In case you missed it, a stunt went wrong on a recent episode of "America's Got Talent." A woman shot her stage partner, and fiance, in the throat. With a flaming arrow. From a crossbow.
She was supposed to hit a small bullseye target that her sword-swallowing intended was holding in his mouth. It seemed like an accident, but with a couple, you can never tell. Maybe he forgot to put the toilet lid down one too many times that week.
But that's really beside the point. Is shooting an arrow at someone's face really a "talent"?
The man who took the hit to the neck wasn't seriously injured; as badly as it went, it could have gone much worse. It reminded me of that old joke where a kid comes home bleeding after trying some foolishness he'd seen on TV. His mother says, "Didn't they warn you not to try that at home?" and the kid says, "I didn't try it at home! I tried it at Billy's house."
What's really strange about this flaming-arrow trick is that it has to be practiced extensively. That means that there was a first time that this woman shot an arrow at her partner's face. Then there were hours and hours, months and months, of shooting arrows at her partner's face. That's the most amazing thing about some of these acts -- that someone would spend all that time practicing something for which there is high risk, but little or no reward.
Think of those guys spinning plates on "The Ed Sullivan Show." They would put a dinner plate on the top of a tall stick and start it spinning, then add another and another until there was an impossible number of plates going at once. It was amazing and tragic at the same time. It must have taken a lifetime of practice -- endless numbers of shattered plates, blisters, sore hands, aching necks -- and yet there was almost no demand for professional plate spinners. What did Mr. and Mrs. Plate Spinner talk about over dinner every night?
"How'd the job hunt go today, honey?"
"Not good. I went to 20 different places, and not one of them was hiring spinning-dish balance-technicians."
"I told you that you should have taught me how to shoot flaming arrows at your head! Plate spinning is old hat. You've got to keep up with the times. Have you ever thought of letting me shoot flaming arrows at you while you spin plates? Now that's something people would pay money for."
"It's not fair! While all the other kids were out playing football, I was practicing spinning plates because one day, I knew I would be on 'Ed Sullivan.' While all the other kids were going on their first dates, going to the prom, graduating, getting jobs -- I was practicing spinning plates. Then I finally get on 'Ed Sullivan,' everything goes perfectly, and who gets rich and famous? The Beatles! And they hardly ever practice!"
If the flaming arrow seems dangerous to you, I should mention that on an earlier show, the same guy swallowed a chainsaw. Don't try that at home -- or even at Billy's house. Would you pay to see that? Well, OK, maybe once. But twice?
That's a good benchmark of real talent: Would you like to see (or hear, or read) something over and over again? A movie, a singer, a painting, a performer, a play, a book -- would you go see it, read it or listen to it again if you could? Great art and real talent never seem to get old.
America does have talent, but is simply shocking people a talent? If it is, cattle prods and electric fences are loaded with talent.
Real talent is shocking, too. The trick is knowing the difference.