The six degrees of separation theory states that everyone in the world is only six social connections away from anyone else (as in, Doug is connected to Fred because they both know Emily). It turns out this theory isn’t strictly speaking true, not least because of isolated tribe, children raised by wolves and so on, but there is something appealing about the idea that we’re more strongly connected to the rest of the world than might be immediately obvious.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon applies this theory to the Hollywood movie industry, suggesting that because Kevin Bacon has been in lots of films and worked with lots of other actors, it is possible to link Kevin Bacon with any other actor in less than six steps (a single step being appearing in a film with Bacon, 2 steps being appearing in a film with someone who has appeared in another film with Bacon, and so on). Also his name sort-of rhymes with the word separation, so it’s a pun.
Again, this isn’t strictly speaking true: The Oracle Of Bacon website, which uses the Internet Movie Database to track links to Kevin Bacon, counts 32 people who are a whole 8 steps away. These people are said to have a Bacon Number of 8. If anyone with a Bacon Number would like to act in a film with me, let me know.
The concept of a Bacon Number is predated by the Erdős Number, a measure of “collaborative distance” between a person and the dead mathematician Paul Erdős, based on writing mathematical papers together. If anyone with an Erdős number would like to work on a mathematical paper with me, let me know. I’m not very good at maths but I could colour in some graphs or something.
Best of all is the Erdős-Bacon number, which simultaneously tracks the Bacon and Erdős numbers of a person who has both acted in films and written mathematical papers. Natalie Portman has an Erdős-Bacon number of 6. If Natalie Portman is reading this and would like to act in a film with me or work on a mathematical paper with me, or just hold hands for a bit, let me know.
Anyway, I’m getting off the point.
Something is missing from our cinemas. The beloved national treasures that were “those fucking Orange ads” have vanished from our screens, after spending the best part of 10 years failing to convince a single person not to dick about with their phone during the middle of the film. Instead we are now treated to an ad for Orange’s parent company Everything Everywhere, featuring none other than Kevin Bacon, who informs us that he, Kevin Bacon, is the centre of the universe.
This is obviously a riff on the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon connectedness concept. Bacon explains that he is connected to everything and demonstrates by pointing at a dog called Rover. Amazingly, Kevin Bacon is even connected to Rover, and he explains how:
“I was in Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks did Philadelphia, Philadelphia tastes great on a cracker, “It’s a cracker!” was Frank Carson’s catchphrase, Catchphrase was on ITV, same as Coronation Street, and we all know where Ken Barlow drinks: The Rovers.”
Needless to say, this explanation is rather unsatisfactory.
Let’s take it apart:
“I was in Apollo 13 with Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks did Philadelphia,”
We’ve now connected Kevin Bacon to the film Philadelphia. Fine.
“Philadelphia tastes great on a cracker,”
Here there’s an unstated connection here, between the film Philadelphia and the cheese Philadelphia. But they are both named after the state Philadelphia (although the Philadelphia cheese brand was actually started in New York) so this is just about acceptable.
“‘It’s a cracker!’ was Frank Carson’s catchphrase,”
The ‘connection’ here is purely wordplay. Carson is not referring to a cracker biscuit, so there’s some etymological reaching required at the very least.
“Catchphrase was on ITV,”
The problem here is that the quiz show Catchphrase had a stupid name, as it was not about Catchphrases. It did include catchphrases, “Say what you see”, “It’s good but it’s not the one”, “Mr Chips is having a wank”, etc, but the actual puzzles were just about phrases, like “a bull in a china shop”. I don’t think that’s a catchphrase, unless it belonged to music hall act I’m not aware of. So all we’ve got is that both Frank Carson and the show Catchphrase have catchphrases. (Catchphrase did do celebrity specials, but Frank Carson never appeared on one. Frank Carson is now dead.)
“same as Coronation Street,”
I mean, fine. They’re not made by the same production company, but okay.
“and we all know where Ken Barlow drinks: The Rovers.”
Even if the dog was called The Rovers, having the same name as a thing is not the same thing as being connected to that thing. You can’t change your name to Kevin Bacon and expect to share his fat Everything Everywhere cheques, can you?
(If you get a dog, why not call it The Rovers?)
The dog probably isn’t called Rover in real life. He’s almost certainly a special acting dog with a different name like Charlie. So why not just say he’s called The Rovers because his owner really liked Coronation Street?
However, all of this is irrelevant as Kevin Bacon has a much stronger connection to Rover: they’ve both appeared in an Everything Everywhere ad. Rover (or whatever the dog is actually called) has a Bacon number of 1. I would assume that he doesn’t have an Erdős-Bacon number, but you never know.
The reason the ad invokes Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is that it shows that Kevin Bacon is very well-connected in Hollywood; this is a metaphor for how connected you will be if you purchase an Everything Everywhere phone contract. But by the ad’s own terms, you may actually find your connection highly variable, to the point where sometimes it barely exists. This is disappointingly unrigorous and Everything Everywhere (and Saatchi & Saatchi, who made the ad) should be ashamed of themselves.
Also, Kevin Bacon doesn’t have the magical ability to create little planets and stars that orbit around him and then throw one of them at a dog. He can’t do that. It’s a lie. (It also seems unlikely that he’s heard of Catchphrase, but I suppose the wanking thing is on Youtube.)
As it goes, Kevin Bacon isn’t even the centre of the Hollywood universe. Dennis Hopper is. Kevin Bacon is the 444th most connected actor in the Hollywood universe. That’s lower than Derek Jacobi (346). And Natalie Portman (420).
I guess what I’m really trying to say is that Everything Everywhere should throw the Kevin Bacon thing in the bin and make a new advert where the metaphor for the strength of their connections is me holding Natalie Portman’s hand, forever.