Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Three Thousand Years of Unmediated Heroes, from Moses to Sandy Koufax

I dug out, edited, and generally re-thought this post from two and a-half years ago, as it dovetails nicely with yesterday's discussion of heroes, statesmen, and athletes, oh my.


When I was just a gaglad growing up in the mean and mythic streets of Calabasas -- the Last of the Old West -- in suburban Los Angeles, one of my heroes was Sandy Koufax. Even today he retains a sort of rarified, mythological stature in my imagination, much more so than any contemporary athlete ever could. Why is that?

Probably because when I was a kid, only nine Dodger games were televised all year, the nine road games played up in Candlestick Park against the loathsome Berkeley-Castro Street Giants. If I was lucky, I saw Koufax pitch a couple of times a year. This was in 1966, mind you, not 1926, but I still had to rely on the “words eye view” provided by radio broadcasts in order to conceive my image of his truly super-human exploits. And then he unexpectedly retired when I was only ten years old, keeping him frozen in that mythological state forever more. There would be no new images to superimpose on the hypnogogic visions I cOOnjured as a child while laying in bed and falling asleep with the radio under my pillow.

In his book Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World and the Way You Live in It, author Thomas de Zengotita argues that we no longer have heroes because of the way mass media has affected our consciousness. That is, in order to be a real hero, you must essentially be unreal. For if you think about various heroes of old, it’s because we know so little about them (or have so few images) that their deeds may be imagined and therefore mythologized. As de Zengotita puts it, “real heroes of the past were represented with a frugality that is almost impossible to credit today.” But that doesn't result in knowing less about them -- or about reality -- but knowing more, in the vertical sense.


By the way, while there is the sort of unreflective moonbattery in the book that one expects to see among the over-educated, it's not the flagrant kind, so I was somewhat surprised to discover that de Zengotita is a doctrinaire moonbat who contributes regularly to Huffingtonpost. The uncensored thoughts he displays there are so trite, shallow, and adolescent, and the writing so plain bad, that it makes me wonder how heavy a hand his editor had in writing the book. In any event, it is ironic that he is a victim of the sort of clichéd mass-media liberal groupthink that he analyzes in the book. It's almost as if he's brain-damaged, or channeling Garrison Keillor or Maureen Dowd.

A recent example of his thinking, what one call (-m), or an inverted version of the proper role of the mythic imagination:

"As an old-fashioned leftie I should be skeptical of a mere symbol, shouldn't I? Well, it depends. Obama is a very special symbol. He transcends the culture wars and identity politics simply in virtue of who he is.

[Andrew] Sullivan... emphasizes the impact of an Obama presidency on a world that now fears and despises us. Just the fact of it. Just the face. Just the name. At a stroke, America secures a new beginning -- in its own eyes as well. Nothing else could do it so decisively. So what if he's inexperienced? He's smart. He's a quick study. He'll listen to Dick Holbrooke and Joe Biden and he'll make those sensible, centrist decisions. He's no radical, he's shown that, Lord knows -- he'll be as deliberate and pragmatic in office as he's been in the campaign.

"It's not the policy, stupid, it's the symbolism. Obama actually embodies what he represents. That means he doesn't just represent change. He is change" [emphases mine].

With professors like this, is it any wonder that college students graduate with less wisdom than they had when they entered college?


A heroic myth, like a dream or fairy tale, is particularly “unsaturated,” leaving considerable space for imaginative engagement with its narrative elements. If Koufax were playing today, the reality of his myth would be effaced by saturated media coverage of his every move, including those extra tight close-ups that intrusively force you to see every follicle in the player's nose, every vein in his eyeballs. de Zengotita cites the example of the New York fire fighters who attained heroic status through our imagining their very real selfless deeds, which, for the most part, no one actually saw. However this bubble burst for de Zengotita when he saw the official NYFD “Calendar of Heroes,” featuring photos of the firefighters stripped to the waist, seductively posing and “vogueing” for the camera. The mythic imagination was foreclosed and replaced by the mediated image. (I guess he hasn't seen the picture of a shirtless Obama frolicking on the beach.)

