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He was disqualified for loose talking
July 9, 2013 2:32 AM   Subscribe

In the 1920s and 1930s, endurance marathons were all the rage. Most folks know about marathon dancing and eating contests, but people would step up to test their endurance in every arena possible. One of least successful was the The Noun and Verb Rodeo, sometimes called the World Champion Gabfest, (1928), where "[p]rofanity was grounds for disqualification, but no points were awarded for style, diction, grammar, or even for making sense. All that mattered was that an individual kept talking."

It didn't attract crowds who'd pay an entrance fee or buy concessions, and the competitors hated it. Reporters loved covering it (these links go to images or replicas of the original articles): The Evening Independent reported that the "Gabfest" was won by a swimming instructor and retired Flagpole Sitter, while the Cumberland Evening Times gleefully analyzes why the Rodeo flopped.
posted by julen (24 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
I have finally discovered my family's athletic skill: nonstop competitive talking.
posted by theredpen at 2:43 AM on July 9, 2013 [6 favorites]


Bring back the filibuster!
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:49 AM on July 9, 2013


What I meant to say, in my earlier comment, which read "bring back the filibuster" is that the age old capacity to talk at great length for no appreciable purpose had been lost in this modern world of texting and interneting, although I'm not sure that "interneting" is even a word, because it's quite difficult to construct an active verb from a noun that signifies a network, such as the network we use to communicate our emails or our internet posts - our "social network" - but more abstractly, the notion of "network" could represent any loose assemblage of objects, some of which are connected in some vague way, as in a "network of ideas" or a "television network" (the latter of which is a loose assemblage of objects in the sense that it involves objects of narrative, such as characters and settings, as well as networks of connection between those objects in the form of personal relationships (for example, emotional relationships, or rivalries (notably, the rivalry between Id and Superego, as expounded by Freud (or possibly one of his disciples, all of whom attributed their inventions to their master, which is an age old tradition to continue talking, for no appreciable purpose, riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to a simpler time, when children didn't have email addresses, or interneting, and flowers bloomed in the garden beautifully, without the lack of beauty seen in many of these modern flowers, which make "pulchritude" seem like an ugly word, like "erstatz" or "kletpomania" or other words which I don't think appropriate to mention in such polite company as this (by which I mean the more polite males - the gentry - with no reference to the tender Ladies who might be present, because it would be impertinent of me to suggest anything other than the most genteel allusions for those tender ears that might easily blush in the way that only ears can blush, as though that were possible.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:09 AM on July 9, 2013 [8 favorites]


Having given it a great deal of thought, I think my earlier comment - to wit, "What I meant to say" - may possibly have been in error to small degree, or rather an infinitesimal degree which requires that I apologize to the community for my mispokery, or rather my mispokeness, or rather... an apology for haven mispoken in a community that prides itself on its unmispokeness as a collective focal point, a center of the sphere, the center of the cube, the center of things that have a center, such as the Universe, which has a center right there in the middle, just where you would expect the center to be, unless you believe that there are multiple Universes, which certainly seems like a reasonable hypothesis, given the difficulty I have trying to locate my missing socks (one black, one white) among the socks I just laundered (carefully, very carefully carrying the laundry downstairs in a basket in a way that would make it impossible for one member of that pair - either black or white - to escape the basket in some kind of Herculean acrobatic sock maneuver, flailing its sockness upward in defiant reaction to its supposed role at the feet) and otherwise centrality is paramount and pivotal, focal and fixed, as a pinpoint of consciousness, like the radiant sphere that emanates from dense packed region of awareness, or the shiny angel that rides as a hood ornament on top of the devil of evil, ever guiding the vehicle of unknowingness towards the dim light of Burger-Buddy, which is open until midnight, possible later, and serves a damn fine bacon cheeseburger cooked by Jeff and served by Tina, a hot little jalapeno who sometimes hangs around until after midnight to talk about buddhism, or pink floyd, or lute music, in a way that makes me remember what it was like to be young, like, really young, like one or two years old, when all I wanted was my mother's breast and some socks and some lute music.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:36 AM on July 9, 2013 [3 favorites]


So, basically, they invented Internet discourse half a century too early?
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:17 AM on July 9, 2013


you mean it was a .... grammar rodeo?
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:04 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Twoleftfeet:

You forgot ")))))".
posted by Bugbread at 5:09 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


A fine example from Mark Twain.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 5:09 AM on July 9, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have finally discovered my family's athletic skill: nonstop competitive talking.

Mom?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:31 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want to know more about Sirfessor F. W. Wilkesbarr, Lord of Interpretations, Master of Mentoidology, the Demigod of the Demi-Damned.

This letter to the newspaper The Day Book leaves me no more enlightened. Nor does this letter from the Sirfessor himself, from the same issue.

