Monthly Archives: December 2010

Rome Is Burning

As you may have guessed by the title this New Year’s Even post will be a bit of a downer, but is well worth the read. At the end of a year it is wise to take a look back, and revisit the successes and failures you have encountered as a person, as well as those experienced by your communities and your nation (if you wish).  I will spare you the details of my personal misfortunes and corresponding joys, so I’m going to hone in on our communities, but mostly the degradation of our national society.  Tune in next week for the sequel, which will be a manifesto for the re-creation that ought to follow the death of American Pop Culture.  (Teaser:  It will include summary info from Tron: Legacy and 127 Hours, both of which I recommend you watch between now and Tuesday… you will enjoy next week’s post so much more if you do!)

So the title betrays the metaphor… American pop culture has many similarities to Roman culture just before the fall of the great empire.  As far as experiments in republican government go history holds up rome as the closest humans came to a sustainable republic before the United States of America came on the scene some 1300 years later.  Now Rome was certainly a monarchy or at the very least an oligarchy whereas the US is currently a democratic republic made up of “the people” who elect representatives to defend their particular state’s or community’s interests, but the similarities in popular culture are startling!

Compare and contrast the photos above to those below.  Barechested men flexing their muscles, one man mounted on top of the other going for the “finishing move.”  As far as history remembers it Rome – or at least the capital of the empire – devolved from an economic and philosophical leader in the known world at the time to a slough of entertainment and debauchery which could not withstand an invasion from “barbarians,” whom the Romans considered an inferior people.  It is interesting to note here that the etymology of Visigoth is “good people” and that of the Tervigni is “forest people”.  The Romans suffered the vanity of thinking their culture was superior to all others without actually bothering to look “beneath the hood” so to speak at what it was that made the Visigoths and Tervigni tick.  Maybe if they had, they would recognize (as might we with Eastern cultures today) that while they do not live in a society as technologically advanced as ours, their culture is not at a deficit compared to ours when it comes to strong familial and societal ties, philosophies of good and evil, and understandings of what it means to be human and to pursue common interests with one another on this planet.  In fact, Meic Pearse would say that in many ways these cultures are far more advanced to ours, and we are ceding cultural ground daily as we prioritize entertainment and self-actualization in our North American pop culture.

If you’re not in agreement w/myself and Dr. Pearse, you need look no further than Rob Sheffield’s top 25 singles of the year(Keri Hilson [pictured above] holds down spot 21 with this oh-so-insightful chorus, “My name is Keri; I’m so very _____ {see the picture to fill in the blank}).  This is what we call vanity at it’s best/or worst.  If you want another example look at the Nevada Senatorial race that wrapped up in early November.  Another of our banner folks above – Linda McMahon – actually thought that her experience as an “businesswoman” for the slovenly exhibitionist World Wrestling Entertainment qualified her to be one of two senatorial representatives for the people of Nevada.  Thank goodness she lost.  And then just to the right of her and her ‘CEO’ husband (the 50+ gentleman busting out of his shirt thanks to steroids) we see pictured two young women who have chosen to join the American entertainment scene by fighting until one of them gets knocked out or taps out to a potentially life-altering submission move.  Anybody tracking with me?  Gladiators?  I haven’t seen the stats for Pay-Per-View, but I’m pretty sure their business model has them staying alive thanks to Boxing/WWE/MMA/Porn.  Great cultural artifact, eh?

So are you getting the picture yet?  Rome fell because she took her eye off the ball and her citizens lost their way in enjoying the “independence” that the resultant material wealth of their imperial conquest had provided to them.  Is this starting to sound familiar?  The US has enjoyed a liberty unknown to the vast majority of humankind.  Our children – at least those that can still afford to – are in the top one percent of educated people in the world, our breadwinners hold a similar rank in the realm of financial independence around the globe, and until recent times we were ranked as far as legal boundaries to our liberty were concerned to be the “freest” people on the planet.

