Skateboarding owns juggling. American Sports Data (2002) estimates that there are 18.5 million skateboarders worldwide. I'm no census, but I find it hard to believe that there are 18.5 million jugglers in the world. I do find it possible to believe that 18.5 million people in the world know how to toss juggle three beanbags or at least three scarves. Like riding a bicycle, thousands of adults have repressed grade school kinesthetics that would probably enable them to manipulate three scarves. But most of these people do not consider themselves jugglers. And of course I don't count the people who can only "dwo two".
So yeah, juggling is a "subculture", a "niche", a "sideline hobby". Wow, Michael, great discovery. We all know that juggling is not on the radar screen of most people. Our ugly word is mostly known to the human race as a way to describe having too much to do. I simultaneously beam and shudder every time I see it used in a magazine article to describe the busy lives of celebrity moms.
Then we have skateboarding. Phenomenon. The lifeblood of the X Games and the only reason I care to watch ESPN ever. In middle school, you either hung with the yo-yo crowd, the Pokemon crowd, or the skateboarding crowd. I tried each one. Unfortunately I seemed to like the people in the Pokemon and yo-yo crowds best but the girls simply flocked to the skateboarding crowd. It's a sexy hobby. In many ways I think it's like juggling but we'll get to that later. Anyway, skateboarding is mainstream. Cities now fund the building of skate parks. Tons of video games are devoted to the sport. Tony Hawk has a legit clothing line. Reality shows and movies are successful just by having skateboarders in them - they don't even have to skate! (Viva La Bam and Jackass).
And yet skateboarding is brand new. The Beni Hassan tomb of skateboarding is a newspaper article in 1893 warning New Yorkers of a dangerous coasting device being used on a slope in Brooklyn. And a little more than 100 years later, skateboarders are able to make a luxurious living off of purely doing what they love in front of gigantic crowds of adoring fans.
Juggling is not there. A small percentage of jugglers make a living from their art and an even smaller percentage make anywhere near the living that skaters like Tony Hawk and Bam Margera make. Clearly, in the eyes of America, skateboarding > juggling.
The question is, are we jealous?
My first thought is yes. Why is juggling so restricted to the sidelines? Shouldn't Anthony Gatto be a household name like Tony Hawk? Shouldn't Jay Gilligan have his own clothing line? Shouldn't Dube pay Wes Peden $3,000 a month just to be the best juggler he can be and to rock their equipment? Shouldn't we have a reality show about Jason Garfield, Albert Lucas, and Chris Bliss living in a house together? Hell, I'd watch it and I bet a lot of other people would too. Juggling has so much potential but for some reason, there's just no sex appeal in it. The reality shows go to stuff like skateboarding and the UFC (ultimate fighting). What do these have that juggling doesn't? Easy - violence and death-defiance. Why do you think people always ask if you can juggle chainsaws? Sure, it's an annoying question but it bites at an eternal truth. People are more entertained if you're in potential danger. Most people aren't like us. They don't enjoy the inherent beauty and art in kinetics and movement. A five club cascade isn't worth anything unless you drop it. If you don't drop it, it pales in comparison to what they're sure a 6 club fountain will look like.
But, and here's the difficult part, we have to be careful what we wish for. What if juggling did blow up? Let's pretend it did instantly overnight become the next big thing. Would it really be good for the art as a whole? I suppose, it depends on how it fared under the lime light. In other words, it depends who makes it popular.
In the movie "Being John Malkovich" (highly recommended), there is an interesting plot twist - at the height of his career, John Malkovich decides to quit acting and instead devote all of his time and energy to puppetry. In 2008, the person to do this would have to be McDreamy - good old Patrick Dempsey. If McDreamy all of a sudden decided to become McJuggley, we might see the possibility of a whole generation of actors deciding to learn how to juggle not only to fill up resume space but to pursue it simultaneously as an art and as a physical discipline. A celebrity endoresement is extremely powerful and Patrick Dempsey is in a position where he could initiate a possible Renaissance in juggling interest.
Of course there's also the possibility that juggling could become popular through the WJF. In this case, people would be so used to seeing juggling presented as technical, competitive, and sportlike in nature that they'd see anything else as archaic and not quite as cool. This isn't my ideal situation but others might really hope to see the WJF succeed in attaining this popularity. I certainly applaud the WJF for bringing juggling to television. I'm not sure of their future plans for broadcasting, but I hope they have plans to air juggling on TV in the future and I hope that someday, because of these efforts or others, we can see juggling in the Olympics.
In the worst case scenario, someone could drag juggling into the limelight by using "danger" as the bait. I'm certain people would flock to this. Chainsaws, knives, fire, and more. Juggling's fifteen minutes of fame could involve a juggler who so wows the world with his control of (supposedly) "dangerous" props that our lives as "normal" jugglers could be scarred forever.
So, at the end of the day, although I'd love to see juggling significantly rise in popularity, it's important to consider the pros and cons of said "blowing up". It's going to take the right person at the right time and under the right circumstances to really make it stick like skateboarding. Otherwise it will be a flash in the pan that could actually have a detrimental effect on our hobby/art/sport.