Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
The Howdy-Doodit Show
3/14/2008 1:33:39 PM
Ever get tired of being fed coarsely ground-up pureed horse-effluent by the media while being assiduously assured that it's really champagne and caviar? NO? Oh...you enjoy the Oprah Show, Geraldo, the Maury Show, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, America's Next Top Model, American Idol, and similar media programing? Perhaps that would explain the dysfunctional aesthetic taste buds. Stay tuned as we denigrate yet another proletarian pseudo-hero and clast a few more random icons in the process.
The Virtual Hero
OK, sorry to sound like a raving lunatic reactionary here, folks, but I’m really quite tired of all the effusive adulation that has been lauded upon Wild Colonial Boy Steve Irwin (otherwise known as the ‘Crocodile Hunter’) after his death in 2006. Thousands upon thousands of people in Oz (and all over the world, for that matter, which makes even less sense) have at times literally been sobbing in the streets over Irwin’s unexpected demise at the sharp end of a ray’s toxic dorsal barb (a different kind of ‘barbie’, eh mates?), and of those thousands perhaps only a small handful actually knew him as a friend or close acquaintance.
The profuse (and in my opinion, grossly undeserved) outpouring of public sentiment directed towards Irwin is, I feel, rather symptomatic of today’s world, in which people are increasingly forced to live such sterile, highly compartmentalized lives, devoid of genuine emotion and/or real interactions with actual living, breathing individuals of high merit, that they become fixated on the totally artificial projection of some highly popularized/publicized media figure (QED: Irwin) and dote obsessively on him/her as if he/her were a very close personal friend. Call it the ‘celebrity syndrome’, if you will. Or call it, perhaps more appropriately, a characteristic nuance of the unreality that media glibly assures us is the authentic and genuinely palpable interpretative modern life experience.
You see examples of this phenomenon about you all the time. Some brainless idiot dies in a car crash by the road-side (usually due to recklessness, DWI, substance abuse, or simple youthful immaturity) and before an hour has passed, a whole pyramid of schlock has started to grow on the site, as flowers, teddy bears, hand-scrawled placards containing sophomoric and maudlin sentiments, and other kitschy dreck continue to be deposited there “in sympathy” (by total strangers).
We saw the same response towards the events attendant to the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, as whole choruses of complete disconnectniks across the nation went into rapturous paeans of praise over our ‘heroic fire-fighters’, et al. Now I am just as willing any anyone to recognize someone who has done an outstanding job, perhaps above and beyond the call of duty, but we in the United Stated (in our typical overkill style) have elevated the term ‘hollow gesture’ to an art form in our superabundant conference of lavish accolades of heroism upon people who are, after all, just doing the job they are paid to do. Firefighters perform acts of personal heroism every day, but…hello!...that’s their occupational calling, isn’t it? People who become firefighters don’t chose that profession because they have bravely and courageously suppressed strong personal reservations about the risk of death in the line of duty, purely to help others; in fact a couple of recent psychological profile studies seem to offer fairly compelling evidence that people who become police and firemen these days (fully mindful of the terrible risks to personal safety that such vocations pose) do so because they have a codependent need for that electric tingle of adrenalin in their lives to make them feel wholly actuated. In other words, the risks of extreme danger and possible death themselves constitute a key part of what makes the work so exotically attractive and fulfilling.
Ditto for all our ‘brave soldiers’ who are daily dying off in Iraq and Afghanistan, except that in the last instance, the motivations for embracing soldiering arise largely from immature understanding of exactly what war is all about. It’s no coincidence that our front-line troops are all virtually still kids, since most sane older adults would quickly realize that getting one’s arms or legs blown off for a pack of lies masquerading as patriotism (with a 2 trillion dollar price tag?) is simply a lot of happy horseshit. My point here is that true heroism has nothing to do with deliberate forethought. No one makes a pointed personal effort to groom themselves to be a hero. Real heroes are simple people who just do what has to be done at any given moment, since there’s typically no time to ruminate on the question of whether an act is ‘heroic’ or not. Things simply happen too quickly during times of true life-or-death crisis to allow the sort of maneuvering for a good camera angle that lies behind all those overblown, melodramatic Hollywood battle scenes in which some handsome hunky stud blows away legions of bad guys and bravely rescues the gorgeous female standing nearby with her blouse artfully ripped to shreds just so (i.e. after taking a solid 5 minutes of automatic weapons at fire point blank range, he turns to her while after clearing his weapon with its seemingly inexhaustible supply of ammunition, grimaces handsomely, and snarls: “Don’t worry…it’s only a flesh wound”).
Heroes are made indeed made and not born, but as usual in our country, we take a rare and precious quality (heroism) and run it relentlessly into the muck of the familiar so hard and so completely, that any possible vestige of meaning ‘heroism’ ever had is now completely bastardized into banal oblivion. You see, once you start handing out hero badges like M&Ms in our politically correct society, you can’t just stop after designating just a select few of the particularly outstanding ones. Political correctness then demands that you have to keep going after that point, broadening the cachet until everyone share in the virtual warm fuzzies of the word ‘hero’. The old saying ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is certainly a key to understanding here. 5 people behaving ‘heroically’ is heroic, but several thousand?...there’s no better way to bastardise the common person’s appreciation for the term ‘hero’ than to water down the definition of ‘heroism’ to the point where the word is meaningless..
During the Vietnam war I was a medical specialist in the Air Force and I had close daily contact with thousands of guys who behaved in a way that would have to be considered heroic; some of them lost their lives because of their actions, but to a person, none of the ones who survived (despite the very real danger danger they faced) EVER felt like they had done anything that any other perfectly ordinary person would not have done, under the same circumstances. But then, the American people weren’t in a particularly hero-worshipful frame of mind then, either. Most of these guys returned home to find that, as opposed to being recognized as heroes, they were more often held in perfect contempt by a vast number of people who had remained safely removed from having to put their own lives on the line—willingly or not. Furthermore, a considerable number of individuals whom I consider truly heroic (soldiers, seamen and airman who had performed extremely courageous acts of bravery, but whose gallantry went completely unnoticed by headquarters) were never given medals or even certificates of appreciation for their selfless actions in life-threatening combat of the worst sort.
My point here in introducing the subject of the Vietnam War is not to trot out the old, tired dogma about how Vietnam vets weren’t appreciated for their wartime service. What I am trying to communicate (aside from the fact that war…any war, anywhere, any time…is not one heck of a lot of fun) is the fact that heroism (whether military, civil, or cultish—as in Irwin’s case) is a grossly overused and virtually meaningless term today, thanks to the same sort of eager enthusiasm people of mediocre intellectual acuity vicariously manifest when they seize on a popular public figure and project all that emotional angst upon them, in a sort of massive process of highly emotional cathartic transference.
Steve Irwin was just this colorful Australian bloke who happened to be able to exploit both his abundance of personal effusiveness AND the animals he constantly annoyed for the sake of amusing his television audiences. Purely and simply. The fact that so many addled proles regard him as they would a very dear and close personal family member is, in my opinion, pathologically symptomatic of a great deal of free-floating public uncertainly as to just exactly what is genuine in their pathetically limited lives and what is not.
Irwin has been praised as a ‘great naturalist’ and ‘conservationist’, among many other blandishments lavished upon him, and that is simply a further example of pure, applied hyper-euphemistic spin, since he was anything but those things. His typical ‘act’ consisted of irritating animals, inciting them to display instinctual patterns of fear and defensive reactivity, all of which amounted to little more than pure, unwarranted provocation of poor critters that would rather be left entirely alone. The fact that he demonstrated a certain show of disdainful bravado in the undertaking of this baiting activity has nothing to at all to do with displaying any heroic qualities; rather, that sort of behavior is far more characteristic of an emotionally arrested playground bully who has yet to grow up and understand the first basic lesson of real life (living organisms DON’T want to be irritated, something that applies just as equally to humans as to lower orders of animals).
As for his being so incredibly unaware as to swim closely over the back of a ray and blind-side it with his none-too-subtle approach, this has to rank up there with the major ‘D’oh!s’ of our decade. If he were truly a naturalist, he would have remained well clear of that toxic barb’s highly rather substantial range of motion and would also have approached it very carefully and very gently (in a non-threatening manner) from the front. The fact that he screwed up rather badly simply marks him as an enthusiastic (if somewhat unknowing) amateur who was able to entertain audiences the exactly the same manner Oprah Winfrey mesmerizes legions of American house-mouse wives with her queenly reflections.
All of this brings to mind that fact that we in American not only condone active expressions of colossal stupidity among individuals within our own society, we actually celebrate them and make public figures out of them! I can think of numerous examples wherein some lame-brained person of average or lower-than-average reflectivity has achieved the dubious status of making the local evening news summary, by unwittingly trying out for the annual Darwin Awards with no prior intent. This seeming predilection we have to embrace the banal is reflected in the absolute glut of TV programs loosely falling into the ‘reality show’ venue. Once only an obscure idea plumbed by a few peripherally edgy humorists (like Jim Carrey, in ‘The Truman Show’, etc.), the concept of filling our viewing faces with an unending parade of yokels engaged in making high art of their gross insipidness is now almost as ubiquitous as the use of the term ‘new and improved’ by advertisers as a gratuitous throw-away marketing byline.
Most recently, Irwin’s young surviving daughter, Bindy, has been made into a popular media character to carry on her father’s (to my mind, highly questionable) work as an popular public animal annoyer. With her inherent substantial ‘cuteness factor’, her blonde hair, and animated Australian personality, it looks as if she’ll be a sure-fire hit with the pre-frontally lobotomized crowd. However, when one considers that the average bimbo or yahoo out there has an IQ of only 100 to work with (and a great number have lower raw mental material to work with than that), I suppose it all makes perfect sense in some sort of supremely sublime sense. We’ll see.
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