Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"The Whole Thing": re-posted for Norman Ball

Regarding the whole thing. No one can see the whole thing.
A very few can imagine it. No one can deal with it.

I imagine the whole thing as a great ball of dirty dough rolling and bouncing over an old dirt road through a green valley. Everything it touches sticks to it and subsequently becomes part of the revolving show, much like the wheel of fortune about which Boethius wrote in his Consolation of Philosophy And everything that sticks to the dough can ride along for a spell or be plastered back on the road or thrown out to the fields.

I used to think that the reason I wasn't more successful in managing the whole thing was that I wasn't rich or famous enough to afford help with the whole thing.

Celebrities of every stripe have managers, maids, valets, lawyers, accountants, trainers and more, so I reasoned, to manage the whole thing for them with little supervision. Thus I lived in hope of becoming a celebrity to better deal with the whole thing. But each time I approached the cusp of fame I was so worn out from the swim that I missed the boat.

When I saw Whitney Houston looking like a Holocaust survivor in the tabloids, I realized that life can become unmanageable even for celebrities! Imagine that. (I do think Whitney would be well-served to hire a new drug counselor, one not afraid to slap the bitch around!).

Let us admit that not even a celebrity with support troops can manage the whole thing. The thing is--it's just too--too too too--gigantic to approach, this nightmare of a dough ball thundering through your green valley like a pale head.

Even with a personal trainer, you have to do the exercises. You have to decide what shade of white you want your teeth. Someone can shop for you, someone can dress you, but no one can sleep for you. And it's precisely in these unprotected moments that the whole thing comes to smash you and hoist you above like flattened gum on its sticky, inexhaustible surface.

There is no escaping the whole thing. The whole thing doesn't care if you have a personal trainer. The whole thing can make you fat if it wants to. We are talking about the very elemental forces of nature.

All matter, including sentient beings, is subject to the whole thing. And just when you reach the top of the spinning sphere with your beautiful wife and wonderful job and a ranch style house and 1.5 children, down you go. The whole thing will cram a Mercedes down your throat and a mortgage up your ass at the worst possible moment. As for children, there’s always leukemia. The wife? She can have an affair with your boss. If you're the boss, she can always have an affair with your secretary. The whole thing, the giant turning sphere of sticky dough that supersedes our most cherished plans is always there, ready to turn our existence inside out at a moment’s notice. It has and will.

There is no protection from the whole thing. Psychiatric medications may smooth out the gut-fluttering ride, but they can't protect you from being stuck in the dough and whirled about.

Occasionally the whole thing will drop you on the road and you feel a strange relief in getting off the randomly revolving spherical insanity without getting lost in the adjoining fields, where your inconsequentiality, as in death, will torture you and tempt you back to the unendurable ride. Trust me, this won't last: this is the whole thing psyching you up into a lack of caution before it swallows you again, plasters you to its surface, and takes you down the valley to the next dumping point, where contentment briefly threatens but ultimately eludes.

There is no escape from the whole thing.


  1. Anonymous6:13 AM PDT

    Of course life is an overhwleming, ultimately terminal endeavor. It may be cliche but the rich and famous simply contend with a whole new eschelon of problems.

    Look at the grotesque messes they make of themselves in their efforts to hold back time and prolong celebrityhood. With the advent of convenience store cosmetic surgery, I find celebrities looking decidedly more ghoulish than in the past.

    Anonymity relieves us of this horrible treadmill. We're better looking or at least more gracefully ugly.


  2. But anonymity is also a curse for those who spend so much time watching the celebrated on video.

    Anonymity also drives many to madness and murder; in Brando's words, "I coulda been a somebody." Those with insufficient positive attention seek negative attention, as in those random D.C. killings.

    Health may lie in rejecting the somebody vs. nobody dualism; all celebrities are nobodies, especially once at room temperature, and all nobodies are celebrities to their family and friends; it is only, except for the truly talented and deserving, a difference in publicity, a marketing issue.

    I used to think that a celebrity could better control the whole thing, but they are under much more pressure to stay on the top of the rolling dirty doughball.

