The Fading Of The Icons

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By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

These last few weeks have given us a long parade of extremes. If we weren’t so busy trying to figure out how to keep a solid footing and secure future without scaring ourselves senseless, it would be an intriguing display of improbable circumstance. Some might call this condition in extremis, which literally means “in the farthest reaches” and indicates a dire situation, sometimes unto death. The Cambridge dictionary describes it as an adverb meaning “in an extremely difficult situation.” I think few of us would argue that point.

Political Blog, News, Information, Astrological Perspective. Mercury retrogrades have a reputation for slowing us down for a closer scan of our problem, like looky-loos crawling past an accident scene on the freeway. This week we’ve been peering into the wreckage of our inability to come to terms with climate change and the remnants of a Cold War consigned to history but still lingering in near-memory. We’re also being given a review of our societal growing pains in the passing of iconic entertainment figures close to our hearts. Because nothing is for nothing in this remarkable universe of ours, it’s upon us to be paying close attention to what presents for review.

The dismaying weather reports, for instance, sucking up most of the oxygen on cable news, should give us necessary information on this most pressing challenge of our age. Olympic coverage, interrupting the normal cadence of prime-time programming, has provided us a Petrie dish of both iconic gamesmanship and international goodwill, as well as a clear view of the mentality that has promoted nationalism and hindered the development of global community. Nancy Pelosi, responding to the early problems with the Russian Olympics village, remarked that Sochi should never have been selected. Me, I think our last Olympic endeavor in China and this one in Russia is spot-on to bring our own national behaviors into perspective alongside those of former despots and foreign ideologies.

Just in terms of ecological challenge, the headlines are daunting. While catastrophic ice storms, cold and snow hit Georgia for the second time in weeks, toppling iconic trees and destroying fragile historical sites, Obama is promising to free up $100 million to help California with its record-breaking drought and potential fire emergencies. On the other side of the planet, Indonesian volcano Mount Kelud, on the main island of Java, has erupted, forcing 200,000 souls to relocate, while another member of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Sumatra’s Mount Sinabung, has been spewing rock and ash almost daily since September, killing 16 just this month. Meanwhile, it’s so warm at the Winter Olympics (59 degrees Fahrenheit) that the cross-country skiers are showing up in shirtsleeves and shorts. The Australians have had to develop a new color code to indicate the extreme heat that has them by the throat. And — causing a sharp pain to the heart — our iconic Monarch butterflies are all but gone, dwindling in number and territory to an alarming degree (find out how you can help here.)

It’s pretty hard to miss the dots connecting weather emergency to climate change, but deniers — dwindling in numbers themselves, now — continue to beat that drum, citing the alarming cold as proof there is no warming. Science would explain the simple context of additional moisture caused by warming creating a more humid and volatile weather pattern, expressing itself in extremes, but that would assume we all believe science to be credible. Unfortunately half of our elected legislators favor religious belief over science. They favor creationism over evolution as well, making them look so backward and uninformed that even uber-evangelist Pat Robertson begged young-earth creationists to stop making Christian fundamentalists look like a joke, calling their position “nonsense.” Bristling under chiding from one of their own beloved icon, the unyielding religious-right threw Pat to the wolves, accusing him of committing “blasphemy.”

This was also the week that the Church of England threw down on “the damage being done to the planet through the burning of fossil fuels.” This announcement came with a pledge to reconsider their investment policies, saying, “Climate Change is a moral issue because the rich world has disproportionately contributed to it and the poor world is disproportionately suffering.” Calling the threat of climate change “a giant evil, a great demon of our day,” the Right Reverend Stephen Croft declared, “The damage this great demon will do to this beautiful earth if unchecked, is unimaginable.” Britain, unlike the United States, has a state religion — rather delicately referenced as “the established church” — represented by the Church of England. There is simply no way to think this statement by a British representative of religion anything but a rebuke of rampant plutocracy, echoing the position taken recently by Pope Francis. No doubt the highest seasonal rainfall in 250 years, severe flooding and damage, as well as outbreaks of bacterial diseases have contributed to this renewal of moral concern. Ain’t that the way? On the other hand, the church’s financial consultants are not quite so high-minded about fracking, which seems a necessary evil, accent on the “necessary.” They’ll also keep their investments in BP and other oil companies while urging them to be responsible eco-stewards (I’m tempted to snort derisively, but I’ll honor their intent and affirm the possibility). Quite obviously, there appears to be a split between the Church commissioners who manage the funds, and the clergy, defining collective morality. And ain’t that the way, as well.

