David Hines
Deposing demigods
By David Hines
September 3, 2012

It was insufficient for Stalin to eliminate those of whom he disapproved. He had photos doctored to remove the former comrades, erasing evidence that they were ever present. They were to be deleted from memory.

Stalin was far from the first to practice person erasure. Akhenaton sought to institute monotheism in Egypt, destroying the power of the entrenched traditional priesthood. In his young son's reign the policy was reversed. When Tutankhamen died at age 18, rulers with ambiguous claim to the throne took over. They found it insufficient to destroy statues of Akhenaton. His new city, Amarna (called at the time Akhetaton), was abandoned; cartouches of his name were scratched out of carvings.

So it is with Joe Paterno. Not only is he gone, but his name is to be erased and his legacy destroyed with punitive treatment, not of him but of those students who entered the Penn State football program.

It's still up in the air whether the library Joe and his wife helped fund will retain the name. If not, will the university return the money to his widow? If JoePa's name is anathema, isn't the money tainted at least as much as Judas's pieces of silver?

People expect their heroes to be superhuman. If they're not demigods, they must be demons. One would think it apparent that nobody could possibly live up to such an expectation — unless they die young, before having their shortcomings exposed. Why, then, do people persist in this expectation of perfection?

It's the cult of The Leader (in German, "der Fuehrer"). The celebrity is accredited with all the power and glory of the collective. As we've heard recently, you didn't build it; the Leader did. People discount their own power to run their lives, and accredit it all to the Leader and his minions. Germany didn't have one Fuehrer. There were fuehrers in virtually every walk of life — business, academia, youth groups, etc. Top-down direction was seen as an imperative.

When the Leader falls from grace, then, it reflects poorly on everyone. They take it personally. Just as they basked in the collective power and glory when the Leader was a demigod, they wallow in collective shame and guilt when the Leader becomes a demon. Collective redemption is expected to come through iconoclasm — expelling and erasing the demons, and elevating new demigods.

The recent Olympics also highlight the point. Michael Phelps was a demigod, proving that "Americans can swim!" His swimming was our swimming, despite the fact that he was the one in the pool every day, training. Then he was seen smoking pot — something a few of our presidents have also done. Suddenly he was a bit demonish. "Real Americans don't smoke pot!" But now the furor in a tea container is forgotten; he has proved again that "Americans can swim!"

Whatever JoePa's sins, he was neither demigod nor demon. He was a human being. The same goes for our politicians — something to be remembered in an election year, when they are promising miracles.

© David Hines


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David Hines

Born in a mill town, David Hines has seen work as a furniture mover, computer programmer/analyst, and professional musician... (more)


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