Christopher Columbus would have been a lousy talent scout. Between exploring and sailing, the Italian navigator would be pressed for time reviewing audition tapes, holding open casting calls and trolling YouTube in search of the next Justin Bieber. Plus, the internet wasn’t “a thing” in the 15th Century.
But his nautical missions of exchange, garnering positive and negative results, laid groundwork for America’s need to seek and propagate stuff. Due to more than 500 years of industrial innovation, people today spend more time searching for celebrity, rather than resources.
The latest catch is famed big cat rights activist and suspected murderer, Carole Baskin. Netflix documented the 59-year-old’s exploits during the popular mini-series Tiger King. Some argue the show’s notoriety is attributed to a quarantined audience searching for content. Others say big cat zoo rival Joe Exotic was the real star.
Either way, Baskin rode that fame to a spot on ABC’s hit show Dancing With the Stars, leading to social media buzz and attention. Judges eliminated Baskin, dressed head-to-toe as a lion, Monday night.
Both her premiere and final routines were petty 90-second banner ads reminding viewers of two simple truths about the woman; Carole Baskin loves tigers and Carole Baskin, is Carole Baskin. Nothing more.
Her dance moves were not inspiring. Her presence not illuminating. So why do we keep watching Carole Baskin?
It’s important to note she is not the first celebrity with ambiguous appeal. Just over two decades ago, MTV’s contest show Wanna Be a VJ searched among hundreds of contestants for a new video jockey to host Total Request Live. Viewers voted from the lot and picked Connecticut’s own Jesse Camp, seen below trying to finish a sentence.
Jesse didn’t exude charisma or diverse music knowledge, but viewers preferred his brand of stilted speech and removed attention over contestants like Dave Holmes, who went on to a successful acting and writing career, currently operating as editor-at-large for Esquire.
Fast forward to 2003. Socialite and notable hotel magnate heiress, Paris Hilton, stars alongside Nicole Richie in the Fox reality series The Simple Life. The pair spend one month canoodling with townsfolk in Altus, Arkansas. Nothing really happens. Hilton and Richie do manual labor, visit local businesses and reveal their lack of basic retail knowledge.
Paris would later transition from reality TV star to successful business woman, popular DJ and human rights activist. Most people became aware of these projects thanks to a recent YouTube documentary.
This pattern of emboldening talentless celebrities lives on with people like Baskin. Viewers develop personal bonds with her unique narrative. In fact, the biggest story to come out of Baskin's time on Dancing with the Stars was a commercial produced by Don Lewis’ family - Carole Baskin's former husband, who went missing in 1997 - requesting information about his location. Netflix is cashing in on the publicity, approving a new reality show featuring Baskin and her husband exposing acts of animal abuse.
For many decades, traditional media broadcasted people doing extraordinary things. More than 50 million Americans tuned in to watch The Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. Evil Knievel cleared the Snake River Canyon in a steam-powered rocket on live television. Musicians rallied a global population to recognize the Ethiopian famine during 1985’s Live Aid concert.
The advent of social media changed the way we consume entertainment. Viewers began pointing the camera inwards to broadcast their own exceptional talents. Problem is, most people are not exceptional or talented. But everyone has a story.
Carole Baskin’s story just happens to be very entertaining. Not quite extraordinary, but pretty different. Who knows how long we’ll continue to following her exploits. If history tells us anything, we’ll continue sailing uncharted waters in search of something better, something different… even if the only thing we find is our reflection in the water.