Dick Clark died this week at 82. I am sorry for his family.
It’s interesting to watch and listen to people’s reactions when a celebrity passes away. For one, while tens of thousands die everyday, some in extreme and avoidable circumstances like war, the world pays little attention. When one celebrity dies, the world notices.
People worldwide are tweeting, writing, and talking about Clark’s life and legacy. I don’t have a problem with this. It’s a way of expressing respect for a human being. I have nothing against Dick Clark. I even liked some of the things he did and is remembered for in entertainment. None of what I say here is really about him. It’s just that his passing triggered these thoughts.
Sometimes I wonder at the comments offered when a celebrity dies. When John Lennon was killed in 1980 the world fell apart, and it was indeed a tragedy. Eventually I read a piece praising Lennon for his “generosity” because he’d given $65,000 to nonprofit work. I remember that number clearly. I’m glad he gave, and this amount of money was worth more then than now, but frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Reason was, I’ve worked in nonprofit organizations all my adult life and I’ve seen people give hundreds of thousands and even multi-million dollar gifts numerous times, attracting no media. But then again, these folks didn’t give to make the papers.
One article I read waxed rhapsodic about Dick Clark, saying his influence was profound, that there’d never be another like him. Again, no disrespect intended to Mr. Clark, but “profound”? Dick Clark was a television host and producer. He’s most remembered for “American Bandstand” and his lifelong youthful looks. There will “never be another like him”? There already is: his showbiz heir, Ryan Seacrest. Frankly, while Mr. Clark’s contributions to entertainment are admirable, there are many unsung heroes in this world whose influence is or will be much more profound.
People are moved when a celebrity dies in part because it’s an inescapable reminder of their own mortality. It’s a reminder that you can live for the Devil if you want but eventually your life comes to a close and an accounting. As such, celebrity funerals are sometimes an exercise in denial.
At Frank Sinatra’s funeral in 1998, Kirk Douglas told the media heaven would be rockin’ tonight because Frank was there with the Rat Pack. Excuse me? Frank and the Rat Pack? What in or about Frank’s life, great talent though he was, would lead anyone to think he’s partying in heaven? I hope he is, but there’s no evidence in his life to suggest it.
None of this is to minimize the importance of any individual. When Whitney Houston died of drug abuse earlier this year in her 40s people rightfully mourned. They mourned the silencing of an incredible voice, a rare gift. They mourned the passing of a human being. They grieved that one had departed too young.
All this is good and appropriate. But we sometimes go over-the-top when a celebrity passes. We seem to lack perspective, an ability to honor and appreciate and reminisce while also understanding right, wrong, and consequences. America’s celebrity-watching seems to have morphed into celebrity-worship, something unhealthy for both the celebrity and the culture.
All human beings matter. All are worth celebrating—at least for their humanity if not always for their humaneness. Perhaps that is what we should ponder in the wake of a celebrity’s passing.
No country can live long and prosper without a sense of itself. Without a defined national identity and, better yet, national character. No country grows or moves forward in a positive way without aspiration, ambition, goals. America once possessed all these things. Now, I’m not so sure.
I’ve written earlier blogs and articles on “American Ambition Asked And Answered.” I’m concerned about what my grandchildren will not find.
I don’t cast this concern or any arguments I make in simply political terms, Right or Left, but in terms of patriotism. I care about and appreciate my country, so I must speak.
We are now in the midst of a presidential election campaign. It’s mostly noise. Look at me. I’m more-Conservative-than-thou. I’m hip and cool so what more do you need? Not much depth here. Not much moral courage, bold ideas, or statesmen or women with backbone to match their character…or is that the other way around?
I’m looking for, listening for, leaders—whatever race or ethnicity, whatever gender, whatever religion—who speak of a future toward which we can and must work together to make it a bright future. I’m listening for truly selfless, humble, nonpartisan expressions of optimism and creativity. I’m wondering if such leaders any longer exist, because I’m wondering if our culture is strong enough to any longer produce them.
America needs to define itself once again. Who are we? What really is an American?
Being American is more than being born here, though that could be involved. Being American is more than speaking English, though that is involved. Being American is understanding and embracing a set of ideals and an outlook on life and the future.
I’m hoping we’ve simply misplaced our understanding of what it means to be an American, rather than lost it forever. Once we find it we’ll be able to recast an American aspiration for a bright and hopeful future.
I’m about at my saturation point with the phrase “Oh my God.” It’s not just that the phrase uses God’s name in vain, which it does. It’s that you hear the phrase repeated endlessly everyday. It’s like people don’t know other ways to talk.
