Carnac the Magnificent was a character created by the late night TV show host Johnny Carson. Carnac foretold the future with predictions such as “bedbugs in Buffalo” or “today’s weather will be followed by tomorrow—believe it or not.” Carson had superb comic timing and top notch writers. The result was a very funny and, at times, a very satiric seven or eight minutes of television. Carson tried to stay on the far side of politics. Unlike today’s late night hosts who, as a group, consider politicians, elected officials and the so-called newsmakers of our times to be fair game. Holding public figures to ridicule is not a new game in town. The first public scorn of the elite occurred around the late seventeenth century with the rising of the broadsheet and the attempts to create a literate public readership. Exaggerated cartoon figures and drawings along with pithy and at times slanderous captions would trigger tempers and feuds between celebrities, printers and sponsors. Even the Bard of Avon, one William Shakespeare, wrote plays ridiculing in satiric and comic language the various public figures of his time including the monarch, Elizabeth I. Try doing that today.
Human beings are very interested in the future. There are many reasons for this interest. We all want to know about tomorrow. Will I be able to get out of bed in the morning, or will I be in the truck on the way to Palookaville? Shall I purchase a lottery ticket today? These are questions of some consequence and importance. We have placed such importance on these questions that there is a far reaching gang of folks who claim to have some of the answers that we seek. The soothsayers, the shamans, the witches and wizards, the gypsy readers and, of course, the internet pundits are all more than eager to give us the future—for a fee! A dear friend of mine, a Division I coach in a major collegiate soccer program, visits with a tarot card reader before he begins his fall season of coaching. He swears to me that this card reader has only been wrong about his team’s fortunes for a particular season in the twenty years he has paid to see the future. He says that the only time the soothsayer did not see the future was when his team missed air connections at a rural airport and was forced to cancel the upcoming NCAA match. His wrath was directed at the small regional airport for not seeing the calamity before it happened. I am sure that he demanded full compensation for the missed opportunity of not being selected for the regional tournament!
We on Earth have been searching the heavens for several millennia hoping to find others like us in the universe. With the development of higher-powered telescopes or observation devices, we still haven’t been successful. With the uncountable number of stars and with the increasing numbers of planets and comets and other debris strewn throughout the universe, our searches for finding intelligent life seem to have been a total “wild goose chase.” Currently, there is a comet roaming our galaxy. It is about a kilometer in size, green in color and about 166 million miles away (1). I mention this only because right here on our planet, Earth, the development of Artificial Intelligence is gaining momentum. This is happening so quickly, that it is the fear of some scientists and engineers that they may have to deal with communications in the abstract via a robot to avoid crashing head-on with comets (2). We may even end up in a Black Hole (3).
This may mean our intellectual pursuits may be created by a robot that will also sweep the floors, vacuum the carpeting, start dinner and recommend the best vintage to serve with the main course; at room temperature or chilled? The comet is in an orbit that will bring it close to us—within six to eight million miles, a close call if you are an astrophysicist (1). As I mulled these events over, the comet, a literary robot, maybe an oenologist from California, could be in our futures. We have just gotten over the Grammy Awards’ TV special: Lemonade Fest. I didn’t watch and didn’t care. The concept of rewarding entertainment performances by organizing more entertainment performances seems almost absurd. The motion picture awards, the Oscars, are soon. My mind began to collect and process this absurdity and voila, past efforts began to unscramble themselves.
The first thing in my mind was how very old we are becoming. Our long-known friends, celebrities and entertainers begin to join the heavenly encore teams for the final curtain calls. We ponder what these old friends and others have given us before departing. There have been great films created. Pick your favorite top ten flicks and ask me mine and we now have an old fashion debate about performances, meanings and film making in general. A friend of my youngest son is an on-again, off-again cast member for TV productions. He is a very talented performer—drama, comedy, sing and dance, all. He is, however, one of many talented people. He is not a star and you may not recall a performance; can you remember his name? I have a dear friend who paints and does photography. Again one of many, who will leave behind lifetimes of work gathering dust in a trunk. The point is, fame or performance is like being struck by lightning—hit or miss. Unlike lightning, our hopes are for a hit!
The second thought that occurred to me was how fleeting is fame and celebrity. Notices in the media of the passing of an entertainer, movie star, sports hero or a like celebrity will list awards or performances or achievement or at times, gossip associated with the individual. We may remember some of this, but maybe only a bit. The Beatles landed in America unknown. The sons of Liverpool were on television, in concert and sold hundreds of millions of recordings all in the time spectrum of four years. Their music still sounds fresh, but where are they now? Old, maybe even passed, or on a Public TV special; fame and anticipated celebrity are just a memory. We still have the unique sound of this band of performers and their sound that will never be duplicated. That may be all that we expected and were given. The next Leonardo or the next Brando or the next Mark Twain will be greatly welcomed and appreciated. We will have to wait and hope. We all know of Lincoln. We love his words and deeds. There was only one Abraham Lincoln in our past. Could there be another that we have not recognized yet in our future? Will those that we refer to as courageous leaders and wise statesmen fit our hopes and needs? We cannot ask Carnac for an answer or advice.
I mentioned the English band The Beatles earlier. They broke up at a very different place than they started. Simple rock and roll tunes tinged with blues and country. At their break up, they were composing and performing very political sounding music with social comment. I still listen to their music and lyrics and sing with them. We can only guess where they were heading. They were the sound we lived our lives with. My only comment would be to cheer and spend the rest of our lives making the best of the future.
Play on Boys, Play on!
Space Weather Prediction Center National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. (2023, February 07). The "Green comet" is Racing up the Northern Sky at Night!. https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/news/green-comet-racing-northern-sky-night
Hill, D. (2022, April 08). Winners Selected for the NASA SOHO Comet Search with Artificial Intelligence Open-Science Challenge. NASA Science. https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/winners-selected-for-the-nasa-soho-comet-search-with-artificial-intelligence-open-science-challenge
Andreoili, C. (2023, January 12). Hubble Finds Hungry Black Hole Twisting Captured Star Into Donut Shape. NASA Science. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2023/hubble-finds-hungry-black-hole-twisting-captured-star-into-donut-shape