Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Unbearable Bigness of Ben

I guess to get a point across to the baseline populace of Pittsburgh, especially those who are of the “sports fan” persuasion, any attempt at subtlety is considered a gigantic waste of time. Hence, we have these tidbits, all from a single article by a local reporter concerning Ben Roethlisberger's latest off-field misadventure:

o “... Roethlisberger and his posse of beefy buddies...”
o “... those big ol' boys...”
o “... several very large males...”
o “... seven to nine other large men...”
o “... a group of big guys...”
o “They were all big.”
o “We call them the 'linemen' because they're so big.”

Has anyone gotten the point yet? We're talking big here. Massive, huge. The kind of guys who could darken the door of a dirigible hangar, or swallow Fat Albert in one gulp. I'm talking big. Like, if you're anywhere in the building when these guys walk in, you think an earthquake has struck, and immediately start filling out FEMA paperwork for disaster assistance.

And of course, in this swirling sea of bigness... this maelstrom of hugeness... Big Ben is the Biggest of the Big. He is large and in charge. He is the Sun, and all the other barons of bigness circle around him in orbits of various shapes and sizes. And of course, generously peppered through this solar system of size are all the hangers-on, toadies, gofers, groupies, bimbos, and assorted parasites, barnacles, and leeches of both sexes – think of an entire world made up of Macy's parade-sized floats of the Chippendale men, plus a countless number of Kato Kaelins. And all they want is to touch the hem of his garment, and be photographed with him. (Well, some of them might want a bit more, but...) In fact, think any tribal chief, his ministers, and the rabble. Think Hitler and his entourage... or Stalin and his underlings standing atop Lenin's tomb. This is the shape, in other words, of the most primitive of human societies – the strong man, his goons, and everyone else – a model that is still alive and well in sub-Saharan Africa as well as in criminal gangs... not to mention Wall Street and politics. It prospers, in other words, when the people involved have nothing better to offer, and nothing better to hope for – either because they have given up hoping for anything more, or they don't realize there _is_ anything more.

And really, there is nothing to object to in this model of social organization, as long as it's understood that it is, indeed, the most primitive of them all. You could go back 10,000 years in human history and scenes like Big Ben's barhopping would be as familiar then as they are now. The amazing thing is how many people still consider this the epitome of social activity and “fun” (of both the direct and vicarious sorts). And it's also not uncommon for people with little or no power – that would be most of us – latching on to people with considerable power... or at least the illusion of power... the “charisma” of power, if you will. Perfectly understandable – just simple human nature, right?

But I'm wondering if the writer of the above-referenced article is really as much in awe of Big Ben's bigness, and the bigness of his disciples, as the typical sports fan is... or if he's trying to weave a skillful satire, or lampoon, of this particular fetish. Does he consider Ben & Co. to be truly awe-inspiring and admirable, or a bunch of dumb jocks and fools who don't know how to stay out of trouble? It's hard to say... and it's even harder to say what the aggregate attitude about all of this is among Big Ben's fans. If it's true that he can do no wrong, then his accuser is just another rent-seeking bimbo. But if he is flawed enough to have done what he's accused of, then their idol has feet of clay, and it will be hard to forget all that the next time he takes the field -- “if” he takes the field again, of course. I imagine the main topic of discussion among Steelers management these days is, do we cut our losses and wipe the slate clean and move on, leaving Big Ben to his own devices... or do we wait upon the turning of the wheel of justice? And of course the determining factor, as always, will be the impact on the bottom line. Is Ben more of a liability than an asset at this point? Has he gone the way of Tiger Woods? Because if he has, he'll be cut, fired, and exiled without mercy, even though the people who do the deed don't make one tenth of what he makes. But that's the paradox of power in the world today – it's correlated with wealth, but not synonymous with it... and it's correlated with bigness as well, but there's a limit to everything -- and for that we can all be thankful.

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