In case you haven’t noticed, that only leaves our recalcitrant congress-critters and the evangelicals, themselves in extremis, pacing the decks of the sinking ship “Denial,” tossing to and fro on a rapidly warming sea of reality-consciousness.

As for the Olympics, I am not much of a fan but I like the Winter version best, with its figure skaters and skiers trying to best themselves with each performance. This year, tradition gave way to more extreme sports. One high point occurred last night when Team USA won all three medals — gold, silver and bronze — in freestyle skiing. Perhaps “free” says it all. This sport is new, innovative, the stuff of rebels and risk-takers. The three who won were young, confident and appeared to be having fun. Their venue occurred, aptly, at a location called the Extreme Park. Gus Kenworthy, the free-style skier from Telluride who took silver, already had the hearts of animal lovers, having rescued puppies from Sochi’s extermination mandate on street dogs. In separate events, American women finished first, third and fourth in the snowboard halfpipe the day before the slopestyle competition. America swept this sport. Perhaps icons in the making.

As for the skaters, the worst of them is amazing, in my view. There was a moment of high drama last night when the premiere Russian skater, Evgeni Plushenko — at 31 a four-time Olympic medal winner — withdrew from the men’s short program due to injury earlier that day. He was a huge crowd favorite, and it was reported that over half of those in the stands left shortly after, sorely disappointed. He announced his retirement moments later. Turns out Plushenko was the only men’s skater for this event from Russia, having — supposedly — steamrolled his competition, a talented young 18-year old who beat Plushenko in the Russian national championships. His selection was controversial, due to spinal injury that required surgery, suggesting possible limitations. Making what was obviously a difficult decision not to compete, the iconic skater is now catching hell from his countrymen and more. Hailed as a hero four days ago for assisting Russia into its first gold medal — even hugged by a pleased Putin — his loyalty is now being questioned. One parliament member tweeted, “Perform through the pain for the honor of the country.” Plushenko didn’t. It seems obvious he will pay a heavy price in disapproval for his inability to pony up and will endure scrutiny for his selection in the first place.

That seems an uncomfortable amount of nationalism to rub against at so altruistic an event. We’re not saints in the US of A, but I like to think we don’t punish our athletes for being unable to perform. Add to the mix a kind of no-nonsense authoritarianism that is typical of this culture, and it’s hard not to think back to the days when women from the Eastern block were testosterone-heavy. Grainy black and white film still available shows not only their unusual muscular development but superior strength with few hints of womanly curves. Westerners wondered, but evidence didn’t turn up for decades. Rather than finger-point, gender identification testing was instituted so everyone was sure who was what.

Winning by any means was deemed acceptable back when the two major superpowers wrestled for dominance, and appearing to be the winner, rightfully or not, was the only game in town. There was little trust between our countries then, and it seems there’s little now. Our press has been full of criticism of the faulty housing, the matter-of-fact surveillance and the hard stance taken by government to transform Sochi into an international destination, with or without the consent of citizens. Seems we’ve made plenty of progress since Khrushchev banged his shoe on the table, but we haven’t let go of the Cold War mentality completely. We didn’t go to Sochi is enjoy the food and culture, we went to kick ass and hurry home.

We’d do better to be mindful that our own track record on housing, surveillance and government intrusion in the lives of citizens is none too clean. And one little piece of this — that we didn’t treat the Chinese with this much disdain and derision — shows that the U.S. has some remaining nationalistic warts and grudges that need attention. And yes, it would be easier to rise above it if Putin wasn’t such a homoerotic prick, but there it is, and our hands aren’t clean. Remember, we have Dubya to apologize for throughout history.

