Don’t I know you? Rashers of Kevin Bacon

New Zealand is a tiny place. Six degrees of separation between strangers? Hah. In New Zealand it’s closer to two – in fact there’s a phone company that named itself ‘Two Degrees’ for that reason.

The idea that we are all separated by only a few steps of who-knows-who floated about during the twentieth century, based on some not-too-scientific research. It’s gained a lot of currency of late, and recent research via Facebook suggests that everybody on that network is separated by less than five degrees. A friend of mine calls them ‘rashers’, after the variant connecting any actor to Kevin Bacon via movie appearances.

One way to close that gap, I think, is by writing. Certainly that’s been true for me – and for me, those links span time as well as space. My own Tardis, metaphorically speaking. I write a lot of history, and that puts me two degrees from another New Zealander, Bernard Freyberg (1887-1963). Which in turn puts me three from a lot of well known historical figures, including Freyberg’s good friend Winston Churchill; Freyberg’s old room-mate, J. M. Barrie; his friend Rupert Brooke; and economist John Maynard Keynes. Which in turn puts me four steps from Admiral Sir John Fisher (1841-1920), who invented the term ‘OMG’ in 1917. I am therefore just five steps from Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons, the late Queen Mother, who used to be his neighbour.

All those flow from just one contact, Freyberg’s former ADC, who I got to know in the late 1990s while writing several Second World War books and my Freyberg biography. That’s pretty typical. Contacts cluster into little networks – and every so often, you find someone who connects to another cluster. It’s standard sociological patterning, and I think – for slightly different reasons – that Facebook replicates the same broad pattern in cyberspace.

I expect it’s probably the same on Twitter, too. Certainly it seems true of blogging – the recent flurry of awards highlighted a lot of who-reads-who connections and the same names kept popping up via different strands of the network.

Is there anybody you’re just a few degrees from? Has your writing – or something you’ve done – closed the gaps, somewhere? I’d love to hear from you – do tell!

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2011


12 thoughts on “Don’t I know you? Rashers of Kevin Bacon

  1. And, unfortunately, also five rashers from that other WWII leader. (You know, the one whose crack troops had black uniforms with the death’s head on their caps. Despite this rather obvious clue, they didn’t twig that they were the bad guys until about 1944.)

    The link is Freyberg => Ribbentrop => Hitler. Luckily it’s only a kind of rasher, given that Freyberg and Ribbentrop were not friends. Freyberg met Ribbentrop at a dinner party in 1935 and rather disgraced himself, given the diplomatic aspect of the event, by insisting that the Germans hadn’t got over their Bismarck-era Reich ambitions and would have to be stopped. Ribbentrop protested, but Freyberg was right, of course.

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  2. Interesting post. I particularly like what you have done by tracking the degrees of separation into the past.

    In the late 1990’s a local history book was published about the 1843 Wairau Incident. It always amazed me that the author recalled being at the funeral of someone who was alive at the time and knew some of the people that were involved.

    My grandfather who is still alive and well in Wellington tells me stories he was told by his grandfather who was present at Parihaka. His father was a pig trader in the early 1840’s and apparently his business partner only had one hand on account of a cannon misfiring during the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. One of their key sources of pigs… none other than Te Rauparaha!

    It is amazing that in the 21st century I can still jump on the phone and talk to someone who heard firsthand what happened at Parihaka. I find that a sobering way to remind myself not just how small New Zealand is but also how young it is.

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  3. Absolutely true – and what a fantastic connection! Parihaka was important in so many ways. Amazing to think you’re just two degrees of separation from it. A closeness possible, I think, for precisely the reasons you mention – the youth of our country! Thanks for dropping by.

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  4. Me again. Just started thinking about all the historical figures you will be linked to via someone else that I suspect you may have interviewed for your biography on Freyberg. His Chief Intelligence Officer, Sir Geoffrey Cox.

    His stories from the 1930’s are nothing short of incredible and he of course went on to be one of the founding fathers of television journalism. I suspect that he would’ve been one of the most ‘connected’ New Zealander’s of the mid 20th century.

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  5. I didn’t get to meet Cox; he was in the UK and my research budget for that book didn’t extend to travelling that far (I had no funding whatsoever, in fact). But I knew people who knew him. He was certainly incredibly well connected, even in the 1940s when he joined Freyberg’s HQ. And of course that network of links extended radically afterwards with his TV career.

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  6. I really enjoyed this post, New Zealand IS a small place. I’m Australian but for 3 years in the 70’s had the pleasure of attending school in Lower Hutt. Many years later, I met a New Zealander in a small town in Japan. He was initially offended when I suggested that as he was a Kiwi would probably know some of the same people. Turned out we did – I was at school with his brother, and he sat next to my sister in Maths classes.

    Who am I connected to? Quite a few prominent Australians. It’s a small country too, and while I don’t have a personal connection, I’m a rasher away from Hugh Jackman which must put me about 2 rashers away from most of Hollywood.

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