July 8 - Happy Birthday, Kevin Bacon

Posted on July 8, 2018

Today's famous birthday was born on this date in 1958, and he is an actor with lots of movie and TV credits.

Kevin Bacon is super well known for a reason that doesn't have much of anything to do with him - specifically, for the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" game.

Okay, so maybe you don't know the game, and you're wondering how "super well known" he could really be for this game. And I have to admit, I'm kind of old. So maybe Bacon is super-well known among some age groups because of that game - but younger generations are all, "Kevin Who?" "Six degrees...? What?"

There is an idea that all people are six or fewer steps away from one another. If you could know EVERYTHING about two different people, for example, you would be able to find acquaintances of acquaintances that would connect them in a chain of no more than five individuals.

It seems unlikely to me that you could link up United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who lives in South Africa, with Jacob Slaetalid, a kid who is growing up on the cold and remote Faroe Islands, with just five acquaintances! 

But network theory tells us that the world is "shrinking," metaphorically speaking, because of the increasing interconnectedness of people through the internet and social media. If Slaetalid or his parents have ever met just one highly connected person - maybe a globe trotting educator visited Jacob's school, or one of his parents consulted a visiting medical specialist - then there probably could be a 5-or-fewer-links chain of acquaintanceship linking the two, improbable as it seems to me.

Now, what about that Kevin Bacon game?

The game goes like this: Someone names an actor that anybody could look up on the movie database IMDb (the database also includes information on TV programs and video games as well as movies) and the other players have to try to figure out a work-connection chain that is no longer than six steps between that actor and Kevin Bacon. 

Why Kevin Bacon? He's pretty prolific, which means that he's been in a lot of movies and TV shows and other projects. For example, IMDb lists 77 movies that Bacon has been in, along with 110 TV series, 51 TV specials, 39 videos, 29 TV movies, 13 short films, and a few other projects as well. 

If you look at the entire cast and crew of all of those movies/television productions/projects, that's a pretty massive collection of people you could connect to some random actor, right?

By the way, the largest entry in the "Trivia" section of Kevin Bacon's IMDb article is about the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It claims that everyone in Hollywood has a "Bacon number" that tells us how many steps one has to take to link that person professionally to Bacon.

The inventors of the game were inspired when Bacon said, in an interview, that he had worked with everybody in Hollywood, or someone who has worked with them. They went onto The Howard Stern Show and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, explaining their game; they released a book called (of course) Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, and there was even a board game based on the concept!

Now, what does Kevin Bacon think about all of this?

According to Wikipedia, at first Bacon didn't like the game, because he thought that people were making fun of him. But later he came to enjoy the game. It looks to me like Bacon eventually really embraced it, because in 2007 he started a charity called SixDegrees.org, which links celebrities and causes. Grass roots organizers and local changemakers can submit events they are hosting onto the SixDegrees website, and somehow the SixDegrees people link that event to a recognized celebrity who is able to either drop in on the event or at least give a very public shout out about the event. Because of this celebrity link, the first three weeks of Six Degrees' existence, they were able to generate more than 87 thousand dollars worth of donations. Celebrities also contact the charity to find causes that link up with their own concerns and interests.

Kevin Bacon has won a lot of acting awards and even more nominations - although no Academy Awards or nominations! - but he has also won several humanitarian awards for his charity! Very cool, Mr. Bacon! And happy birthday!

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