George Michael, a British pop star who first achieved fame in the 1980s, died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. His death was likely caused by the scourge of wealthy music celebrities- his body/heart simply gave out after decades of abuse, mostly drugs. He was still a teenager when he first encountered star status, initially as part of a duo called Wham! After five years he transformed into a popular solo performer and continued active until recently. Some of his memorable songs were Wake Me Up Before You Go Go and Faith. In my opinion his songs were generally good in an era of some of the finest post-rock music (99 luftballons, If You Leave, most songs by the Cars) and some of the absolute worst, especially the precursors to Hip-Hop.
In his younger days of fame he was vibrant and handsome and the phrase “teen idol” could well have been applied to him. Much later after his fame and fortune were well established, in 1998, he publicly declared himself a homosexual following an arrest for public lewd behavior. At the time of his death his wealth was in the $130 million range.
There is nothing to suggest George Michael was anything other than a nice, and even kind, person. There is everything to suggest he suffered from the afflictions so common to absurdly rich celebrities: massive ego-centrism, endless pursuit of hedonism (recurrent addictions, reportedly spent a year at a $235,000 a month rehab spa), and need for affirmation from without. He was predictably a political progressive but apparently not exceptionally obnoxious about it, more inclined toward gestures and quips than in-your-face activism. Early in his career he wore a “Choose Life” t-shirt, though sadly this did not reflect Pro-Life sentiment but rather was a popular fashion of the time supposedly making a generic statement as being against war, death and destruction.
What provides insight into the mind of progressivism is not George Michael’s typical rich celebrity life, but what has been written regarding his death. On his “coming out” as a homosexual the UK Telegraph stated, “It was a deeply sad death for a man whose bravery in forcing the world to come to terms with his sexuality on his terms was widely admired, but who was dogged by the long shadow of Aids.” Disregarding the fact that the Village People had long ago come and gone by 1998 and he was “outed” as the consequence of an arrest, does “bravery” really have any place in this sentence? George Michael was not a RAF fighter pilot willingly facing death on a daily basis against the Luftwaffe during the Blitz, he was a fabulously wealthy celebrity who, perhaps literally, got caught with his pants down in a public area.
Likewise, the Telegraph wrote of, “George Michael's incredibleacts of kindness revealed following his untimely death.” What they were describing were donations made to a variety of fairly typical charities: AIDS and cancer research, a hotline for upset teenagers in the UK, and in one case free tickets to one of his concerts for nurses who helped care for his dying mother. These certainly speak well enough of him- a wealthy pop star giving a certain amount of money to perhaps well-intended causes- but “incredible acts of kindness” is a bit excessive and diminishes those who truly give of themselves as compared to a rich guy simply writing a check.
The point is not that George Michael was anything other than what he was- likely a decent person who had the misfortune of discovering celebrity and riches. The point is that we’ve entered a realm, a mindset, where we are driven to use superlatives and hyperbole for the unremarkable, unimpressive, and even mundane, and this is worrisome.
Over the recent holidays I spent some time with 3 and 6 year old brothers. Both are very bright and good kids, and both are spoiled materially and emotionally at what I guess to be the cultural average of today. More times than I would have liked I heard, “I DON’T WANT,” “I HATE…,” “IT’S UNFAIR,” you get the idea. With little children this is not unexpected, at least by current behavioral standards, which differ greatly from when I was their age. Nevertheless, presumably and hopefully, they will mature and learn to check their emotions before shouting annoying and even hurtful things, in other words they will develop reason, judgment, and rationality, all underpinned by compassion. They will learn that emphatic emotional and generally unfounded statements are rarely desirable or appropriate.
Now consider this oral ejaculation from our soon to be ex-Vice President: in referring to the killing of Bin Laden, Biden said in March 2012, “You can go back 500 years. You cannot find a more audacious plan…” If one asked it is possible someone so ignorant, uneducated, or simply stupid could spend a lifetime in the upper echelons of political power, the answer is unnervingly, “Yes.”
More recently our soon to be ex-President stated “There has never been any man or woman more qualified for this office than Hillary Clinton.” Barack Obama may not be as smart as he thinks, but he’s no dummy, so such an absurd claim can’t be attributable to limited intelligence. Rather, he seems compelled to use superlatives, particularly when related to himself: consider how many times any given action of his was self-described as “unprecedented” let alone his recurrent “calming of the oceans” type rhetoric. Though his sense of infallibility- truth for him seems to be defined as whatever ideas pop out of mouth- is less worrisome as he thankfully departs office, Obama isn’t unique when it comes to pompous politicians of all shades who live in an alt-world of baseless grandiosity and hyperbole.
Certainly we also see sensational claims emanating from the news media- no longer limited to tabloids- and advertising. The most banal product or webpage is frequently being hawked on the internet as “breathtaking,” “jaw dropping,” and “will leave you speechless.” Ominously, this exaggerated approach to language, and the associated thought process, seems to be rapidly diffusing throughout our progressive culture. Hence, someone who believes, “Sure, black lives matter, but other lives matter too” is decried as a hate-filled racist. Observing that’s the EU’s permissive attitude towards chaotic immigration of young males from the Middle East, especially without even a pretense of eventual assimilation, is foolish is derided as a hate-filled xenophobic Islamophobia. A reasonable person who feels the emotional problems of a confused middle-aged man won’t be solved by allowing him to move his bowels in the stall next to a 9 year-old girl is a hate-filled homophobe. And, of course, the endless Nazi this and Nazi that.
This culturally pervasive hyperbole can be amusing at times, but it begs asking the question- what type of person is motivated to think and talk in such extremes? My own hypothesis is we have found ourselves drifting about in such obscene wealth that we have become severely distanced from not just the basic survival aspects of life but from any significant meaningfulness. We are empty and hollow, not concerned with how to put food on the table but how many “likes” our Facebook page gathered from our latest inane post. We fill the great void with endless and absurd texting and Twitter following, video games, and constant streaming of zombie shows on Netflix. Our self-esteems are deservedly low, despite more than a generation of self-esteem enhancement as an end to itself, because our efforts and accomplishments are trivial. Somehow we need to feel important, but laziness gets in the way. The easiest path to assuaging our failures is to project, to blame others. We don’t want to take responsibility for our defects so we proudly declare ourselves to be victims, justifiably outraged at the forces that oppress us.
The lexicon of outraged oppression isn’t calm and measured but rather it is necessarily extreme- the Christian lady down the street has always seemed nice and friendly but she might have voted for Trump so she’s a NAZI! If one’s life is largely a void, extremes in thought and language are the fastest way to fill it, with the advantage of requiring no actual effort. In other words, if those who disagree with me on any given issue are extremely bad and wrong, then I must be extremely good and right.
The advantage of extreme language and thought is the wonderful, though fleeting, feeling of satisfaction and importance. There are disadvantages, however, one of which is diminishing value, utility, and diversity of language. If everyone who disagrees with you on issues big and small is a Nazi, there is no room left for, “I don’t agree with her but she’s overall a nice and fair-minded person.” The real worrisome aspect of this semantic mutation is that the very empty people who are inclined to use extreme language and thought are likewise susceptible to it, and given enough power can cause all sorts of havoc. This can be manifested by anything from an overall loss of civility to suppression of rights of the perceived opposition.
The most radical possible outcome is the dehumanization of people now essentially considered the enemy (a phraseology not unknown to our outgoing President; consider his “…we’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends…” quote from 2010). If a black person is relegated to the status of jungle bunny or ape, it is that much easier to enslave or lynch him. If an unborn child is merely a blob of tissue or parasite, it is much easier to abort her. If a homosexual is just a faggot it’s less problematic kicking his ass. If everyone who disagrees with a progressive leftist is a “phobe” of some sort or Nazi or fascist, hate easily follows, and what results from hate is usually very ugly.
The progressive left (actually the extreme right and the extreme left are, to quote Rev. Lovejoy, pretty much the same; at the moment the left holds the cultural power) seems to function best when disregarding the huge complexity of individuals and distilling people into monolithic groups, then to be embraced or hated- LGBTG good, Christian evil, Muslim good, Trump supporter Nazi, and so on. This was emphasized recently in a 24 hour new cycle story in which distinguished Associate Professor of Politics and Global Studies George Ciccariello-Maher at Drexel University, a privileged white person perhaps consumed by guilt over his white privilege, informed the world via Twitter, “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” But of course this was all in good fun, with some kind of subtle double-entendre subsequently discovered by his supporters, so move along, nothing to see here.
For the most part I grew up with the “sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you” philosophy and this remains excellent advice, at least in regards to playground bullies. But extreme words used to promote hate, especially in the absence of moderating thought or language and when directed towards immature an emotionally vacuous people, can eventually inspire the breaking of bones and worse. We can hope that the current trend will be short-lived and that we can return to an enlightened liberal tolerance that is bi-directional.
Otherwise RIP George Michael, a decent enough chap as the British would say, who suffered a life and death of excessive wealth and celebrity.