Thursday, December 21, 2006

We're in the way...

For Person (people) of the Year, Time Magazine absolved itself entirely of the burden of judgement, originality or insight by selecting "You." Not you individually, rather this is you plural, or y'all, if you'd rather. That's right, everyone is man or woman of the year. We're each so powerful and influential that we're a dominant influence on the world. Our impact on one another through our use of the Internet makes us incredibly important.

So Time tells us that we are each exceptional. Everyone gets a trophy. I fully intend to update my resume to include my selection as Time's Man of the Year for 2006. I don't know if it'll give me a competitive advantage, since everyone won. As they say in The Incredibles, "if everyone is special, no body is special."

This cover does fit with the times. Americans seem to exist in a balance between two arrogant notions: 1) That we ourselves are exceptional and that technological and cultural evolution has resulted in our own times and capacity being unique and the nearest approach to perfection. 2) Yet simultaneously we are convinced that greatness is really something from another age reflected upon us from afar. Oh, how we wish we'd lived through Kennedy. Oh, to be at Woodstock. Would that we stormed the beaches of Normandy. To be the Greatest Generation. If only our school were Old.

That we believe we understand the best that human kind can be or has been, seems more than a little arrogant. The Bush administration explaining that the Iraqi war is unlike any other, that the War on Terror is harder than any other war. This desire for exceptionalism, even in suffering is perverse. By what honest assesment does a person judge his own time the "most" anything.

We are a nation that loves the superlative. We revel in hyperbole. I designed a t-shirt a few months back that says: Worst. Hyperbole. Ever. It seems more fitting than before. We want to be alive during exceptional moments, and if this requires us to elevate the normal course of human events to those that are the most, the hardest, the best, the Platonic ideal of whatever, then we seem willing to do so.

I don't know that I can fully articulate my frustration. The intense desire we have to feel exceptional mixed with our equally strong instinct to judge ourselves as a failure against the lofty achievements of those who came before. You know, maybe I'm engaging in exactly the same kind of behavior as those from other generations. Maybe we all have roles to fill.

Thinking about this, I was reminded of a lyric from the Silver Jews.

"The stars don't shine upon us. We're in the way of their light."

A great many things in the universe are entirely unconcerned with us. The sun didn't seek you out to glorify you in your selection as person of the year. You, we, were in the way of its light. And had a lesser or greater person stood where you were, the sun would have struck them as well. It doesn't play favorites. The universe, is in that regard perfectly democratic.

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