Thursday, February 21, 2008

...The Harder They Fall

Why is it that once we've built someone up into a hero, we have to knock him down, preferably as quickly and sleazily as possible? I've written about this before in the context of the once luminous New England Patriots, and the phenomenon is raising its ugly head again in the context of Barack Obama. Even as the press continues to polish his halo, it's also starting to sour on him. I expect to see more and more articles like this one as he inches ever closer to the nomination.

Why does our cult of heroism carry within it the seeds of heroism's destruction? Are we so sure disappointment is inevitable that we seek to create it preemptively, so as to diminish its sting at least a little by asserting some measure of control? That's so perverse. If you believe, as I do, that a tremendous amount of what you get flows from what you give, and that you tend to see and experience what you expect to see and experience, then this assumption that nothing is as good as it seems creates far more disappointment than it forestalls.

Or maybe we're just perverse in general. In sharp contrast to the press turnaround on the once high-flying Pats and senator from Illinois, we have the surprising delicacy of the media coverage of Heath Ledger's death. Leaving aside the sexism inherent in this delicacy - can you imagine similar restraint had it been Britney Spears or Lindsay Lohan who overdosed? (If you can, read this story; it'll set you straight) - I was surprised by the respectful judiciousness. And I'll admit to some possibly perverse cynicism myself: when I read that the medical examiner had declared Ledger's overdose accidental, I wondered if there were now a way to poke around in brain tissue with a scalpel and reveal evidence of intent. Since I'm sure there is not, I'm left wondering why our inclination is to fit out our heroes with feet of clay as quickly as we can, but to erase those feet of clay, equally quickly, when someone beats our assumptions to the punch and falls on his own.

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