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The greatest showman on earth: Is Simon Cowell P.T. Barnum reborn?

Stephen Brown (Ulster Business School, University of Ulster, Jordanstown, UK)
Christopher Hackley (Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK)

Journal of Historical Research in Marketing

ISSN: 1755-750X

Article publication date: 27 April 2012




Simon Cowell, the impresario behind The X Factor, a popular television talent show, has often been compared to P.T. Barnum, the legendary nineteenth century showman. This paper aims to examine the alleged parallels in detail and attempts to assess this “Barnum reborn” argument.


Putative parallels between the impresarios are considered under the aegis of two long‐standing, if contentious, historical “theories”: time's cycle and the great man thesis.


Seven broad similarities between the showmen are identified: vulgarity, hyperbole, rivalry, publicity, duplicity, liminality and history. In each case, the arguments pro and con are explored, as is humanity's propensity to personify.


In accordance with the iconic literary critic Harold Bloom, who “strikes texts together to seek if they spark”, this paper strikes two celebrated showmen together to generate historical sparks.



Brown, S. and Hackley, C. (2012), "The greatest showman on earth: Is Simon Cowell P.T. Barnum reborn?", Journal of Historical Research in Marketing, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 290-308.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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