This evening I went to a lecture on Buffalo Bill and the Origins of Pop Culture. It was given by Terry Krueger, a professor of literature at COCC, at McMenamins restaurant lecture hall.
Buffalo Bill Cody was a self created celebrity and he along with a few other famous men of the post Civil War era sometimes called the Gilded Age created the myth of the Old West. The whole image was largely an intentional fiction created by Cody as a stage production taken on tour throughout the Eastern States of the United States, and then abroad into Europe for another five years. It was mostly just theater and as far from reality as modern media pap, but the public loved it and paid big money to participate in the fun.
What fascinated me most about the lecture was Buffalo Bill’s desire to discover where the essence of the public’s need for a myth lay and then his pointed way of finding exactly what would inflame their interest. He then set about finding ways to live that myth himself. He did these things so he could then go back to civilization and portray that Western Myth on stage as if it was real, he pretended it was real and people believed him because he had actually lived there and done the deeds himself. Some of his deeds were psychopathic in the extreme, like contests to see how many buffalo he could kill in a timed event. In one staged event he literally set up a situation where he could “justifiably kill” a native American Indian named Yellow Hand, supposedly in revenge for Custer’s massacre. He premeditated this horror so he could display this victims scalp, skin and weapons on his theatrical tours. What a monster! And, yet the public ate it up and he became a mega-star celebrity for decades and incredibly rich. This was the era of outlaw robber barons, and Buffalo Bill found his way to riches via horrendous acts. In the end he lost most of the money.
After the lecture I spoke to Professor Krueger for a moment about who he thought were the modern people seeking the mythic need in the public’s soul. He said it was a closed club, made up of the media companies like Disney. I wanted to ask about self made people of the last decade, like Bezos, Jobs, Lady Gaga, Madona, and others who have willfully set out to find what can be done to please the public. But, he had to go. That is the problem with waiting until the last to ask a question.
Find a need and fill it, or lay the groundwork and then make a need and fill it.