Watch a game, follow a news story, election or political crisis, and you see the same nuttiness play out: Identical facts are twisted and interpreted to bolster the latest story line.
So, for example, we have Barack Obama. He’s the guy who’s so cool and measured and low-key that this country elected him president in 2008. Coolness and reason under pressure — that’s what we wanted! Enough of the hotheads and follow-your-gut, kneejerk reactors!
Oh, and remember Argentina in the World Cup? They were so great and loose, improvising and having a great time while they creamed all those boring, disciplined teams and showed them the reckless joy of futbol. Who wants to be a loser who doesn’t even know how to have fun? We all love that wild man, Diego Maradona!
Oh, but wait! Oil gets spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, and Obama’s a big disappointment since he’s not frothing at the mouth with emotion and indignation. He’s too … cool. Cool, it turns out, is not good. In fact, it’s bad. Obama may be too cool to be a good leader. Rewrite!
And Argentina? Well, speaking of boring, disciplined teams, the Germans waxed them 4-0, and all of a sudden, the police have to cordon off the Buenos Aires airport so the Argentines can get back safely and slink into town. What was that loose, undisciplined team and that borderline moron coach Maradona thinking, showing up at the World Cup so unprepared? They had no defense.
More recently, we have the noteworthy example of the runaway JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater. A hero, a renegade who wouldn’t take it from The Man or The Passenger! We loved him, we wanted to be like him, he spoke for us.
I, of course, jumped on that particular bandwagon, since who can resist a story that good? Why hadn’t I taken that emergency chute when I was working for that hairy little tyrant in Florida? Why wasn’t I capable of the grand gesture, the memorable exit?
Well, hold on, cowboys and cowgirls! Calm down those horses. Slater, it seems, might not have been who we needed him to be. In fact, a slew of other passengers report that he turned up drunk and surly from the beginning of the flight. He already had that cut on his head. He was rude and insulting to everybody. Disband that fan club!
In fact, the more I gaze at Slater’s photo (the carefree grin has now become the insolent sneer), I realize he looks familiar. Hasn’t he been on one of my flights before? (Never mind that I’ve never taken JetBlue; technicalities like that just ruin a good story.) Yes, definitely, maybe! He might have been that little snot in first-class during my debacle of an outing to Chile a few years ago.
“People in coach are trying to crowd into first-class space,” he hissed, eyeing me while I did a yoga stretch in the aisle. Then, he closed the curtains in my face just when I was locating my third eye or something, glaring at me like I was Madame Defarge storming the gates.
Yes, now I remember him! Somebody should have pushed him off the plane without the emergency chute and dumped those beers on his head. I hope JetBlue fires him and all his Facebook fans desert him — unless, of course, that explanation is wrong, too.
What a conundrum, these facts, pronouncements and narratives. You have to be flexible if you’re going to put together a coherent narrative. In the meantime, is it too much to ask that our heroes have a simple story we can enjoy and worship accordingly?
Please, no subtexts, no codas, no misinterpretations — just a nice, clean story that gives us someone to look up to. Like Sully, the heroic pilot of last year. He didn’t have to walk on water; all he had to do was land a plane on it.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about parents desperately seeking babysitters