Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Famous People?

What constitutes fame? If you asked 100 U.S. citizens, they'd probably tell you that fame = celebrity. To be honest, I'd probably say the same. But since when has this been true?

Check out these wonderful tea cards I got from my friend Robin in a recent MAJOR haul! The lot contained about 35 of these, some of them doubles. They were issued with your purchase of Brooke Bond tea. If you've surmised by now that these are British, you'd be correct. :D

The name of this series is "Famous People". And yes, they are all "famous", but not in the way we'd call famous today. For example, the handsome gentleman in the upper right is Lord Mountbatten, or as they put it on the back of the card, Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG GCB OM GCSI GCIE GCVO DSO PC FRS. Good lord! :D Yes, he's "famous", but how many of us reading this post would know him from sight?  Certainly not me!

When I first looked through these cards, I got that panicky feeling of "oh no, I'm not going to know any of these people, who I really should know from school had I been paying attention". After I'd read the backs of the cards, five stood out for me:  George Bernard Shaw, Charlie Chaplin, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Charles Dickens. I would guess that 99 out of a hundred of you reading would know who these folks are. But how about Ralph Vaughn Williams, Edith Cavell, William Booth, Sir Harry Lauder, or Thomas John Bernardo? Anyone? Okay, thanks - I feel better. :D

There are a few "excuses" that I can use to explain why some of these folks escape me. I'm going to take an educated guess that these cards were printed before 1977, because Charlie Chaplin is listed as still living (he died that same year). One could also purchase an album for these mini cards, which set you back 6d (or 6 pence), and the 6d coin was discontinued in 1980. Also, because these cards are British, I wouldn't be as inclined to know that Edith Cavell died saving British (and German) soldiers' lives in WWI.  So there.  :D

Still, I worry sometimes that fame is becoming the sole property of our pop culture. Only in certain circles are you going to hear about "rock star" authors. I read a lot and even I'm having trouble coming up with anyone besides Stephen King off the top of my head. And sure, the prime minister of Canada is "famous", but can anyone name him? (Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party, has been PM since 2006. I'm VERY ashamed that I couldn't remember this information off the top of my head).  And the last composer that I know who's contemporary is John Rutter.  But I like classical music.  I fear the Samuel Barbers and Aaron Copelands of the world are being pushed out in favor of pop music (this very sentence was probably uttered 50 years ago too, though).

A while back, I saw this meme on Facebook.  I think it sums up very well what I'm trying to say here:

Of course it's tongue-in-cheek, but still - I'm VERY glad that I knew the gentleman on the left is Carl Sagan.  :D

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