In Rome they call it il spettacolo, the
spectacle, the challenge that gives rise to heroes. It underlies
the ancient rituals of Imperial pageantry from the thundering
chariot races at the Circus Maximus to the gladiator tournaments
on the other side of Palatine Hill at the Coliseum.
American ingenuity found locomotive mayhem to be a workable
substitute where heroics were harder to come by, as in the
train-wreck shows that swept
the plains over a hundred years ago, sometimes with fatal
consequences for paying customers pressing forward for a good
view of the collision zone.
It was all chalked up to the cost of doing business, and
the American Spectacular traveled time and space from Buffalo
Bill's Wild West Show to the biplane barnstormers to NASCAR
and the Superbowl. Walk to the corner and it's playing right
now with Yoda and the new Star Wars picture.
Then there's Evel: reprieved, regenerated, resurrected, isolated
a tight close-up, cowboy style. His skin is red and healthy,
his shades are tinted royal blue, and his dome is crowned
by a trident of pure white hair. The guy is Old Glory in the
This is a man who never chased the styles. Now the entire
nation has come back around to his. Thirty years ago Evel
Knievel billed himself as a cycle-powered gladiator. Today
he's more than that. He's the Last American Jedi.