Thursday, March 13, 2008

Extreme Life

I’ve kind of laid low on the whole Eliot Spitzer debacle. I have been somewhat disappointed by those that have turned up just about everywhere to gloat over this man’s fate. It’s like expressing glee at watching the guy that just sped past you on the highway fatally crashed in a twisted pile of metal down the road. We should rather pray for this man and his family.

To be sure, Spitzer’s whole public career has been an example of pushing beyond the limits — of aggressive edginess and doing whatever it takes to win. Lives have been wrecked in the process of exceeding the boundaries of propriety and law, but apparently that’s not important beyond the spectator value this kind of theater provides.

Perhaps a more important issue is why citizens elect such a person to office. In recent years our culture has come to celebrate the extreme. We celebrate extreme sports, for example. Television programs and movies regularly present the extreme and bizarre for our viewing enjoyment.

We used to revere excellence. We’ve gone way beyond that to seek after and honor the fantastic, the disproportionate, the over-the-top, the extravagant, the grotesque, the EXTREME. It’s as if oddities that were once relegated to lurid perusal at circus side shows have somehow become the passion of the mainstream.

Gov. Spitzer might have gotten his just desserts, but it’s as if the public is watching this with the same kind of fascination with which they watch people voted off the island on Survivor or watch singers lose on American Idol. It’ll all be forgotten in a few news cycles, and then we’ll get back to more important stuff, like when some starlet is going into rehab.

Whatever happened to normalcy? And whatever happened to lauding excellence? When did the weird become venerable? Is this the prize that was won in the hippie generation’s culture war battles?

No doubt high performing circles throughout society have been no stranger to weirdness for a long time. But, as Daniel Henninger says here, people once “had internal monitors” that kept their excesses in check. “Now,” writes Henninger, “we live in a less hinged age. We have unrestrained personalities with unrestrained behavior.”

And we celebrate those personalities and behaviors. We spend our time and money on them. We spend our votes on them. Henninger contends, “The current presidential campaign is flirting with the weird fires that we've set all over the American landscape. The too long campaign requires the outputting of too much naked ambition. Political desire -- wanting it so bad for so long -- runs risks.” We spend our time and votes seeking for the best candidate and even the best symbol, rather than seeking out the best chief executive.

I do not see society signaling for a U-turn anytime soon, but maybe it’s not as bad as all that. I remember back in the 70s hearing my parents wonder about what the future world would be like for their children. In some ways, those days were worse than current conditions. In other ways, those days seemed more normal. I suppose much the same will be able to be said a generation from now about today.

But I feel that I must do something about the way things are going. When I think about that, I am reminded of the words Tolkien has Gandalf speak in The Return of the King: “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.”

1 comment:

Frank Staheli said...

"We used to revere excellence"

I hope I'm not taking the discussion afield when I say, reverence for excellence is why we can't afford to vote for Obama, Clinton, or McCain. Because all of them are far from excellent.

Americans seem to want to jump on the "rock star" bandwagon. Why can't we, instead, think with our own minds what is important, and vote that way?