When did our culture’s vocabulary skills slip so precipitously that the only—the only—way people on the street, at work, or on film and TV know how to express emotion is to say “Oh my God”?
Certainly scriptwriters have lost all sense of proportion or creativity. They seemingly don’t know how to write words their characters can say to demonstrate surprise, anger, fear, frustration, or a host of other strong emotions without saying “Oh my God” not once but four and five times. Really, are there no other words and phrases in the English language capable of communicating strong emotions? Would Shakespeare be Shakespeare if he’d gotten into a similar rut of repetitive base vocabulary?
Years ago one of my favorite television programs was “Magnum P.I.” I liked the program, and I liked the star Tom Selleck then and now. What I didn’t like and found egregious and grating was how the show crafted the Jonathan Higgins character played by John Hillerman. Higgins was the estate “major domo.” Ostensibly, he ran things. He was OK, even funny, but as the show aged the Higgins character was given a principal epithet. Remember? At first Higgins would just spit out a resounding “Oh my God” and that was the end of it. But in later episodes, the camera zoomed in for a facial close-up and Higgins would intone “Oh…my…GOD” slowly and with great exclamation. I guess the producers thought this was a grand addition to the character and show. For me it was just an example of the producers’ lacking common sense and their writers lacking verbal ingenuity.
Now I hear “Oh my God” from store clerks and flight attendants. I hear it from people interviewed by news media. Political leaders, certainly entertainers and sports figures (Tiger Woods with variations of the phrase on air at The Masters), comedians of course, characters in sit-coms including children, overheard mothers at Walmart, and used-to-be-buttoned-up news anchors all weigh in with “Oh my God,” morning show or primetime. I hear this phrase from old and young, professionals of all types, and, inexplicably, at times even clergy (Pastors and some Southerners have their own adaptation; they say “Oh Lord” or “Oh Lordy.”)
Now we’re not just hearing it; we’re seeing or reading it. OMG is online chat-speak for “Oh my God.” It’s an acronym, but it’s used the same way as the phrase. I see it on Facebook and Twitter nearly everyday. I read it in wall posts or tweets written by people who I know claim religious faith. What does this mean? Are they oblivious? Do they not care?
I see it in comic strips. “Luann,” for example, uses this version: “Oh my Gaww.”
Meanwhile, the English language remains rich and varied. The number of words in the English language is estimated at 750,000 to over 900,000 distinct terms. Don’t you suppose we could find words, other than “Oh my God,” for expressing our emotions?
The answer to the question is, of course, Yes. But culturally and individually we’ve become not simply profane but lazy. People don’t know other words because they’ve never been expected to or tried to learn. It’s sad, because if the trend isn’t arrested we’ll keep slipping into a swamp built from the lowest common denominator of pop speech.
I can’t change the world, but at least I can assure I don’t contribute to the problem. So can you.
You heard that right. In a state with 25 casinos these groups think we need 7-8 more.
The groups are euphemistically named Citizens for More Michigan Jobs and Michigan Is Yours. Makes you want to sprint to the polling booth doesn’t it? Pro-gambling groups never name themselves More Casinos For More Debt or Gamble Till Your Money’s Gone. No, they’re about “more jobs.” Sure they are.
And the same old tired arguments are being trotted out in support of more casinos, e.g., that these establishments will be taxed at high levels and the money will go for—public schools, police and fire services, townships, road repair, and my favorite, gambling-addiction prevention programs. (The best gambling-addiction prevention program is not to gamble.)
In other words, casino proponents argue that new casinos will provide more money for a host of social services people like, want, or need. Makes political sense: who’s against schools?
But the problem is, this is a bait and switch. Sure, this tax revenue may be earmarked for education and such, but it doesn’t mean education and such gets more money, which is what the public thinks. It means that these funds will go for education and such and then the Legislature will redirect elsewhere tax revenues that would have gone to education and such. In the end, education and such doesn’t necessarily, in fact usually does not at all, end up with more funds. They just end up with other funds, and the public is duped into a new “painless” (for politicians) tax.
Casinos don’t produce anything. They don’t add to the local economy in any way. In fact, casinos drain money from legitimate businesses in the local economy. And, while you cannot make a good case that gambling causes negative social and economic pathologies, you certainly can make a credible case that gambling is correlated with negative social and economic pathologies. These developments—e.g., debt and bankruptcy, job absenteeism, suicide, divorce, theft, health issues—cost local economies. The pubic ends up paying more in increases in health care premiums and increases in criminal justice costs.