If it's the same guy, he got around, but how likely is it that there were two of him?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:59 AM on July 9, 2013


I posted too soon -- there seem to have been a number of Sirfessors in Chicago in the 20s. Wilkesbarr (maybe sometimes "Wilkesbarre" was one of them
In its heyday during the 1920s and 1930s, poets, religionists, and cranks addressed the crowds, but the mainstays were soapboxers from the revolutionary left, especially from the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), Proletarian Party, Revolutionary Workers' League, and more ephemeral groups. Many speakers became legendary, including anarchist Lucy Parsons, “clap doctor” Ben Reitman, labor-wars veteran John Loughman, socialist Frank Midney, feminist-Marxist Martha Biegler, Frederick Wilkesbarr (“The Sirfessor”), Herbert Shaw (the “Cosmic Kid”), the Sheridan twins (Jack and Jimmy), and one-armed “Cholly” Wendorf.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:11 AM on July 9, 2013


I am trying to figure our with Google who Frederick Wilkesbarr, the Sirfessor was, or what a Sirfessor was to no avail. Sounds like an epic mansplainer.
posted by Joe Chip at 6:17 AM on July 9, 2013


A similar concept has been turned into a still-popular radio comedy panel game on BBC Radio 4 - Just A Minute, and its predecessor One Minute Please, dating from 1951.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 6:23 AM on July 9, 2013


My alternate title for this post was "Thirty-two endings of depressing American novels on show in a ring", as one columnist put it. I am just fascinated by how mechanical the event was. No sense-making? No problem! It's just streams of words that don't have to be connected by any social lubricant like verbs or prepositions or logic. Even the dance marathons were sparked up at some point by "sprints" or intra-marathon mandatory contests/required figures/etc to add challenge to the contest, weed out the weak, and prevent it from being a walkathon or a swayathon.

I spent a fair amount of time trying to find out when people had to generally stop memorizing poems and addresses and speaches for recital as a matter of course in American education; it was clear that some contestants couldn't think on their feet and started fumbling when they ran out of memorized material.
posted by julen at 6:27 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's an article from the 1930 NY Evening Post about F.M. Wilkesbarr. It mentions he is preaching "the gospel according to Malfew Seklew." There are several pamphlets by Malfew Seklew on Worldcat (though unfortunately not full text). I would bet that Malfew Seklew was Wilkesbarr's pseudonym.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:13 AM on July 9, 2013


From The Literary Digest, July 17, 1920:
"When the crisis comes," I demanded, "when the system crashes in confusion and chaos—if you repudiate the I. W. W., who is there who can step forward and take charge of the world?"

As one man, they both rose.

"Supermanity will!" barked the Sirfessor.

"I will!" roared Johnson, thumping himself on the chest.

That reply is characteristic of Trip-Hammer; he is ready at all times to take charge of the world. The Sirfessors may trust in philosophies to save humanity, but Trip-Hammer knows that humanity can be saved only by Trip-Hammer.



...and then he looked the Sirfessor square in the eye, raised his fists, and growled, "These are not the hammer."
posted by erniepan at 8:20 AM on July 9, 2013 [1 favorite]


Grumpos Matavastros would have kicked butt at this thing.
You know, the Mystech researcher from Anachronox?
posted by closetphilosopher at 8:44 AM on July 9, 2013


...and then he looked the Sirfessor square in the eye, raised his fists, and growled, "These are not the hammer."

The radio said “No, Sirfessor. You are the hammers”

And then Sirfessor was a zombie.
posted by FatherDagon at 9:23 AM on July 9, 2013


I found the Sirfessor's obituary in the NY Times. I can't find a full text version to link to, but in summary it says:

His name was Fred M. Wilkes, though he usually went by Wilkes Barre. He was born in Nottingham England and was known as the king of the soap box orators. He was an "old-school Nietzschean." He once worked on Peter Kroptokin's newspaper. He died at the age of 77 in 1938 in New York. At the time of his death he was squatting in a flat at 344 1st Avenue.

He claimed to have been the man debating prohibition advocate William "Pussyfoot" Johnson in London when a crowd turned ugly and he lost an eye.
posted by interplanetjanet at 10:34 AM on July 9, 2013


interplanetjanet: "Here's an article from the 1930 NY Evening Post about F.M. Wilkesbarr. It mentions he is preaching "the gospel according to Malfew Seklew." There are several pamphlets by Malfew Seklew on Worldcat (though unfortunately not full text). I would bet that Malfew Seklew was Wilkesbarr's pseudonym."

This scribd copy of Enemies of Society says flat out they were one and the same. The section on Seklew begins on (scribd) page 151 and the author of that section clearly never found the NY Times obituary.

Wow, that NY Evening Post PDF has a picture of the good sirfessor, and he looks so mild-mannered.
posted by julen at 10:49 AM on July 9, 2013


I think that photo is of the columnist.
posted by interplanetjanet at 10:56 AM on July 9, 2013


Though maybe not because I just looked and I don't see the photo used in other columns by the same reporter.
posted by interplanetjanet at 11:00 AM on July 9, 2013


Ubuweb needs these recordings.
posted by destro at 11:44 AM on July 9, 2013


twoleftfeet and his lute music...
posted by ouke at 1:41 PM on July 9, 2013


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