  3. Anonymous7:17 AM PDT

    "Health may lie in rejecting the somebody vs. nobody dualism"

    Exactly. There's the prescription. But how do you cure the monkey of his penchant for the witch doctor and the magician? The need to elevate someone is so strong that I believe we elevate charlatans, shysters and Elmer Gantry's even when we KNOW that's exactly what they are.

    Bowie's 1974 Young Americans was just re-released. I think he deserves a prescient star for penning this:


    "Somebody Up There Likes Me"

    He's everybody's token, on everybody's wall
    Blessing all the papers, thanking one and all
    Hugging all the babies, kissing all the ladies
    Knowing all that you think about from writing on the wall
    He's so divine, his soul shines
    Breaks the night, sleep tight
    His ever loving face smiles on the whole human race
    He says "I'm somebody"
    He's got his eye on your soul, his hand on your heart

    He says "Don't hurry, baby
    Somebody up there (somebody) likes me"
    He's the savage son of the TV tube
    Planets wrote the day was due
    All the wisest men around
    Predicted that a man was found
    Who looked a lot like you and me, yeah
    Everyone with sense could see
    Nothing left his eye unmoved, he
    Had the plan, he had to use
    He's so divine, his soul shines
    Breaks the night, sleep tight
    His ever loving face smiles on the whole human race

    He says "I'm somebody"
    He's got his eye on your soul, his hand on your heart

    He says "Don't hurry, baby
    Somebody up there (somebody) likes me"
    Somebody plays my song in tune
    Makes me, makes me, makes me stronger for you, babe
    Was a way when we were young, that
    Any man was judged by what he'd done
    But now you pick them on the screen (what they look like)
    Where they've been

    [CHORUS 2]
    He's got his eye on your soul, his hand on your heart

    He says "Don't hurry, baby
    Somebody up there (somebody) likes me"
    Leaders come, they hate all the people know
    That given time, the leaders go
    Tell me, can they hold you under their spell
    Can they walk and hold you as well Can they
    smile like Valentino?
    Could he sell you anything?
    Keep your eyes on your soul, keep your hand on your heart

    He says "Don't hurry, baby
    Somebody up there (somebody) likes me"
    Somebody (somebody) somebody (somebody
    Yeah, can't remember (somebody) peace so well

  4. "There's the prescription. But how do you cure the monkey of his penchant for the witch doctor and the magician?"

    Gotta love your mixed metaphors!

    I think Aristotle was right about theater, and that television does a great service to humanity in treating boredom and preventing violence.

    We have to imagine a world without television, the internet and radio to decide such an effect. Certainly Africa is most deprived and most violent. Nevertheless its lack of technology could only be a reflection of its brutal tribal conflicts and place in historical progress, given that we take the democratic industrial model as the present height of civilization.

    The rise of the celebrity over the Aristocracy as a subject for vicarious identification for society at large likely began with Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther," which launched the Romantic period and made possible the reception of Napoleon and Byron as superheroes--two of history's greatest celebrities.

    The cultural phenomenon of celebrity is therefore not new, only its ease of acquiring, its pervasiveness, and the dark side or an increased desperation to escape anonymity, as in gobbling maggots in a plexiglass helmet on reality TV.

    Thanks for the Bowie lyrics.

    Now there's one artist who's been smart enough to exploit celebrity to its full extent. His musical worth is another debate, but I would not raise the question anymore as his work is superior to most of what passes for rock today.

  5. Anonymous6:04 PM PDT

    CE, speaking of Byron and celebrity, may I reference a Spring 2001 essay of mine from Alsop 'The Poet as Celebrity'? The Alsop reference appears on my website though not in this frame.


  6. Anonymous8:25 AM PDT

    Some French philosopher said that a person's character can only be adduced from what they do behind closed doors. You offer a bleak assessment. In a TV vacuum, violence would fill the void. From a social utilitarian perspective, we should thus cheer TV despite its violent imagery because to the extent we're watching violence, we're not committing it. You may be right. Then again, maybe there'd be a mad rush to devour the classics. Nah.



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