Day 66: The Big Six On Sixty-Six (Which Falls On The Sixth)

originally published March 6, 2012

In honor of the big six-six (Ms. Wiki must be an avid reader of this site – and really, why wouldn’t she be?), today’s hammer has thwacked the anvil of the Big Six.

The Big Six refers to a number of things. Hopefully one or two of these will have the potential to be funny, or at least to let me use one of my favorite photos.

Let’s start with the Big Six that make up the rest of the Big Sixes on this list: the six ingredients necessary for any recipe aimed at creating life. The macronutrients. If life was a song, these six cats would make up the rhythm section. Carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur. Clearly they deserve top billing here.

Or should they? Can facts and science really stand out next to the glitter and spice of Vegas? No, they can’t. So we turn instead to the Big Six Wheel, a game of chance everyone has seen and most people have lost money on from time to time.

There are variants on this weighted-to-the-house game. Some have dollar bills, others have combinations of dice. In England and Australia (because they just like to be different), they’ll scatter letters on the wheel. And if you’re planning your vacation around playing Big Six wheels (and really, who hasn’t?), the odds offered on the two long-shot letters on these wheels pay out slightly better in the UK than down under. So there’s a helpful travel tip you probably won’t find anywhere else on the internet.

Malcolm X applied the term to the Big Six honchos of the Civil Rights movement. These were Whitney Young, Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph, John Lewis, James Farmer, and Martin Luther King Jr. Each of these guys deserves a kilograph of their own. But I’m just not feeling that ambitious today.

Baltimore and Ohio Class locomotives manufactured before 1954 were known as ‘Big Sixes’ because of their size and because their road numbers all began with ‘6’. This piece of information is so forgettable, I almost nodded off mid-sentence. Wow, I thought with so many Big Sixes, this would be a lot more interesting.

I think part of my nonplussitude has to do with the undelivered promises on this page. The boxer known as “Big Six”, Jason Estrada, doesn’t have an extra sixth finger on one hand that delivers an even more stunning left jab. The baseball pitcher known as “Big Six” (also “The Christian Gentleman”), Christy Mathewson, wasn’t equipped with a bonus digit that allowed his balls to spin in weird, unpredictable ways. His baseballs, I mean. Get your head out of the gutter.

A lot of the ‘Big Sixes’ are obsolete and outdated. The Big Six conference in the NCAA has been known as the Big Eight since 1948. The NCAA women’s sports division known as the Big Six (which was never geographically anywhere near the men’s Big Six) was only known by that name for two years, and is now the Pacific-12.

The world of business won’t let me down. Canada is known for its Big Six banks, which makes it delightfully easy for them to conspire on raising interest rates and account fees, but also keeps them from folding and leading to panic in the streets (we have hockey for that). The oligopoly set-up isn’t perfect, but I guess it beats walking into your branch and seeing Jimmy Stewart waving around their last two dollars with pride because they made it until closing time.

Australia has its Big Six law firms. Not to say they don’t have thousands of small-time strip-mall lawyers cramming their faces on bus-stop benches and offering to wiggle you out of your drunk driving charge for a nominal fee. But the Big Six are the Big Six. It’s not just an Aussie thing either: England has its “Magic Circle” of their top five law firms, South Africa has their “Big Five”, Canada has the “Seven Sisters” (which sounds even lamer than ‘Magic Circle’), and New York City groups their top law firms (there are more than a dozen) as the “Charmed Circle”.

If you aren’t put off by the evils of the banking or legal industries, how about the Big Six of the oil world? Also billed as “The Supermajors”, which makes them sound far cooler than it should, they are the most powerful oligopoly on the planet. Combined, they earn more net profit every year than the aforementioned banks, law firms, and the Galactic Empire combined.

There was a Big Six scandal of course – what fun is any topic without an accompanying scandal? But this has to do with cricket, so it doesn’t really hook me in with a lot of intrigue. Six players (one named Tibby!) of the Australian team boycotted a trip to England because of a power struggle with the owners over how the revenue was to be divided. It’s all a very rich and exciting story, inasmuch as one guy involved was named Tibby. Otherwise, I just can’t bring myself to care.

For you literary types, we have the Big Six of romantic poetry: Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley and Keats. If that’s all a little too intimidating, there’s a children’s story called The Big Six, about six British youngsters who get all Encyclopedia Brown up in Norfolk, and bring down a gang of villainous terrorists who set a bunch of boats adrift, leading to chaos and anarchy.

The Big Six production studios who control our movie intake (not to mention most of our media and how we receive virtually all of our news and information – seriously, this should worry us –  are Viacom (Paramount), Time/Warner (Warner Brothers), Sony (Columbia), Disney (Disney/Touchstone), Comcast/GE (Universal) and News Corp (Fox). The best way to break free of these monoliths is simply to seek out obscure independent film, or porn. Can’t go wrong with porn.

Lastly there are the most special and wonderful of the Big Sixes, the six publishing houses (Hachette, MacMillan, Penguin, HarperCollins, Random House and Simon & Schuster) who will someday be fighting knuckle-to-septum for the exclusive rights to publish every one of the million words on this site.


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