The central irony, according to de Zengotita, is that “we don’t have heroes because they are too real, representations of them are too rich and detailed. There is no space for our imaginations to occupy, no room for us to supply them with mythic life.” The mass media give us only a flattened realism devoid of reverence, depth, or dignity. Instead of heroes we have stars or celebrities, generally disreputable people such as Britney Spears, Madonna, or Paris Hilton, whose exploits we look at in the same way the ancient Greeks might have thought about their gods, who were actually not at all godlike. Rather, they were just like humans only worse -- more jealous, more envious, more lustful, more vengeful.

Likewise, in our day there has been a collapse of the vertical plane, so that the “higher” has been replaced by the lower writ large. In an age that absolutizes the relative and exalts the lower as "authenticity," it is much more difficult to have real heroes, for a real hero, whatever else he is, is never a relativist. Like George Bush, or Ronald Reagan, or Winston Churchill, they are in the service of an unwavering ideal. But today, unwavering commitment to a higher ideal is not called heroism but fanaticism or fascism, as in the case of President Bush. This inversion of principial truth is demanded by the logic of postmodern cynicism.


Speaking of which, yesterday Dr. Sanity posted an excerpt of a recent interview with Henry Kissinger:

SPIEGEL: Isn’t German and European opposition to a greater military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq also a result of deep distrust of American power?

Kissinger: By this time next year, we will see the beginning of a new administration. We will then discover to what extent the Bush administration was the cause or the alibi for European-American disagreements. Right now, many Europeans hide behind the unpopularity of President Bush. And this administration made several mistakes in the beginning.
Kissinger: … But I do believe that George W. Bush has correctly understood the global challenge we are facing, the threat of radical Islam, and that he has fought that battle with great fortitude. He will be appreciated for that later.

SPIEGEL: In 50 years, historians will treat his legacy more kindly?

Kissinger: That will happen much earlier.

So you see, once the hyper-saturated media images of Bush's presidency are out of the way, we will be able to "see" his legacy much more clearly. At the moment, there is too much information that obscures our knowledge, too much knowledge that forecloses wisdom, and too many pictures that disable the imagination.


In fact, most people can't even recognize a hero unless they somehow become a star -- think of Jessica Lynch -- but as soon as that happens, “they cannot compete with the real stars -- who are performers.” So President Bush can’t compete with Martin Sheen, any more than our troops in Iraq can compete with Hollywood images of warfare. It remains to be seen if McCain -- a hero in real life -- will be able to compete with wholly imagined (in the lower sense) heroism of Obama, who, for the willfully hypnotized and seduced, "doesn't just represent change. He is change."

This brings up a crucial point about the role of imagination in understanding reality. In a recent discussion of the “intelligent design” debate with an atheistic reader, he essentially dismissed any non-empirical reality as being analogous to belief in "pink fairies" (which hardly comes as a surprise, as this is precisely what atheists are condemned to believe as a result of their transcendental infirmity, or pneumapathology). Richard Weaver, in his classic Ideas Have Consequences, argued that it is a characteristic of the barbarian, in all times and places, to believe that it is possible to grasp reality -- the "raw stuff of life" -- “barehanded,” without any mediation by the higher imagination. This not only leads to an absence of understanding, but to the destruction of man as such. As a result, we are left with the “ravages of immediacy,” for without imagination, reality is simply a brute fact with nothing to spiritualize it. The world shrinks down to our simplest way -- animal way, really -- of knowing it, and with it, our souls constrict correspondingly.

In this regard, postmodern cynicism is provincialism of the worst sort, as it imagines that it is getting closer to the reality of things, when it is actually getting more and more distant -- like pulverizing a work of art into smaller and smaller parts to try to get at its meaning.

So the question is, what is more “real,” those beautiful heroic images I internalized of Abraham Lincoln when I was in grade school, or postmodern biographies that argue that he was a closet homosexual that didn’t care a fig about black people? The American founders as secular prophets leading the new children of Israel out of a decrepit Europe, or a bunch of selfish elitists (not to mention slaveholders!) looking after their own economic interests? The luminous Jesus presented in the gospels, so full of empty spaces to fill with the divine imagination, or the work of the Jesus seminarians who argue that he was a radical leftist fighting for social justice for the poor, just like Che Guevara? Sandy Koufax heroically refusing to pitch in the World Series on Yom Kippur, or the eccentric, media-shy recluse?

