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The Cons of the Icons

Iíve got hero trouble. This is no statement of spiritual independence. Honestly, Iíd take a mentor if I could find one; I know Iíve still got a lot to learn. But Iím so consumed right now with a fixation on a couple of antiheroes that I canít calm down enough to be receptive.

Iím not a rebel. I got over that a while back. When I say antihero, I donít mean ďcool guy.Ē Iíve been watching a lot of nouvelle vague movies recently, itís true, and reading the usual crop of thinly veiled bildungsromans by articulate white guys, who more-or-less always pen themselves in opposition to the rest of the less-articulate world. So, yes, Iím filling myself with a steady diet of existential crisis as per usual. But Iím old enough to no longer indulge myself in the ďtheyíll miss me when Iím goneĒ revenge fantasy that gets one through so many adolescent evenings. It still works vicariously in some fiction and film, but itís a guilty pleasure, these days, to admire those uncompromising characters whom the world crushes in its indifferenceóin real life, I want my payment up front in currency not limited to dignity in defeat.

Theyíre not those kinds of antiheroes. Theyíre more like inverse heroes.

In folk tales, the hero is often an ordinary sort who, by meeting extraordinary challenges, himself becomes extraordinary. The couple Iím focusing on have done the opposite: They were born into extraordinary circumstances and by their every public act and utterance prove themselves to be hopelessly, infuriatingly banal.

Ladies and gentlemen, the first couple of the new American Century: George W. Bush and Paris Hilton.

This is the current face of America. Theyíre freaking everywhere, andóGod, help meóI canít look away.

Now, let me say, that I have nothing against these two personally. I donít pretend to have insight onto their secret heartbreaks or struggles. So, I wish them no harm. In fact, in the spirit of the season, I say, happy holidays to you, George and Paris. My problem with them is as icons: I know the type, we all know the type, and I am absolutely consumed with irritation over their high-profile and inexcusable blandness in the face of seemingly singular circumstances.

See, I donít know the president of the United States nor the 22-year-old chippy heir to a billion-plus hospitality fortune, but Iím pretty sure I went to high school with them. You did, too, if you went to an even moderately affluent suburban or small urban school: Odds are, they were the king and queen of your prom. He, a charming, affable underachiever from a well-to-do family; she, the girl with the reputation for being pretty so widespread that it was impossible to evaluate her actual prettiness. He had a nickname for you, which flattered you as an underclassman, but irked you when it later dawned that his geniality was motivated by a lack of interest in the world around him and was a byproduct of the generalized haze, the inspecificity of dimness, in which he coasted past. She spoke to you twice: Once, behind her hand to an acolyte in a way that made you feel a sharp pang of undefined shame; and once, slurringly, at the only party you threw in your parents house. You later realized she had stolen a bottle of rum and puked in your momís washing machine.

In high school, you disliked these people for the ease of their unquestioned ascendance, the effortlessness of their perceived superiority, and the unfairness of it given their total lack of ability beyond the cultivation of image. Later, you comforted yourself with rumors that he had lost his hair, or was middle- management in the insurance industry, and with the realization that she had really been flashy and confident, without ever being truly attractive. Their bought-and-paid-for lives ceased to seem glamorous past graduation, and they had no tools to utilize independent of what was provided for them.

But these were, comparatively speaking, suburban nobodies. The Bush and Hilton families were capable of providing their own twerps positions of greater impact.

What bothers me about them is not their wealth or power or celebrity, per se, but the terrifying lack of imagination with which they employ the same. Shortly after the arrest of Saddam Hussein, Bush made clear his belief that the former dictator should be put to death for his crimes (surprise, surprise), adding the transparent caveat that the penalty should be consistent with the desires of the Iraqi people. That inspires confidence, doesnít it? A word to the Iraqi people: Do not follow the captain of the football team out to the spot in the woods. There is no keg, and this will end badly.

I wonder when heís going to start referring to the Iraqi people collectively as Big Guy?

As boring and obvious as Bush is with power, his co-star is worse with money. Come on, coke in the bathrooms of New York City restaurants? Public and/or videocammed sex with C-listers on the fringes of the entertainment industry? Off-the-shoulder styles in revivified Manhattan discos? Jay McInerney should demand royalties on Hiltonís life.

Itís not that itís bad, itís that itís boring.

I want the American president to be Jeffersonian: elite in intellect, populist in practise. Not vice versa. I also want him to be imaginative enough to be sensitive to ambiguity and relativism, and thus empathetic and merciful. Bigger than life, not just big as the locker room. Macho is so . . . embarrassing.

And I want 20-something American heiresses to be hedonists of Sadean proportions. Surprise us, let us sin through you, Paris. Youíve got the resources.

I want the public face of America to be heroic, and I want our heroes to have style.

Why should the French have all the fun?

óJohn Rodat


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