It seems like everywhere you turn these days you run into Nikola Tesla. Automobile Magazine named the Tesla its choice for Car of the Year of 2012. Thanks to those periods in between shows about pawnshop owners and truck drivers, viewers of the History/Discover/National Geographic dominance of cable TV lineups are learning what the rest of the world has known for a century: Tesla, not Marconi, invented the radio.
Tesla, in fact, has become a central figure in many of the shows airing on those networks such as "Dark Matters." The most recent manifestation by Tesla has been in a series of reports on various web sites devoted to film that considers the tantalizing possibility that George Clooney will be playing him in Brad Bird's highly secretive film about alien contact still titled, however tentatively, "1952."
The world is finally catching on to the inescapable conclusion that America's greatest inventor was not only not named Edison, but was an immigrant. A naturalized citizen, yes, but still not homegrown. All evidence points to Nikola Tesla actually being responsible for inventing everything he is credited with and having the right to make a major argument that he should be credited with a busload of stuff attributed to others. The evidence is exactly the contrary regarding the overhyped Edison.
Which brings us to the fact that this article is published on a web site devoted to movies.
Hollywood cemented the myth of Thomas Edison in 1940 with not one, but two different movies produced by MGM about the man starring two of the most legendary figures in movie history, Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy. Rooney played Edison as a young man while Tracey played him as a man. Literally. I mean the title of Tracy's movie is "Edison the Man." 1940 was probably the greatest year ever for Thomas Edison, despite the fact that he had been dead for almost a decade.
Just as Wyatt Earp went from the reality of being one of the most cowardly buttwipes of the Old West to being a mythic hero thanks to Hollywood truth-bending, so did the Hollywood's tenuous grasp on authenticity help make Edison an iconic figure. (It is worth noting that Wyatt Earp lived long enough to actually embellish his legend through conversations with a writer not nearly concerned enough with fact-checking Earp's wildly inaccurate reports of his own life.) The weird thing about Thomas Edison is not only did he mythologize himself in life by taking credit for genius he obviously lacked, but then the movies took things a step further by fictionalizing the fiction.
Meanwhile, Nikola Tesla died in obscurity and we're still waiting for Hollywood movie studios to set things right. A world still impacted by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the gall of the rich executives in charge of making Twinkies blaming their company's failure on union demands rather than own imagined sense of corporate entitlement seems the perfect moment in which to rectify the situation. After all, Thomas Edison is at the position in American iconography that he occupies precisely because he was a hero of the Gilded Age elevated of the CEO as the "builder" of the products conceived and manufactured by its employees. In his role as inventor, Edison failed to recognize that Tesla's work on distribution of electrical current was infinitely superior. In his role as CEO, however, Edison successfully screwed Tesla out of his promise to pay him for his work.
Only in America, perhaps, could the latter outweigh the former in constructing the portrait of a genius. Hollywood needs to seek atonement for its sins and present a movie about Nikola Tesla that finally pulls back the curtain to reveal the tiny little man manipulating the controls that created the legend of the Wizard of Menlo Park.For more from Timothy Sexton, Yahoo!'s first Writer of the Year, check out:
- Arts & Entertainment
- Nikola Tesla
- Thomas Edison