People generally don't realize that it is possible to substitute facts for truth, to replace the higher reality perceived by the intellect and imagination with the lower reality perceived by the senses. When that happens, we literally become “disoriented,” away from the center and toward the periphery of existence. Today we live in an age in which we are being invaded by vertical barbarians who would ruthlessly strip aside the veils of the imagination to try to get at what’s real, only to find that there is nothing there. Certainly nothing worth living or fighting for. No wonder they're so suspicious and even contemptuous of those who fight, since they know, deep down, that they are far superior to the deluded warriors who risk their lives to enrich Halliburton.


hoarhey said...

Hey, even the "New Castrati" has spoken out on Obama.
Directly fron the mouth of the Neuter;
"So we’re not embarrassed when we get together. We just talk about how much we love Obama. ... We know we’re being fooled, but we kind of like it. I can’t get off his ride, it’s too good.” —Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein

I'd like to once again thank Ms. Stein for inadvertently getting me to this blogsite.

James said...

I never really considered that too much information can be a trap. I've always looked at it in terms of information overload, as in you just can assimilate and process everything in time to make a reasonable decision. The idea that information overload can effectively hide the truth strikes me as valid. It is insidious. The media can't lie, because a lie is too easy to catch, but cluttering things up with unnecessary detail can still serve the lie, but it is much harder to figure out what's going on.
This highlights the importance of principles, because they can serve as signposts on the golden road that rise above the complexity of day-to-day life. If you have your principles and a course of action violates those principles then you know where you stand regardless of the details of the situation. There may still be some gray area with principles, but without principles you have vast and hoary ocean of gray where elemental things like good and evil get lost in the details.
That would explain a whole lot of bad judgment, and why people without principles can be scary.

NoMo said...

Speaking of imagination and robamabots, here is the latest threat.

Thankfully, there is protection.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
(Note to self – resist, resist!)

walt said...

" order to be a real hero, you must essentially be unreal."

Well, Sandy Koufax was unreal. He was left-handed and I was left-handed, so I identified with him personally, if you catch my drift.

You could argue it wasn't just "idealism," because the Dodgers were never the same without him in the lineup. I recall thinking when I heard he'd retired, "Can't they just fix it?"

Sheesh: first Koufax, now WFB - heroes, dropping away!

maineman said...

David Warren has some well written words that touch on these and similar matters here.

walt said...

A little note about William F. Buckley, Jr.:

Commenters here have made references to "The Remnant," usually in the context mentioned in a recent link that I believe Julie provided. Albert Jay Nock's description has seemed to intrigue some Raccoons.

FYI, among his group of friends, and a member of the original Remnant, was Buckley's father, William F. Buckley, Sr.

ximeze said...

Snips from an interview of VDH by a Swiss newspaper:

JF: Europeans like to cast the European Union less as a kind of United States of Europe but rather as a precursor to a “one world” utopia.

VDH: Europe is to be commended for creating a structure that avoided a third world war. But its present notion of utopia — minimal defense, socialism, atheism and agnosticism, continental governance — is a prescription for disaster. When the individual believes in nothing transcendent, has no allegiance to a notion of nationhood, and believes nothing is worth sacrificing for, stasis sets in, lethargy follows, and an effete citizenry becomes as vocal in condemnation as it is impotent in matching deed with word.

JF: How much political significance do you ascribe to religious faith? If so, what does this mean for Europe, which — speaking honestly — is a completely secularized region in the grip of rationalism?

VDH: Religious belief means transcendence, or the notion you are living for something greater than yourself. Atheism means this is it — so why have children, invest in your country, or sacrifice your health for abstractions like your country?

Everyone needs a god; Europeans have turned their backs on the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and adopted in its place a Rousseau or Foucault as totems. Atheism is bad enough when it worships the Calf of Pure Reason, but when logic and rationalism are themselves replaced by postmodern relativism, then the loss of god, and the trade off become an even worse deal.

"The Future with Europe"

dloye said...

I read David Warren first today. Sometimes the important big picture is glimpsed by several at the same time. GB, VDH, and Warren along with others keep hammering away at transcendent values. Yup, youse guys are onto the real deal. Keep on keeping on.

Bob F. said...

I'd like to offer a couple of true heroes that I've come across recently: Edmund Campion, an English Jesuit who died for his faith in 1581, hanged, drawn and quartered; and Fr. Vincent Capodanno, another Catholic priest, who was killed in action serving with the Marines in Vietnam in 1967; Fr. Capodanno was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and is now being considered for sainthood; there is a biography of him with the title Grunt Padre.

will said...

>>The mass media give us only a flattened realism devoid of reverence, depth, or dignity<<

I think that unless there is the superimposition of divine imagination, vision, physical vision is the most "corruptible" of the senses - material vision draws us to the external, certainly more so than does our aural sense.

I'm thinking of William Blake whose material vision was certainly keen - he was a painter and engraver as well as poet - but who literally saw with divine imagination, angels walking across the Thames, for example, or the "soul of a mosquito", which he literally saw and then painted (pretty ugly soul, by the way)

I think video and its ubiquity is particularly without mythic, imaginative depth. Even black and white 16 millimeter conjured up the sense of a certain mythic, reverential distance. And the old black and white movies are still, I think, somehow more "real" than most of today's films. Video, however: there's no "bounce back", no resonance at all. It's sallow and sweaty - like a long day waiting in line under the sickly fluorescent lights of the Department of Motor Vehicles center.

will said...

Among the myriad of valid accolades the late WFB is receiving, I think the greatest is that he was simply the most gracious, kindest person that those who were acquainted with him had ever met.

I think of WFB as being the divine aspect of a trio whose heyday was in the 60's, 70's - WFB, Norman Mailer, and Gore Vidal.

Mailer seemed to be flirting with the Good Side, but was fascinated with and often seduced, by evil. The Undecided Vote, so to speak.

The decadent Vidal was, still is, an unrepentent, outspoken atheist, commited to the task of reducing human beings to intelligent animals. He had to exist as the necessary dark counterpart to the liberating light that was WFB.

Van said...

Two words for the robamabots,
Sarah Connor

Just saying.

Anonymous said...

On his radio show today, Mark Levin played a short audio clip of the famous exchange between Buckley & the vicious Gore Vidal in 1969.

If any of you would like to listen to the exchange, click here

Scroll down to:

Notes of Interest

William F. Buckley Jr. 1925 - 2008
William F Buckley v. Gore Vidal 1968

Van said...

James said "I never really considered that too much information can be a trap."

Yes, it is far simpler to lie if you can lay your hands on gobs of facts (think algore's endless facts and charts in 'an inconceivable truth'), the more detailed the better, but it is exceedingly difficult to lie with simple and direct and principled language. One of the reasons you won't find Horatio Alger novels assigned in classes today (we won't mention biblical stories), and why the movies, tv shows and books that do, are usually derided.

From one I did last year,

Harry Potter and the Literature for Children vs. the Childish Literati
"It is simple to quote rain fall measurements and random effects of clorofloro carbons and conclude that the end is near, but it is nearly impossible to imagine a plausible lie in opposition to Dumbledore’s ‘The time is coming when we all shall have to choose between what is right and what is easy’, or Harry’s ‘We’ve got something Voldemort doesn’t have – something worth fighting for’. Difficult trying to imagine ‘Remember, what is easy is always the better choice over what is right’, or ‘Voldemort is angry, hateful, friendless, keeps followers only by the threat of destruction – wouldn’t we all prefer that kind of life to one of associating with friends, family and loved ones?” Doesn’t quite work, does it?"

Van said...

