Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Pondering the absence of Sir Ed
Sir Edmund Hillary's funeral is live on TV. It is huge. The numbers of people paying their respects leaves me in awe. As I type, a procession of Nepalese monks are draping gold silk on his casket. The more you learn of this fellow the more impressed you become.
As annemarie said after the last piece, she'd only ever heard of his climbing of Everest. I knew a little more than this due my antipodean proximity to New Zealand. But really I understood only a fraction of what he achieved. I wondered that people knew so little of him beyond 'first' and 'highest'.
As I pondered it, I realised it said as much about the media and those who shape us as it did about Sir Ed's modesty. The media is a machine that tells us who we should be. It is a 'mirror' that shows us our 'reflection'. You should be like this, it says. Before television existed people became who they were by interacting with other people. In countless exchanges with other humans each 'individual' was shaped to be less 'individual' and more considerate of others. It was others who shaped us and our 'shape' pivoted on our relations with them. We necessarily defined ourselves by those we necessarily lived with.
No longer. Certainly we still interact with others. We're not plugged into the Matrix yet. But we do so as little as possible because really we'd rather be watching television. We don't interact with it, as such. It interacts with us. It's a one-way trip. Don't underestimate the significance of this. Many many people spend more time being spoken to by TV than by actual humans. It shapes us much like old-fashioned human interactions but crucially it lacks the regard for the feelings of, and concern for, others. Look into that 'mirror' and see if you can see any selfless people there. All I see is striving, greedy, self-obsessed people who prize, above all else, money and celebrity. The canned applause and canned laughter tells us that these people are admirable and to be emulated.
Humans have always striven, but now it is different. For whom do we strive now? For each other? Hardly. Now we strive for our own personal selves. The biggest shows on TV, Survivor and Big Brother, are distillations of the paradigm we now embrace. Humans working together to achieve a worthy aim are utterly absent. It's now all about the individual most capable of manipulating others, using them and casting them off. Any alliances made are merely temporary affairs, self-serving shams to be ditched as the former ally is stabbed in the back. And we, the audience, 'interact' week after week, by voting, not for those we like, but against those we hate the most. At the end of this sordid hate-fest we cheer for the self-obsessed, celebrity-seeking winner-who-takes-all.
There is no one like Sir Ed on TV. Sir Ed was exactly the wrong sort of fellow. Advertisers who wanted him to promote breakfast cereal were shocked when he declared he didn't eat their cereal or particularly like it. That doesn't matter, said they, you merely turn up for the shoot and take the very big cheque. It matters to me, said Sir Ed. So much for those measure-of-success endorsement deals. In a paradigm pivoting on selfishness, Sir Ed was poison. He spurned tainted money and trinkets and could not be prostituted. He would speak the truth and that truth was selflessness.
No wonder annemarie knew so little of him. God forbid that individuals like this should get on television and set an example as to what humans might aspire to. Any model that offers an alternative to a petty, self-obsessed acquisitiveness, and to the treasured lying, cheating, stealing, will not be permitted. Consumer's minds (the word 'people' is passé, we are all consumers now) must revolve about possessions, money, celebrity and the self. Whoever dies with the most toys 'wins'. But no one outside their dependants will love them, honour them, or mourn them when they pass. The most for one is the least for all. The least for one is the most for all. Sir Ed with the least self-regard gave the maximum to the most. Even his death, in uniting millions to honour his selflessness, is a treasure of, and for, humanity.