by Walter A. Davis
“Why would you want to tarnish your beautiful mind by thinking about unhappy things.” Barbara Bush (on Katrina)
“Were thinking about those poor kids today.” This the statement throughout the Penn State community and elsewhere preceding the kickoff of last Saturday’s football game against Nebraska.
Hard to find a better case of what Freud called disavowal. Or fetishistic disavowal: I deny the thing—thinking—in the very act of claiming it for “us.”
Also the amerikan dilemma. For what are the thoughts that those so suddenly eager to proclaim thought thought: what a pity; those poor boys; I hope they get the help they need…and that people see that this isn’t what Penn State or football or college athletics or any Program too big to fails all about…thinking as the need to mouth empty platitudes serving the one need—to feel good about oneself via quick catharsis. If not when we see the two teams kneeling in tebow- prayer before the game—with a rah rah jesus cheer at the end in hopes of victory--by kickoff at least when all our thoughts turn to the really important things.
Biggest program of all of course the Holy Roman Catholic Church. And maybe, just maybe if a few Bishops and Cardinals and the biggest Joe Pa, the Pope himself, big Charlie, John Paul I—had been prosecuted for criminal facilitation (and other crimes against humanity)—and were in prisons now waiting not for Godot but for coach Jerry—well, maybe then what happened at Penn State might have been prevented. As Brett Ashley would say, “Isn’t it pretty to think so.”
Say a prayer for those kids, Joe Paterno told those who visited his house to protest his firing. Like the prayers one assumes Joe Pa has been saying for those kids for the past 15 years. And thus a lesson in the efficacy of prayer (to the non-existent God, he but the term for our willed weakness. Say a prayer, me Mum used to say whenever anything went wrong. What good will that do? I asked. “Well, it can‘t hurt,” she’d reply in that smugly assertive way true believers have. That’s where she was wrong. Prayer hurts. It is, indeed, a positive evil because it encourages people in the belief that thereby they can acquit themselves of responsibility for the situations they should work to change and are afraid to face.
And that assistant who saw Coach Jerry sodomizing a 10 year old boy in a shower and thought the proper response was to inform Papa Joe who dutifully passed the news up the food chain: what can we say of him? Given his size and what Penn State is even learning to call his “moral” responsibility? By the looks of him this guy—who rose to a high position in the Penn State coaching ranks—stands about 6ft. 4 and must weigh in at around 250. And so no excuse for not intervening to protect that child, beat coach jerry within an inch of his fucking life, and carry that child to social services where they’d be met by the police and by mental health workers. Instead he slinked away and remained a craven coward afterward.
But let us reserve our last thoughts for Joe—and through him for us. Imagine Joe playing the lead in a slightly rewritten production of King Lear. For the tragic is constituted by three facts about life that most people don’t want to think about: (1) you’re in a tragic situation when the thing about yourself that you tried to escape rises up and reveals your entire life as a lie; (2) you become a tragic figure by seeing that you brought it down upon yourself; (3) you do that by suffering –without any god or reputation etc. to let you off the hook—suffering the way Lear suffers, by forcing yourself to think all the things you’ve refused to think about yourself and life. But the pity of it, for that to be visited on an 84 year old man. “Thou should not have been old until thou were wise,” says Edgar to his father in King Lear.
But we all know none of that will happen. This is the tragic fact of most people lives—especially those who tell us they’re thinking about those poor kids. When people should be tragic—when they should force themselves to live within that register of the psyche—they find that they can’t. They don’t have the slightest idea how to do so. They can’t think, feel, suffer, nor act beyond the pablum of empty beliefs and ideas they’ve been sucking on their whole lives because it made them feel good. The incapacity for tragedy is the tragedy they share with Joe Pa. So don’t worry—nothing profound will visit Joe Pa’s soul. His tragedy—like the common tragedy—is to be incapable of tragedy; incapable of any inwardness save banality. And justice for coach Jerry--=well in the joint guys know how to meet out another justice for him, the justice that should have happened in that shower room long ago.
A final word about a true hero who should be considered by Time Magazine as its Person of the Year and by Sports Illustrated as its “Sportsman of the Year.” We know him as “victim 1.” Given what was done to him and what he has suffered, his coming forward is an act of singular courage.
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