Friday, March 23, 2007

Modern Pantheon

I have been thinking about this quite a bit, especially since the seemingly endless brouhaha surrounding Anna Nicole Smith's untimely, and very publicly exposed, death. As I teach about ancient civilizations, especially those more well known such as Greece and Rome, I have to wonder if we are truly talking about deities that popped out of someone's imagination, or if instead, they are the much enlarged versions of real people. Follow me here. I read a few years back that our constant display of Elvis would lead archaeologists of the future to believe that we worshiped him. With the internet, text messaging, YouTube and a vast array of local, national and global news networks, it isn't a far step of logic to see that a valiant warrior could be Mars, a voluptuous woman-Venus, a scary old guy-Jupiter. If that is the case, are we currently building religions based on public opinion? The concept is scary. I could see a future St. Algore-patron saint of natural gas. Or how about St. Dontrump-patron saint of self promotion? Maybe even minor gods and goddesses that would help our tumbled down civilization cope with the tribulations that have befallen them. The Romans had a word for this raising of the human to the celestial realm. It was called apotheosis. Several monuments exist to the new "gods" such as Hadrian or Titus. Arches and temples were often build in honor of their assumption to the role of "god". When you watch Access Hollywood, or any of those other tabloid shows, it is just possible that you are increasing the strength of this person to evade the death of their image. Oh yes, they will still die, in a human way, but their legends will live on. Look at Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, JFK, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King. There exploits and visions have been elevated while any question of impropriety is eliminated. Look at Paris and her ravaged pack of harpies-do they not look like people who would lure innocent sailors to their deaths simply as a matter of amusement. And then there are those celebrities who seem intent on causing problems, often verbally lashing out at those who cross them near and far. Could there be a better Medusa than Rosie O Donnell? I will admit, I am being a bit flippant with this topic, but there is a serious issue here, we as a culture have got to drop the ancient Greek philosophy that believes "that which is beautiful, is also good." I am not saying that beautiful people cannot be good people, but there seems to be this entire cult that exonerates the beautiful people who break the law, hurt others or in other ways go against the grain of the primary culture. A perfect example was on Jay Leno the other night. In his monologue, he was discussing yet another sordid story about a female teacher having sex with a male student. But this time the woman was immediately arrested. He followed up with a question, "What happened to that teacher in the south who got away with the same thing? Can we show her picture?" The image of a strange Barbie-like female, blonde, blue eyed and overdone showed up on the screen. Then Jay asked for the image of the arrested teacher to be shown and it ended up that teacher was middle aged and frumpy. They both committed the same crime, did the same things, but on the virtue of beauty and a well placed tear, the pretty one got away with it. Our society has got to begin placing more emphasis on the inner being rather than the packaging. And sadly enough, I think it is mainly the American culture that has this immature and shallow bias. I had an exchange student from Peru. In class we saw the tragic story of a girl from New York who was hit by a drunk driver and dreadfully disfigured by the ensuing fire. Another student murmured, "Oh what a shame, she was so pretty." And my exchange student replied, "Wouldn't it be just as sad if she wasn't pretty?" And that sums it up, in a nutshell. Think about it.

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