Obstinate and Pliable

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

They Endeavor to Amuse Me with Robot Dinosaurs

Posted by John on April 5, 2008

Although circumstances prevented us from going, I had planned to take my oldest son to see Walking with Dinosaurs: the Live Experience, the arena show where giant, animatronic reptiles march about. It’s all very high concept, with high-falutin’ BBC credentials.

As I went through the promotional materials on their website and Youtube clips, it became clear to me that the producers had sunk eleventy zillion dollars into this thing. I shouldn’t have been surprised. It often seems to me that the cornucopia of riches in our society is so lavish that it can trickle all the way down to reach our middlebrow entertainment. As a result, I can take in a show at my local stadium that exhibits the kind of coordination and care that in generations past would have been reserved for royal command performances. But I can buy a ticket for less than the cost of a steak dinner.

James Lileks had a similar reaction a few years back after catching the Cirque du Soleil show at the Bellagio:

A stunning achievement. I sat there thinking of the weekend’s diversions, the dinners, the spectacles, the fountain display, and I thought: these things were available once only to kings and princes and consorts and queens. This must have been what it was like to be a member of the royals in the days before the French Revolution – except that I would have known everyone in this theater, and would have suspected a third of them of plotting against me.


Lileks was right. Robot dinosaurs and pretentious Canadian acrobats are both examples of now routine diversion on a scale and scope that heretofore was only available to Bourbon aristocrats. But we’re both ultimately echoing Tom Wolfe, the master social observer, who provided the definitive words on the subject in the first paragraph of his collection of essays, “Hooking Up”:

By the year 2000, the term “working class” had fallen into disuse in the United States, and “proletariat” was so obsolete it was known only to a few bitter old Marxist academics with wire hair sprouting out of their ears. The average electrician, air-conditioning mechanic, or burglar-alarm repairman lived a life that would have made the Sun King blink.

And indeed, I imagine that every courtier at Versailles would have been reduced to blinking and stammering at the sight of robot dinosaurs paraded about for their amusement. But your humble correspondent can treat his family to the same spectacle five days a week and twice on Sundays.

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3 Responses to “They Endeavor to Amuse Me with Robot Dinosaurs”

  1. John,

    Great post my friend. I hadn’t thought about this before. I’m usually bombarded with all the media’s coverage of the poverty in Africa, etc. that it is hard to think about what you’re talking about here. I’m glad I’ve found your blog.

    You have a new fan 🙂

  2. sammm1777 said

    You must take a leap of faith…and start posting(blogging) more often. For the sake of the Blogosphere, share your thoughts man!

  3. Nils Jonsson said

    It is easy to forget how different our lives are from times past and worlds away. Thanks for pointing that out so vividly.

    I don’t remember where I read it (a href=”http://www.theatlantic.com/” title=”The Atlantic Monthly”>The Atlantic?) but somebody either wildly speculated about or surveyed people about whether they would prefer (a) a significantly higher standard of living than they have but still lower than everybody else, or (b) a modestly higher standard than they have but superior to that of everyone else. I think the verdict reflected that envy is more powerful than greed: as long as we have more than the Joneses we’re happy, even if we both have less than we might. There is evidence of this in the entitlement psychology of heavy consumers at the bottom and middle of the U.S. economic spectrum.

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