Monday, June 14, 2010

All Right, That's Enough Out Of You!

Today, we discuss people who have simply worn out their welcome. You know the type. They start out as good guys, or humble people, or whatever else good you can say about them.

Then, as time goes by, they become impressed with the reputation they've forged, the start playing off it, and before you know it, they've become tired old drones who are so numbingly predicable you want to scream every time you see them.

I'm talking about Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson at the moment, but it could really be any one of a number of people. These are people who do an awful lot of talking, come to think of it, and run around as if they're the first, and final, word on all things pertaining to their realm ... an often that which falls outside their purview of expertise.

You find these people no matter where you go ... but most of the time, they've confined to three fields of endeavor: politics (and by politics, I mean all matters of government, including economics and foreign policy), sports, and religion.

Of the three, sports are least harmful. Who cares if Phil Jackson makes an idiot of himself (which he did Sunday night when he told his team how adept the Celtics are at losing games in the fourth quarter ... as the Celtics were in the process of beating the Lakers). That may go down as the moment Phil jumped the shark from being a refreshingly candid coach in a sea of slime ... to one of the ultimate slimeballs himself.

It's been coming. Slowly but surely, Jackson has gone from American's pro basketball beatnick and countercultural guru -- the guy who used to buy his players their own special books on motivation -- to an incessant whiner and game-player (off the court) who, now, weighs in on every damn issue. This is what Pat Riley used to do too, and it's why, even today, I consider Mr. Riley one of the most (if not the most) repugnant coaches sports have known.

But since we blew a whole column yesterday on sports, I'm just giving an example here. There are other dragons to slay .... and they don't involve sports figures (well, they do, but we'll refrain from mentioning them).

But we're going to start with a sports figure, even though, these days, he weighs in on topics that go far beyond his purview of expertise. His name is Curt Schilling, and when he chose to simply pitch for the Boston Red Sox, he was one of the most clutch pitchers they ever had.

However, Schilling pitched other ideas too ... mostly Republican politics. In fact, the day after the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series, he was out in Ohio campaigning for George W. Bush. It must have done some good, too, because Ohio is what put Bush over the edge in the 2004 election just a week later.

These days, Schilling will talk to anyone who will listen to him.

Personally, I get a little tired of celebrities who lecture me about politics. You know what, Bruce Springsteen? Just sing. I don't want to know your politics. At least if you're not singing about them. That goes for you, too, Barbra Streisand, and Alec Baldwin, and Susan Sarandon, and Tim Robbins, and even Bono (like him though I do). You're lucky you have a natural forum, but please do not abuse it. It's not necessary to weigh in on every issue like it won't get resolved without your input.

These days, Sarah Palin is the person who most annoys me. She is the one, out of all of them, who can't let anything go without commenting on it as she's E.F. Hutton and we're all the people who stop everything and listen.

Look. Palin's a public figure, and she's obviously positioning herself for 2012 ... as much as she protests she's not. And in one sense, she has way more latitude to shoot her mouth off as private citizen than she would as an elected official. And right now, her words, and opinions, are taken as gospel.

But that's because a) she's hot (interpret that any way you want); and b) she's relevant. There are enough people who think that she's a viable candidate in 2012 that they pay attention.

But if she choose not to run, she'll just be the GOP version of Al Gore. Sure, she'll have a following, and sure, she'll be almost a cult leader among that following. But nobody else is going to give two hoots about what she says.

I excuse professional journalists/commentators from this screed, because they get paid to do this. Guys like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Keith Olbermann, Bill Maher ... they can often be Johnny One-Notes ... and sickeningly so. But this is what they do. They put it out there, and it's up to us to take it all with a grain of salt, especially in the case of Maher (and Jon Stewart), who do this half for commentary and the other half for laughs (though I have to admit that, at least in Stewart's case, he's on the mark way more than some of the others are, even if he's his shtick).

I'm talking about what I call professional dillitantes (which is kind of an oxymoron). They're these self-appointed experts on everything ... people who can't let an occasion pass without some kind of a comment for public consumption. They're the people we all call for comments ("the usual suspects," as Claude Rains said in Casablanca), and then ask ourselves afterward why in hell we do that!