So we’re reviewing climate, reviewing international competition, “friendly” and un, and even more. With the passing of Pete Seeger, Shirley Temple and — today’s sad news — Ralph Waite, we’re also taking a look back at the Great Depression. We’ve talked about Seeger at length, his dedication to workers’ rights and social change, his neighbors and his planet, setting all those concerns to a prodigious musical score that changed our culture and our lives.

Shirley Temple was an icon before she was five, with an infamously dimpled dolly of her own long before Mattel started molding pop stars into plastic (I played with my mom’s Shirley doll when I was a tot). Times were really hard then, they say, apples on the street corner and all that, and that cute little girly made it go down easier. So said FDR. So said my mom, as well. Watch Temple’s movies and you’ll say so too, even if your cynical side kicks you for it. Sometimes when times are really hard, it’s the little things that pull you through. In The Prophet, Gibran told us, “In the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” Shirley was one of those little — very human, very precious — things.

Ralph Waite, or Daddy Walton as he was best known, was 85 but he just kept truckin’, showing up lately as Gibb’s Dad in “NCIS,” as Booth’s grandpa in “Bones.” Like it or not, he was almost everybody’s fictional patriarch. “The Waltons” did a nine-year run, starting in the early ’70s, giving us a view of a big rural Southern family without any punch lines or derision; the script was a biographical remembrance of Earl Hamner, Jr. We grew to love them, even if a world so different from our own seemed corny and sentimental. We didn’t see them as hicks, like some of the dolts in “Smokey and the Bandit” or “The Dukes of Hazzard.” We saw them as a generation of the past, perhaps not so savvy but not so different from ourselves.

As with the Andy Griffith Show — another iconic figure we lost last year — there was enough heart in “The Waltons” to go around and then some. Ultimately, the kids grew up under our watchful eye, John Boy went off to war and life moved along. Waite was the one adult character who stayed on until the bitter end, surviving the passing of both parents (for real) and the removal of his wife for health reasons (fictional) to hold down the family homestead. The stories of Hamner’s family were stories of growing up in poverty, overcoming adversity, finding a way forward when times were tough while being held together by love and respect and common cause.

All of these that we mourn and whose memory we honor had something to tell us about the Great Depression, about hard times and strong hearts, about taking hope when it was difficult to find and — the obvious — how to love each other through it all. Each of them is an icon, representative of something bigger than themselves, something that resonates deep within us. With these, it’s easy to see why the word art completes the word heart.

One last mention, not of the Depression, but soon after. I was saddened to hear of Sid Caesar’s passing. He gave icons like Woody Allen (ugh!) and Mel Brooks (yay!) a start as writers, so that makes him an icon’s icon. His “Show of Shows” is still bright in my memory, when I was just a little kid sitting cross-legged in front of the black-‘n-white. Jon Stewart said that comedy had lost its grandfather. He was right.

I don’t know who the new icons will be but they’ll have, as we used to say, a hard row to hoe. Still, in these extreme times, I get a sense that they won’t be the bullies or the ego cases. Time gives us a picture of what lasts and who, and it’s always who and what lift us, who and what encourage and sustain us, who and what help us find a deeper understanding of ourselves and our world. Time itself puts our extreme challenges in perspective, as well. Pete rode the rails with Woody Guthrie. Shirley not only survived child stardom, but became a well-rounded international citizen and ambassador. Sid and Ralph both overcame addiction problems that marked their early lives, to survive well into old age as contributors to their culture.

There are remarkable things going on all around us, not just in spite of but because we find ourselves in extremis. Our “extremely difficult situation” presents us with opportunity to grow and share, contribute and serve. Perhaps, as when Gandhi told us to be the change, we must become the icons, as well. Perhaps our purpose can be found living our lives representing the best of ourselves, and encouraging the best in others. Then we can limp into Heaven, so they say, on the arms of those we’ve helped. Me, I’m counting on it.

Eric Francis

About Eric Francis

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6 Responses to The Fading Of The Icons

  1. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    The scientists, so I hear, pretty much creamed the climate deniers today; I saw one of the three and it was good to have Truth declared with such conviction. Deniers look pretty lame to all but the faithful, ya know.

    To finish off the weekend, here are a couple of spiritual links on what’s going on in Sochi, one from Neale Donald Walsch and one from channeler Patty Cota-Robles, out of Tucson.

    Here’s a compilation of Plushenko videos that show his considerable talent, legendary in Russia, if you’re interested.

    And to sweeten the pot, here’s just the BEST 1976 Playboy interview with Mel Brooks, showing off his madness and genius, speaking of … among other things … his early years with Sid Caesar. If you love manically crazy, take a break and ENJOY!

    Thanks for playing, dearhearts. Make a terrific week for yourselves!

  2. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    I did note the sink hole that swallowed the Corvettes, be (my son made me watch on the news, horrified … he’s a building contractor turned mechanic, or at least he was before everything in this little town dried up.) Everything “Kentucky” I associate with you, and you’ve been on my mind a lot this week with all the activity. I saw on Stephanopoulos you lost two young men in Afghanistan today. I also see Mitt’s future is looking dicey. (Heh heh heh) Ever done the KY chart?

    The fluttering heartbeat of Federalism that has led the march these last years has made it plain that each state in the Union has its own flavor and Karma. I really understand what Franklin meant, now, when he said … a Republic if we can keep it.

    “Not to be ignored is the south node (release) moving from Taurus (personal resources) into Aries (concentration on self).”

    Do you see this as a release of self-absorption or as a renewal of it? I’ve gotten really weary with the “me, me, me” stuff, especially when the obvious thrust of an Aquarian age is the larger “we” — and the larger we is in great need of attention. Perhaps this will be our time to “grow out of it?”

    On a happy note, hooray for rain in the Pacific Northwest — and a reminder that everything can change in an eye-blink … I affirm for the best.

  3. bkoehler says:

    Thanks so much for time spent with the icons Jude. I can’t contribute much to the week’s overwhelm of sports coverage, aka Sochi, but I did love those icons we lost, especially Sid Caesar and Ralph Waite.

    As for climate change, I noted in Len’s last offering an observation of how the astrology, specifically Saturn and Mercury retrograde, of the Full Moon chart on Valentine’s day, in Kentucky, equated to a sinkhole swallowing iconic Corvettes on Thursday and the very next day, 80 miles away a natural gas pipeline explosion. Today I learned that much later on Friday, Valentine’s Day, there was a 4.1 magnitude earthquake about 325 miles south from where the sinkhole swallowed the Corvettes on Wednesday and even a little closer to where the pipeline exploded on Thursday.

    So Mother Nature (in the form of minor planet Ceres) seems to be pointing to the occasion of the transiting north node leaving the sign of Scorpio and making a beeline backward for Libra (not exact until the 18th) at least that’s how it looks to this Kentuckian. Ceres and her sister Vesta, both daughters of Saturn, have and will continue to keep company with the north node for two months, as does Mars, due to their retrogrades. All this hovering around the north node gives me a sense of either (1) overprotection or (2) over assertion. Sort of like the Sochi athletes images. They are super strong but they are well protected.

    So is Ceres being overprotective in her earth-shaking vibes; warning us to watch our step when it comes to so much taking (for granted) of her underground resources. . .
    or is she reminding us that the gods an goddesses still rule and are demanding respect for their superior positions over us. Is there even a difference? Scorpio IS the sign of shared resources and as the north node slowly slides back into Libra it will be calling for balance and awareness of others. Not to be ignored is the south node (release) moving from Taurus (personal resources) into Aries (concentration on self).

    Personally, I think the departure of Pete Seeger draws attention (as you and others here have done) to his example of living his life values, while Shirley Temple’s exit stage left reminds us that simple pleasures have deep and lasting value. Stuff to ponder as we wait for the ice and snow to melt.

  4. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    Looks like we’re not the only ones connecting the weather dots — the Sunday pundits will be discussing the topic and that’s something of a big deal:

    “A recent study from Media Matters found that the Sunday shows on NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox spent a combined 27 minutes on the topic [of climate change] in the whole of 2013. Meet the Press was singled out as “failing to offer a single substantial mention of climate change” for the entire year.”

    I usually check in to Meet the Press, just to see who’s talking, while preferring This Week because the round-table is usually better balanced. It appears all three Sunday morning shows will discuss climate change, while This Week and Face The Nation will have ACTUAL scientists in the discussion — that’s a bit of a game changer and definitely worth a look.

    The Age of Aquarius picking up speed? Reality therapy 101.

  5. Judith Gayle Judith Gayle says:

    I agree that the price tag for Olympic pageantry is unsupportable, but the Olympics is that ONE event in which nations let down their guard to welcome everyone in … just for a few days, and just for a chance to be “well viewed.” It’s become a kind of overblown PR, putting out yer best china and stemware for the in-laws. The games themselves are ancient and revered, I don’t have a problem with them but I do find the majority of the nationalism feverish. However, it’s better than it used to be, which is a good sign.

    Still, I defy an American, no matter how tough minded and realistic about his/her country, to watch an American winner stand under the Stars and Bars to receive a medal and listen to the Star Spangled Banner and not be moved. It’s encoded into our citizenship DNA, and I assume everyone feels that way about their country. That’s the common denominator: we all know, no matter the reality of our government, the dignity and humanity of our countrymen despite our problems, and that ties us together. That is the larger tribe, and the kind of nationalism I can respect. Not “better than.” That’s where competition intrudes.

    As well, there is some serious mojo in the fact that — as fractured as we all are, nationally and globally — this is the one time when all eyes are on the same thing, and it represents, at its best, sportsmanship, excellence and … what we used to think of as … honor. It binds us ALL together. Not a small thing on the energy scale.

    So, we’re agreed, Salamander — very poor use of funds, especially when they are SO needed elsewhere. But look at the revenue generated for and by the Super Bowl and with fewer redeeming features. We loves us our bread and circuses!

  6. Salamander says:

    What disturbs me about a lot of international sporting events is the massive financial costs and the massive social costs the host country incurs.
    1. The 2004 Athens Olympic Games were a significant factor in Greece’s bankruptcy (and now being at the mercy of the draconian austerity policies of the EU, the IMF and Merkel).
    2. In the 2012 London Olympic Games, people living in East London were being priced out and evicted from their own neighborhoods, in addition to dealing with noise pollution from construction projects in preparation for the Olympics. The mayor of London sold the concept of gentrification and relocation by calling it regeneration. Vice News has a 4 part video series on the 2012 London Olympics (some people were in favor of the Olympics, while others were opposed to it).
    3. The 2014 Sochi Olympic Games are the most costly Olympic Games in history because a lot of people in Russia were pocketing some of the money allocated for the Olympics for themselves. Like in the 1980 Soviet Union Olympics, they also swept “undesirable people” such as homeless people away from view near the sporting events.
    4. Gentrification and forced relocation are also being applied to drive out poor people living near designated sites for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

    I am in favor of sports, especially when a sport improves a person’s overall well-being, when the goal is to do one’s personal best, and benefit the public interest. I mean, I am a martial artist, and I have personally participated in a tournament in 2012.
    But I cannot support sporting events that are financially and socially ruinous, and do not support the majority of people.
    I feel like the nature of giant sporting events needs to change, Uranus in Aries, and Pluto in Capricorn demand such changes.
    I have nothing against nationalism when it has a healthy foundation. During Pluto in Sagittarius, I was struggling to feel rooted when I felt like every single part of my identity was being condemned for the actions of a few people. Living without nationalism is difficult, but it needs a sound basis. I’m happy being a Tunisian American from Maryland, but I don’t feel the need to toot my horn too much.

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