Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Restoring Honor...by Dropping a Few Pounds
This weekend my brother was "restoring Homer" (or "Homeslice," as he is known to Unholy R.), while here in DC a crowd of visitors was "Restoring Honor."
It got me thinking about history, which is as sacred in the minds of DC's weekend visitors as Betty Crocker classics such as marshmallow-grape salad:
What happened to Salisbury steak? What happened to the meal my neighbors referred to as "shit on a shingle," (i.e., chipped beef gravy on a slice of bread)? Where did Snausages, devilled eggs and creamed corn go? And, oh, where went our honor?
Well, it appears to have gone right to the hips of the lumbering pink beasts who piled out of SUVs and onto the Mall lawn, because they claimed uniformally to be the ones bringing it back.
They came draped in flaggy splendor and portaging lawn chairs, like pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock and causing it to sink under their prodigious heft, like westward pioneers in king-sized Conestoga wagons, complete with cupholders the circumference of basketballs, heaved across the plains by genetically mutated oxen capable of serious wattage.
They came to bring back something from America's past that has been lost: what they called "honor." Does this word "honor" mean something literally from the past, or is
it just a word to describe something they feel about the past?
Well, let's see. A country's history is a history of its people. It is, to a lesser extent, about its policies and its politics.
It's unlikely that the pink herd of honor restoration wishes to restore politicians from the past, since past Americans include myriad a-holes: Presidents getting it on with (not to mention, owning) hot slaves, Dixiecrats, Joseph McCarthy, Huey Long, forgettable presidents from Ohio, and Representative Preston Brooks bludgeoning Senator Charles Sumner with a Gutta-percha cane on the Senate floor.
Nor is it politics from the past, since our parties are sordid messes, full of "log cabins and hard cider," the yellow press, Klan candidates, duels between Vice Presidents and cabinet members, and Know-Nothing movements.
Nor can it be policies, since slavery, voting rights for women (and men), ethnic cleansing of Native Americans, the land grab in California and New Mexico, internment camps for Japanese Americans, and the labyrinthine structure of the BCS bowl system are better forgotten than resurrected (even if some still exist).
Clearly, our past is full of dishonorable persons, activities, and policies. What kind of restoration are the pink behemoths after?
Perhaps honor, for them, is some kind of aesthetic. As if, in the grocery store, the aisle is stocked full of different "America models" from 1776 to the present. Not only is each past America known and fully packaged, it is available for sale and purchase.
"History," says Tolstoy, "has for its object not the will of man, but our representation of it." If Tolstoy is right, then the historical legacy of honor is an idealized one, more reflective of present psychology than the actual past.
I'll admit I have a notion of past honor. Take a look at this picture of President Kennedy and his advisors:
Admittedly, this is just a photo of guys. They look studious, smokey, and surprisingly thin.
To me, there's an aura about these men that somehow seems honorable.
They never considered laser hair removal.
They never set aside Thursday nights for catching up on Project Runway.
Jogging had not yet been invented. Neither had the female orgasm.
They could enjoy Eddy Merckx's cannibalism guilt free, either not knowing or not caring to know about his drug use. He was not a communist; therefore, he was a good man, and one was free to praise his exploits.
Of course, this feeling I have about Camelot has nothing to do with whether or not these men behaved honorably. It's doubtful, in fact, that Kennedy behaved honorably toward his wife, or that LBJ honorably abstained from profane expressions, or that the Bay of Pigs or the Gulf of Tonkin incidents display honorable political motives.
Honor, as I use it here, is a word I use to describe an aesthetic liked by me. For example, if I could purchase an America off the shelf, I'd pick the thinner and smarter-looking one, the one in the Kennedy picture. That's what my America would look like. It's policies, however, would be totally different.
Maybe I've got it all wrong, though, and the pink herd is not merely mobs of wig-punk fashionistas looking to end the reign of No-Drama Obama with fabulous XXXL-sized bright yellow and purple LSU shirts. Maybe the honor-restoring crowd is like Odysseus, back from pillaging, looking to slaughter those who have defiled the honor of his home. Imposters and outsiders ruin the house while the real and rightful owners have been off at war.
If this explains the honor movement, the fight isn't about rules of the house, but who's in charge of it. Turf wars are the basis of all politics. "Brutus," said Marc Antony, "is an honorable man," a speech to tug the heart of the mass to action, driven on by the appeal to honor, a vague but potent primer for violent retribution. But what does honor have to do with ownership and possession?
No, this can't be the case.
Like aerobars on a hybrid, the pink honor brigade is something I can't figure out. I just know that they'd be healthier if they got off their fat asses more rather than watching Glenn Beck every day. Seriously, it takes a rally in DC about "honor" to get them off their asses? How about the trees, the clean air, your fellow citizens, and the pride of reducing dependence on foreign oil and the soft life of luxury?
But then, maybe even this call to restore America's honor by riding a bicycle is too soft. So felt Henri Desgrange a century ago when he staged his own "restoring honor" protest, stating "...variable gears are only for people over forty-five. Isn't it better to triumph by the strength of your muscles than by the artifice of a derailer? We are getting soft... As for me, give me a fixed gear!"