Tuesday, August 28, 2007


It Takes A Culture to Produce a Cultural Hero

"Our enthusiasm [for sports heroes] springs from the very core of fascist ideology: admiration for strength and contempt for weakness."
Torbjörn Tännsjö

What a painful and sad procession, the Michael Vick downfall has been for me to watch. Not least because this case, in my opinion, does reflect harshly on the state of Black manhood in America, but that we are witnessing, a recently celebrated cultural hero, who in truth is morally stunted, thick with ego and bluster, and seemingly quite incapable of recognizing the heinous nature of his actions. Not once in his mea culpas, has there been a clear recognition from him that what he did was repugnant, cruel and murderous. Yes, we've heard apologies to fans, family and the like, but a clear message why we shouldn't do as he's done has not been forthcoming. Why?

In the worlds of entertainment (of which, sports is a subset), most often, violence, brutality, machismo, vendetta and blind ambition are valorized, glamorized, packaged and sold as the highest forms of achievement - particularly in football. Where in this three hours of choreographed brutality are the values of kindness, respect for life, and gentleness on display? Vick was a paragon of the gladiatorial values, having attained glory and fame because of his natural prowess and physicality. Perhaps, in some sense, he saw no contradiction between the values on the grid iron and those of the dogfight. With the casual violence of video games, movies, corporate hip-hop, certain sports, etc and Vick's ascendance in those circles, is it really that surprising that his moral sensibility is skewed?

By this, I am in no way, relieving Vick of personal responsibility for his actions. However, I am invoking an old African value that sees the sickness of one as the moral responsibility of the whole. Further I exhort us, individually, as families, communities and as a nation to reflect on how poorly we have prepared our sports and entertainment celebrities to reflect the best in us; to generously reinvest the largess we have lauded upon them into their needy communities; to remind us of our own greatness and capacity for the truly heroic rather than banality, stupor, excess and cruelty. And perhaps, even more importantly, to question the underlying values of a celebrity and hero obsessed culture.

A positive cultural outcome might arise from this case if families and communities engage in dialogue about what are the lessons to be learned here. Parents, teachers, coaches and mentors could engage kids in discussions that illuminate the moral lessons and warning in this case. A compare and contrast exercise might be effective in which kids are asked to surmise the values displayed by Vick's actions and then create a contrasting set of values. Furthermore, examples of sports and cultural heroes, past and present who embody the highest values could be discussed and investigated through writing and research assignments. In this way, perhaps, collectively we can take a certain measure of responsibility and action toward ensuring that our children grow to be true heroes and champions, not moral idiots incapable of recognizing the evil they do.

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