With his opening words J’Accuse, the celebrated French novelist Emile Zola publicly charged his government with anti-semetism in the infamous military scandal of 1897 known as the Dreyfus Affair. I’m not a novelist and I’m not French, but I too accuse the establishment. In this case, it’s the way we prize the physical over the aesthetic. Something like Jay Cutler vs Carlo Muti.
Nothing personal here, but Americans have always been a physical-minded stock. Then after the Russians shocked us by putting the first Sputnik in the sky (1957) we’ve gone nuts doubling down on our love for the physical. More than ever, math, science and physical ed have become the darlings of our schools, while lit, art, music take a back seat (see the 1995 movie “Mr Holland’s Opus” for details).
We’ve sensed it from the start — the first settlers in the 17th C on through the first astronauts in the 20th C — that stuff like poetry and theatre are nice, but not actually necessary. To be a great nation, a great city, a great family, a great football team, you need hard-driving raw power. That other stuff? Well, sure; but mostly for the girls and mostly if there’s time.
Here’s my accusation.
There will always be room for the doers. Who as kids can climb trees and as adults can smash anything from quarterbacks to atoms. At the same time there must always be room for the dreamers. The 98-pound-weakling who can’t make the team, but can sit in his room and pen magnificent adventures and explore the outer reaches of cyberspace. Whereas Mr Holland (played by Richard Dreyfus) saw his music classes the first to go by the budget cuts, the film ends with an Oscar winning tribute to that deeper part of our psyches which responds to the aesthetic as well as the physical.
Nothing wrong with this will to power in a people. It’s a hard world demanding hard responses. But haven’t we learned by now that the nerds and the dreamers we laughed at in school possess a power all their own. It’s fine to cheer your head off for a tough linebacker or a courageous firefighter. But also to value the gentle in our midst who better see their America in its symphonies, sonnets, and soaring imagination.
Walt Disney comes to mind here. Hard-driving doer inside a soft-lens dreamer. His Disney Worlds — starting right there on his charmingly imaginary Main Street — are a tribute to that gentler side of America. That side of us that scientists say emanates from our right-brain circuitry, but which I say emanates from the soft, fuzzy, child in us who still loves Santa, thrills to the Yellow Brick Road, and has probably kept some of those cut-out Valentines from their first loves back in 5th grade.
You know what…? I’m willing to bet Jay Cutler and Brian Urlacher kept a few too…!
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