when I was a kid, but everybody knew their names. You might not know the first thing about baseball, but unless you were living under the polar ice pack, you knew the name of Mickey Mantle. Capablanca died years before my birth; but before I knew how to pronounce his name, let alone knew how to play chess, I knew he was a famous chess champion.
So who are the great golfers of today? The great boxers? Who fills Mickey Mantle’s niche? Who care’s who’s the world chess champ?
This is very odd. We live in a culture that’s crazy for celebrities, that generates celebrities: where the most common answer given to pollsters asking high school kids, “What do you want to be as an adult?”, is “Famous!” (Famous for doing what, don’t ask.) This is the age of the Kardashians, who are famous without having done anything at all.
Our celebrities–remember “Snooky”?–streak across the sky like meteors and burn out just before they crash. We can’t remember what they were doing up there in the first place.
Remember when Simon and Garfunkel sang, “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
No one is going to sing, “Where have you gone, Honey Boo-Boo?”