The Greatest Showman on Earth- is Simon Cowell P.T. Barnum Reborn?

Stephen Brown, Chris Hackley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose – 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.
Design/methodology/approach – 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.
Findings – 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.
Originality/value – 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.
Paper type Conceptual paper
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290
Number of pages308
JournalJournal of Historical Research in Marketing
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • P.T. Barnum, Simon Cowell, Historical recurrence, Great men, Personification, Entertainment, History

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