On Censuring Irving Berlin for Overstating the Exceptionality of “Show Business”

The prodigious one fondling his first love – the piano.

If I have any superpowers at all it’s in being a sober arbiter of esoterica. And it is in keeping with my need for precision in these peripheral netherworlds that I take exception to the gross hyperbole contained in Irving Berlin’s scantily-researched claim that ♫There’s No Business Like Show Business ♫. For Moses’s sake Mr. Berlin – we all know full well there are many businesses like show business. How dare this little refugee from Russia emigrate to our shores and tell us what our business is – such chutzpah. However innocuous the observation There’s No Business Like Show Business may seem, I’d like to see Mr. Immigrant Composer make that same claim in Mother Russia – he’d get a one-way ticket on the trans-Siberian express to a reeducation camp where his once-jaunty song would be repurposed into “There’s no Gulag like our Gulag.”   

I believe I can fairly sum up my bewilderment at Berlin’s lyrical impudence by paraphrasing Fredo Corleone when he warned his brother Michael about disrespecting Moe Green: “Irving, you don’t just walk into America’s Jazz Age and start yelling, ‘There’s no business like show business’ without attribution, sources or citations. It’s just not done.”


But it was done and we’ve all come to accept, or at least look the other way. So I ask the listening public: Where’s the due diligence? Maybe there is no business like show business, but where are your metrics Mr. Berlin? Where are your metrics sir? On what basis is this trenchant assertion justified: that show business is so differentiated from other commercial enterprises that it resides in its own category. And while it’s true that sword-swallowing (show business) is nothing like automobile manufacturing (regular business), this comparison is hardly enough to warrant your blanket statement that there are no businesses like show business. What about prostitution? Clearly a more comprehensive and understandable litmus test is required to validate your contention. White Christmas I can dream of. This business of show is a nightmare.


This circumspect refutation of your lyrics is a reaction to their foreboding absolutism in asserting that there are no businesses like show businesses. No man (except for maybe Florenz Ziegfeld) is qualified to say there is no business like show business? Let’s get real here – or at least nuanced. There are plenty of businesses that are similar or aligned with the business of “show.” For example, as previously mentioned, prostitution is like show business: both have agents to help laborers find meaningful work (Ok, so it’s a pimp) and both follow a business plan whereby there’s some kind of a slow build up to a climactic scene. To my way of thinking (IMHO) this easily drawn comparison absolutely invalidates “no business being like show business” prima facie and renders its’ avowed conclusion nugatory at best – but I’m sure you were already thinking all this and I’m just preaching to the, to the…umm…those singers in church who dress alike and stand on risers.  


Mr. Berlin, I know that you’re 28 years deceased, however, if you or your heirs are unable to validate your blanket claim, all you’ve accomplished with this song is to produce alternative truths supported by fake lyrics. Please observe some decency sir in presenting your case to an adoring public. Your lyrical outrage is akin to me attending a splashy Broadway musical, rising from my seat after the first number and, apropos of nothing, imperiously declaring, “Anything you can do I can do better.” That would be either wishful thinking or unsubstantiated bloviation on my part; depending on how many syllables you like in your explanations. I can’t begin to measure the breadth and scope of Mr. Berlin’s deception, but that’s only because I lost my tape measure.


I’m careful not to build a wall of criticism around Berlin. The last time that was done it almost resulted in WWIII. No for the sake of mankind we need to find another way, a middle path. My approach to inducing corrective action viz. his capricious manner of segregating show business from all other businesses, is to suggest a workable pathway to clarity – and it’s ingenious. I propose Mr. Berlin consider presenting reasonable testimonials to prove the reverse of his thesis – not that there are no businesses like show business, but that show business is unlike any other business.


I believe this suggestion to mitigate the galling impudence of claiming there’s no business like show business by proving its opposite corollary is the way forward. And as I implore the Tsar of Tin Pan Alley from beyond the grave, and his executor Myron Berlin from before the grave, that it is my fervent hope the Berlins are able to make lyrical adjustments to the song in order to promote greater clarity and to dissipate umbrages among those discomfited by absolutist and insupportable proclamations.


It is my duty as a guardian of esoterica to shine a bright light on the unfounded claims of cavalier songwriters everywhere – especially the immigrant ones. Their bombast shall not go unchallenged. Who knows, if I had acted sooner, perhaps I could’ve deterred MC Hammer from restricting the tactility of the nation by telling us we, ♫Can’t touch this ♫”


So if you’re like me and have several cans of paint in the garage not corresponding to any wall color in your house but you insist on keeping them anyway, I’m sure you’ll be heartened by imagining Mr. Berlin substituting ♫There’s no business like show business♫ with more fittingly descriptive lyrics like these:

There are multitudinous businesses mirroring the practices of show business, although show business comprises a constellation of standards and practices not usually associated with other businesses

Tin Pan Alley might not like it, but the rest of us can breathe easier in appreciation of a reliable and enduring qualification of the business we call “Show.”

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