The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Gary Grossman

September 15, 2013

Once upon a bag of chips

Minutes before introducing Little Egypt, who promised to be the sensation of the century at the Chicago world’s fair in 1893, someone told Sol Bloom that the band was tuned up for brassy carnival fanfare and had no music tailored to the act that was about to be unveiled.

Bloom, a 23-year-old entertainment impresario, former boxing promoter, sheet music publisher and developer of the mile-long midway at the exposition, turned to the band leader, hummed five notes pulled up from memory and improvised another seven for the second phrase.

The melody later was called “The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid”, commonly known as “the snake charmer song”, which you may have sung on a playground as “The Girls in France”.

With that, Little Egypt — neither Egyptian nor Moroccan, but the Syrian wife of a Chicago restaurant owner — swirled into history and gave birth to burlesque.

The line between Little Egypt’s Hoochee-Coochee and Miley Cyrus’s liberated tongue-and-twerk at the VMA show is a measure of cultural evolution.

Several callers to the Daily Item thought the Miley Cyrus photos were too spicy for a family newspaper. Therein lies the challenge of turning media over to young people.

In the cycle of nature, there is a period between ages 18 and 30-something when everybody has an extended series of good hair days. When we consult the mirror on the wall about who is the fairest of them all, it replies, “You are all-that-and-a bag-of-chips, sweetie. Why don’t you share more with the world?”

For Miley, Lindsay, Paris, Christina, Britney or Little Egypt and Elvis, this is the time to lose the mouse ears, spike up the heels, tighten the trousers, ease off the foundation garments or wear a cape.

This interlude of fancy pageant walking has its place — on the carnival midway, somewhere during spring break or at a frat party — zoned between too-young-to-be-effective and no-longer-young-enough-to-carry-it-off.

The concern about Ms. Cyrus was that her former Hannah Montana pedestal made her a role model who may lead the unready astray.

In the all-media age, when audience eyeballs generate revenue, and top-of-mind awareness is viral, media is bending younger, with content created by and presented for the fully wired generation.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’ Connor acknowledged this phenomenon recently, bemoaning how few future voters can name a member of the Supreme Court or explain the purpose of the Declaration of Independence, even though the title gives it away.

Just so you know . . . on the Google Trends index, which archives people’s Google searches, the Syria-to-Cyrus ratio was about 1 to 6, meaning six times more searches for news about Miley Cyrus than about Syria.

The Miley moment (which may not be over even now), led to a discussion here about our evolving dual roles as digital journalists for a community newspaper.

Being a family newspaper means being invited into homes at breakfast time with suitable manners. Being a digital delivery system means publishing as the event unfolds.

Our misstep with the Miley photos was that we published action shots in the newspaper a day later after we should have had time to think better about it.

That led to a discussion in our offices about what works in print and what finds a better home online and how we might flag readers in the digital age that content in the next click may be more upsetting that what typically appears in a home-delivered newspaper.

As for the kids, in the words of the movie title, they will be all right.

After introducing Little Egypt and changing the culture forever, Sol Bloom found work in mainstream America. He developed a sheet music business, married and eventually moved back to New York. In 1922, Bloom ran for Congress in the city’s upper East Side “Silk Stocking District”, the seat that later launched Mayors John Lindsay and Ed Koch. Bloom remained in Congress until his death in 1949. His words open the preamble of the United Nations charter.

Young folks twerk. Then, they outgrow it.

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Gary Grossman
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