Friday, July 10, 2009

Mediocrities or Freaks?

I think it was Michael Kinsley who said "a gaffe is when a politician tells the truth."

I don't want to endorse everything King is saying here by a long shot. I wouldn't call MJ a "child molester" -- wasn't he found not guilty in a court of law? And it certainly isn't true that there is nothing good about him. As comments on Michael Jackson the human being, these are way over the top.

But on the wider cultural issue the Congressman has a point.

Tocqueville and Mill worried that the transition from aristocracy to democracy that was then under way would bring a certain change for the worse in the outlook of the average person. Before the revolution, when we looked outward, beyond our village at the greater world, who did we see? There was of course the faceless herd of undifferentiated individuals like ourselves. But we did not find them very interesting. Above this mass, however, there were a few holy or noble individuals who were vividly differentiated: the Pope, the tribal chieftain, the local lord, the king. There was no one else to get our attention. (Ortega claims that "noble" originally meant simply "well known.") We thought of these people as representing ideals of holiness or heroic prowess. (We were wrong about that, of course, but that is irrelevant to my point here.) That was one of the reasons we sometimes sat around the fireplace telling stories about their exploits.

After the revolution, society does not systematically present any one type of person to our view. I used to think that this means that under a democracy we will tend to pay attention to mere mediocrities -- more exactly, to celebrities, ie. people who are well known on account of their well-knownness. Obviously, that is to a large extent what actually did happen.

But this weird MJ obsession of ours does not fit this pattern. He was not a mediocrity at all. No, I think the reason he is getting so much attention is that he was, simply, a freak. Sorry, but there's no nice way to say that without blunting my point. And you have to admit that this is indeed what he was: a seriously weird person. For some reason, we seem to find this endlessly fascinating. We just cannot get enough of his wonderful weirdness.

Here I think King raises the right question. What does this fascination say about who we are, about our spiritual depths (if any)?

If there is some human being or other person (eg., a god) that we want to contemplate day after day, it should be because of positive things about him or her.

Here is another place where I differ from King. He is a politician and government employee, and his heroes are government heroes: fallen military personel and fire fighters. My own heroes are a very different bunch. I think of them as people who make things, whether what they make is a philsophical theory or a better mousetrap. (Come to think of it, the ideal philosophical theory would be a sort of spiritual mousetrap.) These are the creators in the realms of art, science, technology, and industry.

Whether you prefer my sort of heroes or Kings, or have yet another preference, shouldn't we try to pay more attention to them? More and more, that seems to mean letting your TV cool off for a while.


Anonymous said...

Good points I never really looked at MJ anything but wierd. TMZ had some very odd photos of how he lived. It looked like total squaller, and he clearly had a drug problem and spending problem. Growing up in the 80s, I never though, "Wow, a black man has talent." I simply though he had some decent pop songs and I looked forward to his videos. Black or white was never and issue as Al Sharpton thinks every successful black is an icon. King was also quite offensive dismissing the criminal verdict. He had some good points, but unfortunatally, they were clouded by his week reasoning for the other.



Anonymous said...

Yes, I also agree with the hero who produced the tax revenue to make a firefighter job possible. While we are at it I guess we should thank the Chinese worker as the true hero, as he probably working for $10 per day. He is saving $4 and spending six, but "for now" that $4 dollars of savings and others like him are funding ALL our deficits via Chinese US treasury purchases. I will conclude many people reading this are benefiting from this process. The Chinese purchases fill our budget gaps quite nicely for now. I am waiting for our own Suez Canal confrontation with the Chinese. It will be here soon. Thank your deity for communism able to fund our capitalism.


Anonymous said...

Suez Canal crisis from wiki:The United States also put financial pressure on Great Britain to end the invasion. Eisenhower in fact ordered his Secretary of the Treasury, George M. Humphrey to prepare to sell part of the US Government's Sterling Bond holdings. The Government held these bonds in part to aid post war Britain’s economy (during the Cold War), and as partial payment of Britain’s enormous World War II debt to the US Government, American corporations, and individuals. It was also part of the overall effort of Marshall Plan aid, in the rebuilding of the Western European economies.
Britain's then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Harold Macmillan, advised his Prime Minister Anthony Eden that the United States was fully prepared to carry out this threat. He also warned his Prime Minister that Britain's foreign exchange reserves simply could not sustain a devaluation of Pound that would come after the United States' actions; and that within weeks of such a move, the country would be unable to import the food and energy supplies needed simply to sustain the population on the islands."

Anonymous said...

Just days before MJ's death, we were watching Iranians risk life and torture by standing up to a tyranical state and the maniac in North Korea was getting ready to launch missiles and test a nuke.

"All the world's a stage" and suddenly our national huberis/psyche was immersed in MJ, his death, peophilia, Sharpton Babble, Forensic Experts, a memorial closure event and Wolf Blitzer devoting hours of "commentary" to MJ.

Not to be outdone, Peter King bacame a conservative atandard bearer.

As the dying Masala said to Ben Hur: "It goes on Judah, It goes on, the race, the race is not over."