Sunday, October 11, 2009

The King is Dead

Americans, and indeed the whole world, seem to crave our pop idols. It is a phenomenon that I don't thoroughly understand, but we have to recognize that it is real. Our culture is obsessed with fame and the famous. Consider Elvis Presley. Known the world over as the King of Rock and Roll. I'm an Elvis fan to some small extent, but I'm not one of the zealots. I have a few Elvis songs in my music collection, but I don't own any Elvis kitsch. No Elvis statuary or Elvis fan magazines. I don't pant in hopeful expectation with every new report of an Elvis sighting. I've paid to see a Beatles cover band, but I wouldn't pay to see an Elvis impersonator.

Or consider Michael Jackson. He referred to himself as the King of Pop, I guess because the title King of Rock and Roll was already taken. But the name stuck, and maybe with some justification. Now I'm not particularly proud of it, but I'm a bit of a Michael Jackson fan too. I've still got a couple of his older albums (Thriller and Off the Wall and in vinyl no less) with cover pictures of him when he was still black. He created some great music over the years and some great videos. And what a fantastic dancer. A truly talented man. But he changed, and so did my opinion of him. The plastic surgery, the skin bleaching, the reclusive habits were all just too bizarre. And I'm afraid I could never quite get my arms around the whole sleeping with children thing. I don't really understand the world's continued fascination with him.

But that's the way it works with hero worship. It doesn't always make sense to more rational people. So by now you're probably thinking to yourself, "Jess, this is all fascinating stuff, but what's your point? What's with all the aimless musings over pop idols?" I'll tell you. I turned on my computer yesterday morning as I was eating breakfast and getting ready to go to work. My home page comes up. Fox News. Big surprise right?

What do I see staring me in the face, but a picture of our president with the headline Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize. "What's this?", sez I. Seriously, my first thought was that this was a joke. Saturday Night Live or one of the late night talk shows having a little fun the way they do. But no. It was not a joke. Upon closer examination I learned that the article was a serious one. Barack Obama, our Dear Leader, had indeed been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I felt like I had been slapped in the face. "For What?", I'm sure I must have screamed at the computer screen. Was it the nuclear disarmament nonsense in his UN address? Was it his eagerness to legitimize every two bit dictator and holocaust denier in the neighborhood by offering one on one talks with them? Or was it just generally all the Hopey Changey rhetoric that he is so famous for? Ronald Reagan destroyed communism, the defining threat to the entire free world over the previous sixty years or more, and he never won a Nobel Prize. What were these guys thinking?

I spent the rest of the day drifting from angry to amused to just plain bewildered and then back again to angry. I was laying in bed last night still pondering this puzzle when an idea occurred to me. Not a justification, mind you, but at least a context in which it seemed to make some sense. The world has a new pop idol. Elvis is dead. Michael Jackson is dead. Both victims of drugs and their own fame. The world now has someone to take their place. Countries all over the globe have been falling all over themselves to proclaim how wonderful he is. What a refreshing change from the last eight years when the United States didn't listen to or respect the views of the international community. Now they have the Enlightened One who is humble, and thoughtful, and values their opinions in a way they haven't enjoyed in many years. America finally has a president the world can admire or dare I say worship? The Nobel committee is simply the latest expression of this nonsense. The latest expression of international hero worship. Picture the members of the Nobel committee as a group of deranged sixty somethings with Elvis on Velvet pictures hanging in their living rooms and it starts to make sense. Or picture them as a bunch of screaming Japanese sixteen year olds at a sold out Michael Jackson concert, and the world can once more at least be explained if not understood. The urge among some people to have an idol to worship is a strange phenomenon, but it is one that we recognize. This frame of reference has helped me to make sense of the world once more. I am no longer befuddled by the Nobel committee's decision. I am less angry and a little more amused. It all makes sense now. Obama is the new King. God’s in his Heaven -All’s right with the world! The King is dead. Long live the King.