The television show Taxi ran from 1978 to 1982 on ABC. During its five year run, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series three times. That is pretty good.
I remember it for its cast, which included Andy Kaufman, Tony Danza, Christopher Lloyd 1, Marilu Henner, Judd Hirsch and, of course, Danny DeVito. Again, that is pretty good.
The show’s run coincided with my years in middle school and ended when I was a freshmen in high school. So I was pretty young when I watched it with my parents back when we only had three over the air networks, plus PBS. It is one of the few shows I specifically recall watching with my parents as a kid. 2
One particular episode of Taxi really made an impression on me. To this day, I remember how it ended and the harsh lesson it taught. I probably do not remember the details that well, but the ending is vivid. 3
Here is the basic story, as I remember it, some forty years later:
One of the cabbies, Bobby Wheeler, 4 was an aspiring actor. Somehow, Bobby made the news by calling out the theatre critic for the New York Times. As New York Times theatre critics tend to be, he was a major figure in the New York theatre scene. Bobby called him out for being unnecessarily mean, and perhaps even not that knowledgable, when it came to his reviews.
As I recall it, the critic had not maligned Bobby, but someone Bobby knew. In any event, the unknown actor’s comments got publicized and he became a hero among many in the New York stage acting community. Bobby’s sentiment was held by many, but most were too scared to publicly comment due to the enormous influence the critic held.
As it plays out in the show, the critic agrees to attend and review a small stage production that stars Bobby. Bobby is both excited and frightened by the prospect. If the guy likes it, he will be catapulted into fame and have the chance for bigger and better opportunities in the theatre world. If the guy dislikes it, well, no one likes be the butt of harsh criticism in a major media outlet.
We then cut to Bobby at the taxi dispatch garage hours after his performance. His fellow cabbies are commiserating with him about how great they thought he was. Bobby is anxiously fretting about what the critic will say or do.
Then the critic walks in. He tells Bobby he wrote two different reviews of the performance. One is full of praise and will no doubt do great things for Bobby’s career. The other rips him to shreds. This one will no doubt make Bobby a martyr in the theatre community, and, as perverse as it may seem, also do great things for Bobby’s career.
The critic, however, says if he submits neither review, no one will care. No one will hear Bobby’s name either way. Bobby will quickly fade back into the obscurity from whence he came. The critic, making a deliberate spectacle of himself, ceremoniously rips both reviews in two, puts them in his pocket, says he will publish neither, and leaves.
The critic wanted Bobby to go away. The most effective thing the critic could do to that end was to ignore Bobby. And that was poweful.
While none of us, I hope, wants to be a huge ass like this fictional theatre critic, the lesson is real. Giving attention, even negative attention, to anything, keeps it in the forefront. In the realm of modern social media, many of us, certainly including me, feel the need to keep attention on people or ideas we know do not deserve the attention. And many people know this.
These people are known as trolls.
I fight the urge to give these people attention. My goal is to completely ignore them. And, as the critic demonstrated in Taxi, it is incredibly effective. It is an incredible power.
The power of ignoring.
It can make people disappear.
ADDENDUM, February 1, 2019:
The episode is available online, for free on Yahoo/Hulu, Bobby and the Critic.
Surprisingly, I got many of the details right. The critic meets Bobby in a restaurant, however, and not back at the cab garage. And the critic only wrote a postive review, but he did discuss the effect of a negative one, before dramatically tearing up the review he wrote. He did not, however, put the pieces in his pocket, he dropped them on the floor. Not bad, since I last saw it decades ago. 🙂