Now many will look at our situation and say that surely we are less free mostly due to what amounts to nothing less than indentured servitude to China.  Others will say we are less free because we have cut military spending during democrat presidencies, and therefore have not been able to maintain the “peace through strength” that has been the badge of honor to so many republican presidents.  Some will say we are less free because of how we have treated the “least of these” in our country… that our system of caring for the poor has failed and therefore civil unrest is on the rise, and the need to legislate morality amongst the classes is coming home to roost with our elected representatives.  There are many arguments to be made.  However, I do not believe that you can argue with this one:  The primary causative agent in the loss of our liberty – and potentially the downfall of our republic – is not loose fiscal policy, poor international policy, indebtedness to China, or any other geopolitical factor… it is simply this:  We have forsaken the protection of what is sacred in a human being for the sake of our entertainment and general pleasure.  We are now reaping the consequences of these actions, and unless we take action to introduce “goods” into our culture that set a new example for what “recreation” can be, we will continue on this path and lose our liberty.  I can almost guarantee it.

Finally I leave you with this quote:  “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it.”

I encourage you to take a look at 2010 and ask yourself what lessons you may learn from your own personal history, what you may learn from America’s, and even further back, what can be learnt from Rome’s… what parallels are there in your own life and in our lives as communities and a North American society.




Rekre8-ing the Leading Man

Apologies for keeping you waiting, but this one should interest many of you…

The trailer for The Fighter has me shadowboxing the wall in my office I’m so excited!  Why am I excited?  Well… Marky Mark does look like he might give a good performance, and Amy Adams is always delightful to watch.  But the man I’m most interested in plays the older brother of the protagonist – “Irish” Mickey Adams.  Adams’ brother Dicky – played by one Christan Bale – is Mickey’s biggest fan and on-again off-again trainer… when he’s not jumping out of a bar window or hitting a cop who tried to arrest him for drunk in public.

Now, you may be scratching your head here, but do you remember Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight?  Nolan pulled no punches as he portrayed the Batman we all thought might be lurking in the shadows of original Batman artist Bob Kane’s psyche.  And the superbly cast Christian Bale took us deeper than we thought we could go as he painted both sides of Bruce Wayne and The Dark Knight equally well.  While Heath Ledger got the last laugh and stole the show as the best Joker anyone could create, Bale shined just bright, like a northern star to Ledger’s fireworks display.

As we mourn the loss of ledger we’re inspired to see Bale carry on and continue to explore a side of his humanity which few of us seldom get to take a look at.  Here, I will defer to John Richardson of Esquire magazine, who was brave enough to sit down w/the enigmatic Christian Bale and attempt to give us some insight into this modern leading man, who would seek to change what it means to be a celebrity, and doesn’t quite understand why we find him quite so interesting…

ESQUIRE: So how would you like people to think of you?

BALE: I don’t care.

ESQUIRE: Really?

BALE: I don’t care. Being misunderstood is not a bad thing as an actor. I know the truth.

From this exchange one might come to the conclusion that Bale is a curmudgeon who is so self-absorbed that he doesn’t care whether the public actually gets to know him or not… but as Richardson points out, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover, or it’s strange approach to Hollywood interviews.
Richardson remarks about Bale’s interview decorum:

As the bar fills up and the chatter gets louder, he glances at the digital recorder and notices the subtle signs of discomfort few celebrities pick up on.

BALE: Is it getting too loud for you?

He leads the way out to a balcony overlooking the Pacific where there are rich men in blazers with icy cocktails and frosted wives.

ESQUIRE: Much better. So what were you saying?

You can see, as does Richardson that there are many layers to the onion known as Christian Bale.  I myself like the man’s approach to celebrity.  He brushes off the honor people give him, not because he’s a jerk – or so i reason – but because he cares deeply about other people, and wants them to find meaning for their lives in the stories he tells with his acting, not the life he leads as a normal everyday Joe.

Here’s hoping he concedes to a biography at the end of his life, so that we can know the man behind the Dark Knight.  Until then, I say let the man be a good dad to his daughter and enjoy riding his motorcycles without needing to stave off the gluttonous paparazzi.
I find it endearing that he defers to the people he plays as the real heroes, the real stories.  He actually would say that he is largely a man without a story, or with a very disjointed one.  Perhaps this is why he plays other people’s stories so well.
For one I think he has found the sweet spot of being a true artist, one who considers the audience of their work to be part of a sacred family.  In that family the wild younger brother who acts out everyone else’s stories dares not presume to take the lead.  He simply hopes that he may serve as a “vessel” as Bale so aptly put it for pouring out someone else’s story so that others can have “equipment for living” – as Kenneth Burke so frequently remarked.
If you’re interested in learning more about one of my heros – Bale – for being the antihero, read more here: