Saturday, December 30, 2006

Recently Deceased Cultural Icons.

As the new year looms we find that there are some among us who won't be making the journey. Inevitably we have found that several cultural icons will miss this rather arbitrary annual transition. I wasn't going to coment on these passings, as I am certain the blogosphere is teeming with the thoughts of many amateur social commentators like myself. But what the hell, ya know? It's just so obvious a topic that I can't pass it up. So here are my thoughts on just some of the most recently departed.

Gerald Ford. He was the first man I was ever aware of as "The President". I was only six years old when he was replaced by the affable peanut farmer who my family seemed not to like. Ford was a fatherly type, who seemed somehow benificent. This quality was probably responsible for his unforeseen ascendancy to the nation's highest office. Besides his kindly demeanor, I haven't many other direct associations from memory. I do remember seeing Chevy Chase impersonating the man, falling down a flight of stairs. Apparently Ford wasn't like our present commander-in-chief... and there was not much in the satirical vein with which to assault him.

Nowadays I still don't have much to say about Ford. He did pardon Nixon, famously saying, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” Little did we know. Yet at the same time, he did prove remarkably prescient (if unintentionally) by saying, “The political lesson of Watergate is this: Never again must America allow an arrogant, elite guard of political adolescents to by-pass the regular party organization and dictate the terms of a national election.” And it seems his own party refused to learn that particular lesson a couple of decades later. Ultimately it seems Ford lacked an exceptional facility with words. The former college football star was also notorious for saying “I love sports. Whenever I can, I always watch the Detroit Tigers on the radio.” If only we could be left with as innocuous a political legacy from our current executive sports fan.

James Brown. For several decades, hipsters of all ages have embraced the funky style and sounds of the "Godfather of Soul". Many credit Brown with having made an entire generation of white people think that they could dance. Anyone with that magic ought to garner a fair amount of respect. Yet the man did have his flaws. He was liberal with his fists, especially when it came to arguing with his wife Adrienne Rodriegues, who had him arrested on three separate occasions. Apparently he didn't take a lot of backtalk. He also found himself in a physical altercation with a cop after an extensive car chase that resulted in convictions including weapons violations and drug-related charges. Yet somehow white hipsters still found it in their hearts to forgive him, and "Free James Brown" t-shirts became a staple in urban enclaves across the country.

Despite his personal troubles there is no doubt that the ludicrously- coiffed pop star left an impressive musical legacy. And still... I personally found him overrated. Part of my opinion of his work was formed by Eddie Murphy's eerily accurate interpretation of Brown's gyrations and verbal emanations in the famous SNL "Hot Tub" skit. James Brown was more of a caricature than an artist. I have to admit that this past week when I attended a late night James Brown tribute party... all I could really feel was relief that George Clinton still walks among us.

Saddam Hussein. Surely this Iraqi dictator has become the most prominent cultural symbol among our three deceased subjects. No doubt Hussein was a dark and evil man. There is ample evidence that he ran with bad actors, including the notriously underhanded Donald Rumsfeld. Originally reinstated as leader of his country in a CIA plot, he willingly sided with the Western powers (notably against arch-rival Iran) in order to further his political power in the Middle East. His greatest mistake was his overvaluation of his alliance with the United States. After allegedly misreading the diplomatic signals of the American ambassador, he led a preemptive invasion against a neighboring rival and den of wealthy Arabian decadence- Kuwait. This was an outrageously naive political misstep that he would pay dearly for. Despite allegations of tyranny commited against his own subjects, George Bush and his advisors decided that it was politically expedient to allow Hussein to remain in control of Iraq. Better "the Devil you know", I guess.

After years of strong-arming political opponents in his own country, he was handcuffed by years of United Nations sanctions that drove his people to desperation. Subsequently he experienced the personal misfortune of the political ascendency of George W. Bush, and the provocations of 9-11- which provided Bush and his NeoCon cabal with a pretext to invade Iraq in order to establish permanent bases in the region. Willfully disregarding Hussein's real crimes, Bush and Co. attempted to conjure a litany of misdeeds to justify their aggressive foreign policy strategy. They fallaciously accused him of ties to al Qaeda (an organization that he refused to legitimize) and the stockpiling of WMDs (proved pre-invasion not to exist). Of course Saddam was captured and subject to a show trial before his execution this past week. There are many questions that could have arisen in an international court with the appropriate legal procedures. Unfortunately those in charge of Hussein's trial were more interested in providing a cathartic moment for a beleagured Iraq than getting at the complex truth of Hussein's relationship with the rest of the world.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last part cost him his life. Pity, isn't it?

2:35 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

What last part? How is it a pity? What are you talking about?

5:45 PM  

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