In Which We All Got Together and Decided to Miss the Point

Did you know that when Kim Jong Il went out to play golf for the first time, the ball magically jumped up and flew into the hole all by itself before he even swung at it?  Or, something like that…  I did hear that the “official” story is that he routinely hits 4-5 aces on an 18 hole course.  The DPRK maintains similar positions on Mr. Kim’s efforts in other sports.

The subtext driving those claims:  the supreme leader is talented. Moreover, he was born that way.

So, the thing here is that I’m not sure what’s so great about that particular mythical narrative.  Sure, I know it goes back to notions around aristocracy and some sort of loftiness supposedly inherent in never trying very hard.  But, I thought that was one of the reasons that the Western world has put so much effort into wresting government away from the aristocrats.

I just don’t see why any kind of innate talent, real or perceived, is so laudable.  Rather, I admire those who have developed extraordinary abilities by working really hard, practicing, studying, putting themselves on the line… Because, those are the challenges so many of us fall short of.

Should I congratulate the “lovely” young Ms. Hilton on all the wealth she amassed by having her family go out and get it before she was even born?

Let us all remember the story of Roald Amundsen, the Norwegian (read: knows a lot about cold weather) explorer who made it to the South Pole, and Robert Falcon Scott, the Royal British Navy officer who refused to learn how to use skis before embarking to Antarctica, and didn’t make it back from the South Pole.

Then, perhaps I have to believe that work trumps birth in the formation of “talent” because I am (or was) a teacher.  I’ve seen it a hundred times though, in art classes no less:  students who begin at a low skill level but who work hard nearly always surpass those who begin the program at a higher level but who do not dedicate themselves to learning.  I can only surmise that the students who appeared more talented at the onset had just grown up in contexts that fostered abilities that contribute to aptitude in art.  (And, certainly, with a head start, the members of that group who also work diligently can do very well.)

I think we’re all witnessing a similar shared perversion of “heroism” playing out on the teevee right now.

To me, heroism is something like, oh… a firefighter going into a burning building to save people inside.  It involves a decision to risk one’s own well-being for the benefit of others, usually in an extraordinary way.

But, signing up to participate in dropping more bombs onto a small SE Asian country than had been dropped in all of WWII (Vietnam War Quiz) even though that country had not precipitated any violence against the U.S. appears to me to be more a lack of judgment than a sign of heroism.

However, to be fair, millions of other Americans and at least five U.S. Presidents shared the view that Americans should fight in Vietnam.  Military personnel pledge to follow orders before they know what they are.  I’m not so naive as to believe we could do without a military or soldiers who follow orders.  And, hindsight is not a fair lens through which to judge.  So, all that can be understood and accepted.

Even so, being captured by enemy forces and subjected to things formerly, but apparently no longer, considered torture, does seem less “heroic” than earning a bronze star, silver star, and three purple hearts and then coming home to lead an effort to end the atrocities that Americans were committing in the name of fighting Communism, which is something we’ve apparently all decided is nothing to brag about.

How about this for a parallel: would you say detainees in Guantanamo Bay are “heroes”?  They’ve been “not tortured”.  While it’s safe to assume many of them would like to kill you and I, I can only guess they believe they have reasonable justifications for that violence.  It’s not as if naval pilots in Vietnam didn’t kill their enemies…  And, several of those in Gitmo are widely believed to be “innocent” of being enemy combatants.  But, still, “heroes”?  I wouldn’t say it.

(I’ll be interested to see what sort of campaign ensues should anyone released from Gitmo run for president in Afghanistan 40 years from now.)

So, is that what they mean by “simulacra”?

And, if it seems like I’m comparing John McCain to Kim Jong Il, I’m not.  Really.  You just have to ask what drives a person to perpetuate mythologies for politcal expedience.  I think we should probably also wonder where accepting those mythologies, changing our conception of admirable terms rather than challenging their misappropriation, gets a country.  Then, I have to hope we’re not headed there.

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