July 27, 2012 · 2 Comments
By Marie Burns:
“Abraham Lincoln … was right about slavery.” It’s good to know that New York Times columnist David Brooks is on the right side of history here.
Unless slaves are involved, “a house divided against itself” is in good shape, according to Brooks. Apparently, Eric Cantor and the “Just Say No” Republican Tea Party Congress are national treasures – as long as they don’t openly advocate slavery. Other forms of systematic oppression – A-Okay.
“The Olympics are a peaceful celebration of our warlike nature.” For example, the Olympics village is “just a magical, fairy-tale place, like Alice in Wonderland, where everything is possible. You could win a gold medal and you can sleep with a really hot guy.” – Carrie Sheinberg, former U.S. Olympics skier and de facto American goodwill ambassador. I’d assume the nationality of the temporary partner is less important than the hotness. If, like me, you are not possessed of a “warlike nature,” consider yourself abnormal. And do not waste your time trying to hook up at the Olympic Village. Olympians will not “celebrate” you.
The opening ceremony … are [sic.] a lavish celebration of the cooperative virtues: unity, friendship, equality, compassion and care.” Caveat: Don’t display the South Korean flag when introducing North Korean athletes. Many of the Korean players may be biological kin, but the North Koreans are just not into “unity, friendship, equality, compassion and caring” for their South Korean cousins.
“There will be a lot of dancing.” This is a bore, but it’s what we “exceptional” Americans have come to expect from the dimwitted Brits.
It’s hard to know just how well [the London Olympic games] will turn out. There are a few things that were disconcerting: the stories about the private security firm not having enough people, the supposed strike of the immigration and customs officials – that obviously is not something which is encouraging…. There are three parts that make the games successful. Number one of course are the athletes…. Number two are the volunteers…. But number three are the people of the country. Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment? That’s something we only find out once the games actually begin. – Mitt Romney, to NBC News’ Brian Williams, Wednesday
As as exceptional American wearing a genuine gold U.S. flag pin, one also has to wonder if the Brits are as patriotic as are those on this side of the pond. We’ll see.
“England [sic.],” after all, “is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that the rest of the world wants to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambition.” – Mitt Romney, No Apology. It was awfully nice of Brooks to write a column reminding us that his favorite presidential candidate is in “England” embarrassing our exceptional country every time he opens his mouth.
We like to watch dancers because “we’re social, semi-herdlike creatures, we take a primordial pleasure in the sight of a large number of people moving in unison.” We the little people are a bovine lot, genetically wired to follow the leader and fit seamlessly into our assigned roles. Perhaps communism is the angel of our better natures. (See Brooks on “our followership problem.” Sometimes we don’t do our “semi-herdlike” best.)
Dance is physical, like sports, but, in many ways, it is the opposite of sports. In dance, the purpose is to blend with and mirror each other; in sport, the purpose is to come out ahead. Dancers perform for the audience and offer a gift of emotion; athletes respond to one another and the spectators are just there to witness and cheer. Dancers, especially at the opening ceremony, smile in warmth and friendship. No true sport is ever done smiling (this is the problem with figure skating and competitive cheerleading)….
If the opening ceremony is win-win, most of the rest of the games are win-lose. If the opening ceremony mimics peace, the competitions mimic warfare. It’s not about the brotherhood of humankind. It’s about making sure our country beats the Chinese in the medal chart.
This is a long passage, so it affords several lessons. First, a good essay often compares and contrasts one phenomenon with another, a column-writing prescription Brooks likely learned in his 8th-grade English class. Second, figure-skating is not a sport. (What about dressage? If the horses don’t smile during performances, I’ll bet the riders do.) And, third, it turns out that lovely opening ceremony is a communistic sham. Not all lessons are equal.
The games comprise “a celebration of the competitive virtues: tenacity, courage, excellence, supremacy, discipline and conflict.” Who knew “supremacy” and “conflict” were virtues? Luckily, we have David Brooks to inform us of the less obvious virtues.
The marathoner struggling against exhaustion, the boxer trying to pummel his foe, the diver resolutely focused on her task. The purpose is to be tougher and better than the people who are seeking the same pinnacle….
Through fierce competition, sport separates the elite from the mediocre. It identifies the heroes and standards of excellence that everybody else can emulate (a noble loser can serve as well as a talented winner). The idea is not to win friendship; it’s to win glory. We get to see people experiencing the thrill of victory from the agony of defeat and judge how well they respond.
There is always a place for clichés and bromides, even if Brooks 8th-grade English teacher said otherwise. S/he, after all, never got a job at the New York Times.
… the Olympic Games appeal both to our desire for fellowship and our desire for status, to the dreams of community and also supremacy. And, of course, these desires are in tension. But the world is, too. The world isn’t a jigsaw puzzle that fits neatly and logically together. It’s a system of clashing waves that can never be fully reconciled.
If you’re reckless enough, clichés and bromides can turn into grand metaphors, handy for oversimplifying complex dynamics in fewer than 800 words – Brooks’ New York Times biweekly allotment. The “tensions” of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are “waves” clashing against the “tensions” of Benjamin Netanyahu. You cannot fit waves into a jigsaw puzzle. They will splash and clash till the puzzle pieces get awfully soggy.
“The enduring popularity of the Olympics teach [sic.] the lesson that if you find yourself caught between two competing impulses, you don’t always need to choose between them. You can go for both simultaneously.” If you’re reckless enough, clichés and bromides can turn into personal philosophy. Also, it is definitely unnecessary to have noun and verb agree; maybe that’s symptomatic of “competing inpulses” or “clashing waves.”
“F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that the mark of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two contradictory thoughts in your mind at the same time.” Don’t cite only one authority – see Lincoln, above – when you can cite two or three.
“Some parents and teachers like the cooperative virtues and distrust the competitive ones, so, laughably, they tell their kids that they are going to play sports but nobody is going to keep score.” Forget “cooperation,” kiddies; bullying and brute force are the names of the game. We call it “sports” and applaud “good sportsmanship,” but that was an ethos of another time. Athletics is not for fun, recreation or personal physical, mental and social development. If you don’t play to win, you’re a loser. Even if your “laughable” teacher isn’t keeping score. Here, Brooks looks back past the 8th grade into an earlier, frightening time when circumstances forced him to learn how to negotiate the delicate bully-v.-bullied equipoise.
Politics has become a contest of monomaniacs. One faction champions austerity while another champions growth. One party becomes the party of economic security and the other becomes the party of creative destruction. The right course is usually to push hard in both directions, to be a house creatively divided against itself, to thrive amid the contradiction.
If you’re reckless, clichés and bromides can turn into confusing political prescriptions. Are monomaniacs desirable? Should they stand their ground? Or should individual monomaniacs “push hard in both directions” until they tear themselves asunder? Being one of the non-warrior subset of little people, I’m afraid I had trouble processing David Brooks’ Big Idea.
All I learned is this: cooperation is for sissies.
And there will be dancing.
Let the games begin.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com