We’ll admit that when you think of celebrities, Samuel Beckett and Ludwig Wittgenstein probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind… but remember, this is Ingocio…. and we’re always different. In today’s class, we use the lives of these twentieth-century figures to reflect on the lives of celebrities in the twenty-first century and ask a simple question… are modern day celebrities a waste of space? 

Advanced English Listening 1

Boxing champion, Mike Tyson, was born in Brooklyn, New York on 30 June 1960. As a boxer he had unrivalled success: he is a former heavyweight champion of the world and a world record holder because he is the youngest boxer to win the WBA, WBC, and IBF, heavyweight championships,  at 20 years old.

But how was his childhood? Well… poor. Extremely poor. His father abandoned the family when he was 2 leaving the mother to raise the children. This caused financial troubles and they were constantly moving to poorer and poorer areas. As a child he suffered bullying due to his lisp and characteristic high voice. He was also considered a freak because of his love of pigeons. In fact, he claims his first fight was when a boy killed one of his pigeons. At a young age he started to get into trouble with the police, and by the age of 13 he had been arrested an astonishing 38 times. His mother died when he was sixteen. Luckily, at reform school, a former boxer spotted his talent for boxing and began to train him.

Advanced English Listening 2

Beyoncé Knowles was born in Houston, Texas, on September 4th 1981 to a father who was a medical device salesman and a mother who was a costume designer and stylist. As a child she did various extracurricular activities including ballet and her talent was discovered by a dance teacher. The teacher was humming a song and was surprised when Beyoncé finished the song and sang the difficult parts perfectly. After winning a talent competition at school she sang in a prestigious choir and then was enrolled at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. She then auditioned successfully for an all-girls group called Girl’s Tyme and secured management from R&B producer Arne Frager, who entered the group on a talent show on American TV. Unfortunately they lost, but they were even more determined to make it to the top. Knowles’ father gave up work to manage the band and they were finally signed by Electra records when Beyoncé was 14. Disappointment followed when the girls were axed, but a year later they were signed by Columbia records and their trip to superstardom began. 

Advanced English Listening 3

The New York rapper Cage – real name – Chris Palko, was the son of a military policeman – which should have meant a well disciplined and secure upbringing. Unfortunately, though, his father was dishonourably discharged for taking and selling heroine. Furthermore, he use to make the young Cage hold the cord around his arm while he looked for a vein to inject his heroine. 

Eventually his destructive father was arrested and disappeared from the scene, but his mother remarried twice. The second of the new husbands frequently beat Palko who began to spend more and more time on the streets until he was expelled from school. He began to use a variety for drugs and was arrested several times for violent and drug related times. Eventually confined to a mental hospital for a year and a half, he tried to commit suicide twice. He was released from hospital at 18, though, and started rapping. Happily, this creativity was the beginning of a more stable life.

Connection 4

James Arthur Baldwin was born in 1924 and died in 1987. He was an American novelist and social critic.

He had an unhappy childhood – experiencing police brutality and harsh treatment from his step father – who was a preacher. At age 14, Baldwin joined the Pentecostal Church and became a Pentecostal preacher himself. In fact, he was a more popular preacher than his father. However, he was soon to lose his faith in Christianity and unlike some of peers he was equally unimpressed by Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam. 

When Baldwin was 15 he met the painter Beauford Delaney who inspired him, mentored him, and was the first black artist he had met. Baldwin met others and mixed with intellectuals in Greenwich Village where he began to write short stories and essays. In the next two years Baldwin began to recognize his own homosexuality and feeling prejudice both against blacks and homosexuals, Baldwin left the United States and departed to Paris. Also, he wanted to be a writer with a broader focus than just that of an Afro American writer. It was the beginning of a long and distinguished career. 


  1. Where was Mike Tyson’s talent first seen and identified?
  2. What was Beyoncé’s first failure as a singer?
  3. What role did the young Cage take in the administering of his father’s heroine?
  4. What 2 motives made Baldwin move abroad?

Listening answers

  1. Reform school.
  2. Not winning the talent show.
  3. He held the cord round his arm. 
  4. To escape prejudice and avoid being just an ‘Afro-American’ writer.



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