Pop Culture History: Hidden Origins of Major Industries

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We live in an era of informational freedom. Thanks to the power of technology, we can research just about any topic we like. Whilst it’s true that there’s plenty of misleading information to be found on the internet, many people now understand how to find reliable content and verify their sources.

Still, that doesn’t mean that we know everything. Despite the fact that we can search for almost any term, concept, or idea with a handy browser, these types of tools are only as profound as the researcher. In other words, if someone doesn’t know what to look for online, what questions to ask, and which sources to comb through, then the quality of their research won’t lead to much.

In fact, despite the fact that technology has brought encyclopedias, studies, newspapers, and tons of other reliable academic materials into our hands, we’re deeply out of touch with some of our favorite industries. Even when it comes to entertainment, most people have little to no idea just how far back the origins of our favorite pastimes stretch. 

When it comes to pop culture and, specifically, entertainment, there are quite a few intriguing histories that might surprise you.

Card Games: A Cross-Cultural Tale

When it comes to card games today, most people immediately think of poker. Given the popularity of online poker and the broadcast of major events like the EPT and WSOP tournaments, most people are familiar with the best poker hands and a few of the most important strategies. But not many people realize just how extensive, varied, and cross-cultural this game is. 

Poker paints a great picture, as the game is the result of natural gaming evolution and human migrations. Some scholars believe poker’s true origin is in As-Nas, a medieval Persian game. The game involves hand rankings and bluffing, just like Texas Hold’em.

From there, it’s theorized that As-Nas migrated west along Arabic trading routes and, eventually, into Europe through the Iberian Peninsula. From there, it became the French poque and the German pochen. Colonists took both of these games to the Americas. Fast forward a few hundred years and the game of poker was first recorded in the late 1800s in New Orleans, then a Spanish colony.

Stand-Up Comedy: For Modern Minstrels

Modern stand-up comedians probably wouldn’t argue that they feel a connection to the minstrels and court jesters of yore, who were subject to harassment if they failed to entertain the masses. Today, many believe that traveling minstrel shows from 19th-century Europe provide the most accurate origin story for stand-up comedy.

However, the tradition stretches back much further. Even in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, theatre included important comedic timing and sequences. However, the true entertainer was the medieval court jester, who emerged in the 1300s to do things like perform magic tricks, songs, and jokes. Or, as Henry II of England preferred, to ‘leap, whistle, and fart’ for the delight of onlookers.

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Athlete-Celebrities: As Ancient as Mankind

Just like laughter and card games, athleticism is another field of entertainment that fascinated early humans. Sports like wrestling and equestrian races stretch back thousands of years, marking some of the first forms of human competition. This isn’t likely to surprise anyone given the ubiquity of sports cultures.

However, sports stardom also existed for thousands of years in the past. Athletes who could perform incredible feats weren’t forgotten by their fans or leaders anytime soon. As far back as 476 B.C., fighters like Theagenes of Thasos went undefeated for over two decades, earning notoriety and more than a few commemorative statues. Others, like Diagoras of Rhodes, helped establish a sports dynasty for his descendants, who were eventually immortalized by Greek poets.

There’s even Milo of Croton, famous between 536-520 B.C. for his wrestling skills. However, Milo of Croton was also known for his ability to pack away tons of food and drinks—similar to Andre the Giant. Croton’s skills also helped him earn the trust and respect of his peers—enough so that he led a successful military campaign.