Recently, I stumbled across an episode of “Shark Tank” — the program where business experts insult — I mean, advise — people who hope to win financing for their companies or inventions.
Apparently, it is not enough to just be good at what you do, anymore.
If you’re a mom-and-pop store, you must become a world-wide conglomerate; and if you’re a conglomerate already, you must buy another, and another, until one little planet isn’t big enough to hold you.
It made me wonder: how did anyone ever succeed, before “Shark Tank” came along? And what if a time-traveling Shark Tank could bring its wisdom to people throughout history?
“Welcome to Shark Tank! First into the tank is this self-made man. The son of a failed banker, motherless by age 6, he somehow became a sculptor, painter, and architect. It’s time for him to meet our Sharks.”
Shark No. 1: Michelangelo Buonarroti — may I call you Mike?
You may call me Michelangelo.
Shark No. 1: Okay. Mike — I gotta be blunt, you’re doing pretty well already. Why are you here?
Michelangelo: Well, I heard you were wealthy people, so I thought — maybe you could use some sculptures of sharks, eh? Perhaps some unlucky contestant being fed to them…it has possibilities?
Shark No. 2: I’ll bite, but you’re thinking too small. Here’s the eternal question, Mikey boy: How are you gonna scale up? A statue here, a fresco there — it’s small potatoes!
Michelangelo: Excuse me, what are potatoes?
Shark No. 2: Oh, I forgot — you won’t have them in Europe for another hundred years. Never mind. My question remains: How you gonna scale up?
Michelangelo: What means “Scale up?”
Shark No. 3: Get bigger.
Michelangelo: Oh! Like my statue of David? Seventeen feet high from one block of marble, more than 6 tons! And you should see my plans for Goliath!
Shark No. 3: You’re not thinking high enough.
Michelangelo: Higher? How about the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? I made a special scaffold, to paint more than 300 figures on the chapel ceiling. I painted the face of God! I don’t think you can go higher than that.
Shark No. 2: You know what? I don’t, either. Congratulations, Mr. M, we’ve got nothing to offer you.
Next up is the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in Germany in 1685, the youngest of 8 children of a professional musician, he grew up to serve as choir master in churches all over Germany.
Shark No. 1: So what brings you to Shark Tank, Mr. Bach?
Bach: As you may be aware, a life in the arts is capricious. I need a major investment so I can spend all my time writing cantatas, concertos, masses, preludes and fugues.
Shark No. 2: I gotta ask — What are your costs? You need economies of scale. You’ve got no hope of succeeding if you insist that everything you write be original.
Bach: I am no plagiarist. But if you mean apprentices, I must tell you I am doing my best. By my two wives, I’ve sired 20 children.
Shark No. 3: Good Lord! I can’t even handle two! Imagine — 20 kids all needing data plans for their phones!
Shark No. 1: You have my condolences. Especially your wives. I don’t know where you find the time to write a grocery list, much less a piece of music.
Bach: It is true I seldom leave the church. I find it much more conducive to the creative spirit.
Shark No. 3: Sir, I have no advice for you, given the times. Here’s a hefty donation to your church. God Bless!
Our third contender is a modest lady. She’s lived all her life in Amherst, Massachusetts, writing hundreds of poems, very few of which were published during her lifetime. Sharks, I give you: Emily Dickinson!
Shark No. 3: I remember you! I studied you in college! But even then I thought you were seriously in need of a publicist.
Dickinson (an enigmatic smile on her lips): Apparently not, since you know my work:
I’m Nobody! Who are you?
Are you — Nobody — too?
Then there’s a pair of us!
Don’t tell! they’d advertise — you know!
Shark #2: Who doesn’t want publicity?
Shark No. 1: Do you seriously want us to believe that you were happy, living and dying in obscurity? It makes a mockery of everything we do, here!
How dreary to be Somebody!
How public — like a Frog —
To tell one’s name — the livelong June —
To an admiring Bog!
Shark No. 3: That’s it — I quit! Miss Dickinson, maybe you’d like to join us, after the show? I must ask about your punctuation — it drove me crazy…” And they all went back to the Green Room, for tea.