When he was alive, Jerry Falwell was always consulted for his opinions on all matters of public morality (and sometimes more than that). Why? What did Jerry Falwell know about anything other than religious intolerance? But there he was, always, commenting about this and that ... like anybody cared.

On almost every issues, there is a cadre of celebrities/dillitantes/religious leaders who feel compelled to comment. And most of the time, they're "outraged," whether it's because of something Obama's done or something Bush did.

Cindy Sheehan. Perfect example. Now, God knows I have all the sympathy in the world for a mother who lost her son in a war. There can be no worse experience in this world than burying a child.

But it doesn't make you a foreign policy expert, and it shouldn't automatically allow you to lob broadsides from a distance. This isn't to say she didn't have the right to do this. She did indeed. But I think it's awfully cynical for people to use that kind of public sympathy on one hand, and expect to exempt from harsh reactions on the other.

Even though I may have agreed with Cindy Sheehan's views on the war, I didn't always like the way she, or her followers, reacted to criticism. It was "how dare you criticize me ... I lost my son to this war."

So did a lot of other mothers. And I'm sure they were upset too. And I'm sure a lot of them felt exactly the same as she did, too. But Cindy, sometimes, went a little too far ... and then chafed self-righteously when she got some of it back.

Politicians aren't immune from this syndrome. There are plenty of them who start off sounding really refreshing, who then turn into the same drones they defeated. What makes it worse, at least with regards to politicians, is that their reactions are so Pavlovian. This is what bothers me, at the moment, about Palin. If Obama says high, she says low. If Obama says in, she says out. If Obama says Tomatyto, she says Tomathto.

I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "let's call the whole thing off." These people ... they don't comment as much as they trot out buzzwords and comments that sound as if they came from a manifesto somewhere. Every time a Democrat like Barney Frank trying to paint the Republicans as the "party of the rich" or the "party of big oil" I want to scream ... and I kind of like Barney. He's entertaining. But the Democrats are just as bad. Most of them are rich, too. And many of them accept money from oil companies as well.

Similarly, whenever I hear Palin, or some other Republican, pin the "tax and spend" label on Democrats I want to scream at them, too. Republicans spend money too, you know. Their spending priorities differ from those of the Democrats. So it doesn't always come down to who's spending the money, but who's benefiting from the spending. Some folks in this country who have had it all their way for centuries get their noses mighty far out of joint when governmental largesse is directed toward someone other than them.

These days, I don't listen as intently as I used to. I used to hang on every word when these self-appointed experts crawled out of the woodwork to express their "outrage" over something. That's because we'd hear it maybe once -- on the 11 o'clock news -- and it would then be relegated to audio/visual birdcage liner.

Now, there's a 24/7 news cycle. So when Alec Baldwin, or Natalie Maines, gets up and slams someone as if the whole world was just waiting to hear what they had to say, we have to listen to it for two days (sometimes longer) because, after all, you have to fill that airtime with something.

I've come out of this experience with an appreciation for Stephen Colbert, by the way, because he, like Stewart, pokes wicked fun at pomposity, and he doesn't really care which pompous ass he's lampooning. It's pretty much all the same to him.

I tell you, the world would be a much better place if some people weren't so impressed with themselves and their alleged expertise on everything. A colleague of mine once sarcastically described Shilling as "the world's foremost authority on everything." I'm down with that.

This all started -- I think -- with Howard Cosell, a man of enormous ego, who acted as if he was the official conscience/historian/final word/moral compass/expert on every issue he ever dealt with. A critic once said he made the world of fun and games sound like the Nuremberg trials. I always got a kick out of the fact that bars all over America used to hold contests every Monday night to see who got to throw a brick through the TV during the football telecasts.

That was how strongly people reacted to Howard.

There's nobody like Howard anymore. That's both good and bad. Good, because he'd just be one more in a growing number of irritating people who seem to feel the day's not complete without some comment by them on an issue ... bad because, at least in his case, his ego was so outrageous it was often funny to listen to him be pompous.

These days, I'm all for a moratorium on pompous people. And we can start with Phil Jackson.

Would you please just shut up and coach?

No comments: