Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2004 / 20 Tishrei 5765
Tourists in space
British billionaire Richard Branson announced that he plans to start blasting tourists into space in 2007. Though he admits he still has not figured out how to get them back. Perhaps one-way travel is the way to go. Just cram a bunch of refurbished Russian space stations full of Midwestern tourists- in Bermuda shorts and stretch pants- and toss them at the cosmos like so much doggy-do. It could really help clear out the Target parking lot.
Branson's vision offers a glimpse of what space tourism will look like; not the brave quest for knowledge that we may have hoped for, not "2001: A Space Odyssey." No, sadly, space tourism will simply be the expansion of American junk culture into zero gravity; it will be nickel slots and a Hooters on Mars; it will be a Hard Rock Cafe on the Moon and Chuck E. Cheeses on Uranus. (insert your own potty joke here.)
Initially, at least until Greyhound bus lines gets involved, space tourism will not be cheap. The first private citizens to venture into space en masse will likely be very rich and very old. The same crowd you see on golf outings and clogging all-you-can-eat buffets in Las Vegas. But then octogenarians are perfect for space; the lack of gravity will ease their tender joints.
So why is Branson doing this? Perhaps for the same reason that billionaires fly hot-air balloons, because they are BORED!
The rest of us are usually so beaten down by the pygmy concerns of jobs, bills and families that most of our free time is spent oozing into the crevices of our barco-loungers; one hand clutching the remote and the other a pint of Ben and Jerry's. But billionaires have two things almost none of us have: tons of money and tons of free time. And, being billionaires, they want to use their free time to show off. Forget joining a bowling league, these boys build space ships and buy sports teams and start third-party, crackpot presidential campaigns. Oh yes, and they have their own reality shows.
In fact, the aforementioned Branson is kicking off his own reality show, following in the footsteps of Mark Cuban and Donald Trump. When Ross Perot pops up on the Bravo Network it will officially be time for the comeback of books.
It sort of makes sense if you think about it. No wonder billionaires want tv shows; many of them have an insanity of riches but nobody knows who they are. A utility outfielder for a Major League baseball team can walk into a restaurant and cause whispers and giggles and flirtatious glances from women. However, nine out of ten CEOs of Fortune 500 companies can walk into a restaurant and no one will notice. People will just think, "some old white guy."
These are magnates of industry; men of intelligence, vision, real leaders. And nobody knows who they are. So they buy sports teams and TV stations and newspapers and force their faces into our homes. Guys who were abject geeks in high school, guys who lived with a constant wedgie until they were 30, finally get the attention they feel they deserve.
One man has remained conspicuously quiet lately; Bill Gates. The World's richest man has no plans for outer-space, nor does he have a reality show in development. What is he doing? Well, Gates, ever the maverick, instead of buying giant toys and gallivanting around like a jackass, actually gives much of his money away to people who need it. Weird!
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JWR contributor Phil Perrier is a Los Angeles-based writer and stand-up comic.
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