Monday, November 14, 2011

Occupy Paterno

I've been thinking about the Occupy zones that contain the placeholders of our attentions.  There's no point in these containers if they don't tell a narrative or register an opinion or at least elicit a "See? Made you look" moment from billboards of competing story lines.

One point of reference on last week's Penn State head-linings played to the taking of umbrage: institution swallows its own common decency while its own misplaced pride plays on to restive gallery. I fancied some further riffing before the story crashed (until next indicting-worthy revelations) of an Occupy Paterno movement.

Non Amateur Status

It would free academics from the hypocrisy of pretending to educate entertainment prodigies in the athletic achievement sciences. We send kids in to play kid games and then skim off the extra revenue normally targeted for agents and athletes: amateur status? Not for the for profit side of American Universities. Not even for the private side of Friar Joseph's diploma mill.

If we deign the 21st century the place to be for Gens Z1, Z2, Z3... then why not relegate King Football and his gridiron fortress to the car repair and radiology certification track? That way our generations W, X, and Y can continue to engorge our sports bureaucracies of higher earning. We can reserve a sliver of the largesse for these crash-tested NFL rejects when they need to get a life and the ROTC is broke -- which it will be with or without on-campus occupy movements.

The outrage from the cover-up played to the same script departures we've seen in other bastions of orthodoxy that prefers eating one's own to turning the insiders out. Something about the value of the tribe over the letter of the law: "The news is a shocking surprise to us this week, but it was not news to Penn State," wrote Canuck, my friend and umbrage-carrier.

I know nothing of Penn (either as State, Zoil, or 'n Teller). But I do know that our cultural breadth of awareness is spilling out into the streets of our own Occupy Zones. Just as surely as ADD is the cost of business as usual it is equally true that all those zigzag attention bursts create a much wider awareness circle than existed in the linear world of who-knew-what-and-when insinuations. In fact our very expectations around what passive heresay and active engagement means is rife for a recall election.

Am I saying that I, cyber-citizen, am paralyzed at the neck up by too many calls to action? Maybe. But what I'm trying to hear from this argument is how to teach sound judgement in an age biased towards...

  1. passivity masquerading as open-mindedness

  2. piety passing for an accurate moral compass reading

No Country for Sanctimonious Saps

Curiously a competing narrative broke in our own email thread from the notion that there was a narrative here in the first place. It was the notion that our cultural media diets could no sooner fast for one news cycle than an army of anchor people would teleprompt us around a random sequence of disconnected events. The upshot? Feel the communion of the traveling news-givers. My pal Pondish is a former reporter and feels only alienation:

"Perhaps this will fade, but I suddenly seem all but incapable of summoning outrage about, well, nearly everything.  More to the point I find it enervating the degree amount of outrage around me.  I joked last week that I was relieved it was election day, and that I was glad we would be choosing a president and put this nasty, divisive campaign behind us.  Likewise, I've been unable to summon much visceral enthusiasm for Occupy Wall Street and have alienated more than a handful of people, having missed that the officially sanctioned response is, "Occupy Wall Street! Fuck Yeah!"  And honestly, the whole Penn State miasma seems to have gone over my head.  I simply don't buy the idea that an entire university needs redemption and soul-searching (although as of today, Obama says it's the entire nation that needs to take a deep look inside) because of someone witness a perverted act in a shower years ago." 

The bromide continues:

"Well, sorry, but no.  The state of my soul is pretty good.  I am not culpable or complicit. And neither are you. What happened at Penn State doesn't seem to have deeper meaning or to serve as an indictment of the broader anything."

"We seem to have entered an age where we can no longer separate ourselves from events in the world.  What happens to one of us happens to all of us.  We leave flowers in front of the Apple store (seriously?) because Steve Jobs is dead.  We must instantly contextualize everything, find the storyline, understand What It Means."

Dead Sea Narratives

It's ironic that these forced narratives are happening over social networks and not broadcast networks. Everyone's taking their media cues in the age of long tails wagging old dogs, dead tree industries, and the onset of wholesale media climate change. Are we those splintering factions or the collective beehive? A community unified if only by its disconnected nature.

No matter whose side of which story we're inclined to believe, there's an angle to play, a bone to pick, and an argument to be made about who wins and loses. It's just as interesting that whether the parables address...

(1) child molestation,

(2) codes of silence,

(3) the corruptible role of money in collegiate sports, or

(4) the senility status of its many figureheads

... these models were sculpted from journalism clay. These are the tenets of universal media from biblical tabloid times. Facebook has 800 million unpaid contractors on its payrolls. That's one script few are departing from.

As for my cronies let's just say that a contrarian is someone who'd rather be wrong than be misled: "Don't blame me. I voted for Nader." I can get over the fact that Pondish won't be bringing me flowers. It's too late for Andy Rooney and I'm reasonably certain he laid the same argument to rest at the foot of the JFK Jr. floral parade. My soul is shifting on stable ground whether I donate a new helping of platelets to the Red Cross before Thanksgiving or after.

I'm also all but certain to resist his hair-thinning threshold of the dispassion he speaks. Still, a daily scrub of ego removal and a few trace scatterings of nihilism could keep my accounts more honest. The stories I could tell might not succumb to my own spoiler alerts or the plays I send in.

The main thing I guess is to expect nothing from our world and try to give something back in return. It's not out of altruism or naiveté but the transcendent conceit that our lives do make a difference. What's the catch? Our lot is to figure out what tiny speck of the world that will benefit from our most abundant virtues.

If we greet each morning with that determination can we sideline the demons in us? Or is that the cost for righting the injustices that flourish when the culture anchors our news?

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