"The mass media give us only a flattened realism devoid of reverence, depth, or dignity. Instead of heroes we have stars or celebrities, generally disreputable people such as Britney Spears, Madonna, or Paris Hilton, whose exploits we look at in the same way the ancient Greeks might have thought about their gods, who were actually not at all godlike. Rather, they were just like humans only worse -- more jealous, more envious, more lustful, more vengeful. "

I remember my Grandpa (who was an Art Director at Warner Bros from the 30's-60's) telling me why he thought radio was way better than TV, and why books were better than both, "When you see these special effects, woo boy, they're snazzy, aren't they? You figure that that's just what it must really look like, right? You just know it, right? Don't wonder at all about what it might look like, do you? If you talk about that scene to your little friend next door, you talk about that scene don't cha? He repeats what he saw, and you repeat what you saw... and you both just repeated the same thing you both saw? Yeah? When I was telling you about Robin Hood yesterday, you remember what you and Lance said about Sherwood Forrest? 'I wonder how they kept their forts hidden from the Sherrif?' and 'I wonder how BIG those trees must a been?! Bigger than a building?!', even with you both sitting here with me while I was telling you!

When you see every detail, there's no room for wonder. My best set designs had lots of shadows and corner's to wonder what wasn't seen... seeing isn't believing... seeing is just seeing"

The more there isn't room for imagination, the more there must be replacements for it, and the rawer and more amped up it must be to register even a glance. Works in morals and true affection too; a girl wearing 5 lbs of wool sweaters and skirts used to make a boy dumb with daydreams and wonder... now wearing 5 ounces of lycra - for awhile, she'll be lucky if he's even thinking of her after he puts his clothes back on and leaves.

The more Bam!, the less I AM.

Cosmic law, I think.

anonymouse fan said...

Mr Godwin, I haven't read all of your posts but am curious which presidential candidate you have most favored this election?

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm still hoping Rudy can pull it out.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"For if you think about various heroes of old, it’s because we know so little about them (or have so few images) that their deeds may be imagined and therefore mythologized. As de Zengotita puts it, “real heroes of the past were represented with a frugality that is almost impossible to credit today.” But that doesn't result in knowing less about them -- or about reality -- but knowing more, in the vertical sense."

Indeed! Today, it's in vogue to know EVERY SORDID DETAIL! To...deconstruct Heroes.

Are Heroes human? Of course!
Do Heroes have weaknesses and faults? Sure they do.

Does that make them any less of a Hero? Not no but hell no!

Post-modern perverts like to focus on the flaws of somehow prove that Heroes are no better than they are.
They need that! To feel better about themselves.

They wanna disillusion you with their own illusions.
Destroy the spirit and elevate quantity.

WTF? They sully the myth of conflate reality with their own delusions of grandeur.

They don't focus on the story of the Hero, the focus and exaggerate the sins of the Hero, in effect destroying the myth and destroying the story to prove that Heroes don't exist, or to prove that everyone is a hero, thus making a hero worthless and without meaning.

"Everyone is the same! Everyone is f*cked up! There aren't any heroes. No one is better than anyone else. I'm as good as any hero. Heroes were just in the right place at the right time."

Listen and see the pure, unadulterated ENVY of evil men!
They would have us believe there are no heroes...or, everyone is a hero! Until the word: hero...means nothing.

But, unlike Tina Turners song: "We don't need another hero" we do in fact, need every hero we can muster!

What exactly is to be gained by minimizing Heroes to nothing more than luck?
Self esteem? I call bullsh*t!

In reality, if we don't have Heroes, we have nothing to aspire to!
Nothing to spark our Divine imagination.
Nothing to inspire greatness and transcendence against all odds.

No. A world without Heroes is a world without hope. A world without nobility, decency, valor, honor, or higher ideals, such as protecting all that's Good, True and Beautiful!
Defending Liberty, Life and the Pursuit of Happiness!

That's what Heroes do! And that's why we need Heroes.

Outstanding post, Bob! And outstanding comments!

hoarhey said...

Speaking of heroes.
I saw the headline of a story where a girl lit her teachers hair on fire and anguished over the decline of society.
Then I read the story and discovered that she had lit the ponytail of her male science teacher.
Maybe there is hope. ;*)

julie said...

Ben, you've been entirely too quiet lately. You've been missed.

And you're still my hero.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks Julie!
I'll try to be more punctual.
And frankly, you, Bob, Will, and all the Raccoons are my Heroes!

ximeze said...

What Julie said!
(Beaky sends you birdie-kisses too)

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Ximeze! You n' Beaky rock! :^)

Van said...

Good to see you Ben!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Welcome, ruth!

Good to have you!