We’ve probably all gone through this at one time or another. There are people, usually celebrities in our media, who become our heroes for doing something extraordinary. They entertain us or they enrich our lives through their wisdom. They invent something wonderful or dazzle us with their honed skills. When their name gets mentioned, a good feeling flows through us.
Then somehow, usually not by their conscious design, someone alleges that they have committed creepy behavior. Either that or they are charged with gross misconduct that has a very high ewwww rating.
Sometimes these allegations are just something played out in the local rumor mill. A local minister is accused of having an affair with a congregant. A real estate agent is accused of using various homes for sale she represents as venues for her trysts.
Sometimes these stories reach the national stage and become fodder for the soap opera that American journalism has become. Sometimes they involve court cases with convictions and jail time. Sometimes they involve drug overdoses, DUI arrests, homicide, suicide.
Sometimes it’s all part of that well-documented tendency society has of placing people on pedestals of glory, worshiping them for awhile, merchandising the hell out of those that have the right stuff, and then whacking them away in a grand finale of destruction. It’s also like the movie formula where near the end of a film the hero takes the mightiest blow, the most intense hit, and falls into the deepest abyss. Will it be lights out or a victory dance? We’re (not) on the edge of our seats.
THE CHOPPING BLOCK
So over the last month some of my–former?–heroes have been on the chopping block.
Woody Allen is being accused by Dylan Farrow of molesting her when she was seven. It caused a media blitz of a fuss, especially as to the question of did he really do it or is this a revenge plot concocted by Mia Farrow?
Dr. Melvin Morse was convicted in Deleware of endangering his common law wife’s daughter with highly questionable, abusive disciplinary tactics including something like the well-known terrorist torture waterboarding. (Of course, the media and the prosecutors went straight to the term waterboarding, no “something like it” involved.)
Philip Seymour Hoffman turned out to dance with the devil heroin, and it sent him to the afterlife.
What makes this all ugly, especially for me, is watching how people judge people and splash their vitriol all over the internet. It rips me apart. Often it comes with clues about how these people were themselves abused in childhood and beyond.
I have seen gobs of slams against Woody Allen, assumed guilty until proven innocent. No he who is without sin cast the first stone about it. People who doubt Dylan’s story are accused of victimizing the victim, characterized as how rape and molestation are treated in a patriarchal society. Sweep the truth under the rug.
Melvin Morse got much the same reception. Assumed guilty as if the prosecution always speaks the whole truth and nothing but the truth. If you support Morse, it’s implied that you support child abuse!
(Here’s a sample comment made online as the trial began, “If that news story about what you did to your daughter is true…you SICK BASTARD, then whatever happens to you when you get to prison will be too merciful. Just unbelievable, the kinds of sick, sociopathic criminals there are in this world.”)
The verbiage in the comment made me wonder—with some compassion—about the mental state and the former injuries of the commentator.
Few of the speakers have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the situation. They’re following their favorite opinionated commentators or prosecutor’s allegations. Reading a pack of comments to a news story online sometimes feels like reading a mob mentality in action. Modern American journalism appears to be abandoning its once proud tradition of objectivity.
The same, it must be said, is true of those of us who have heroes. We don’t (usually) know them personally. We are not friends in their inner circle. We judge them through the commentary of others. I thought highly of Melvin Morse because people at Seattle IANDS thought highly of him. I never met the man. I took their word for it that his research was a great comfort, especially to parents whose children had died. His NDE research was also quite valuable to the body of knowledge.
American journalism especially likes to try cases in the media using paid guest experts to mix it up. There is no footnote crawling on the bottom of the screen saying “The reason for the news coverage of this trial is that we are building an audience for our paid advertisers. This is show business, not objective news reporting.”
GUILTY AS CHARGED
And then what if these guys are proven conclusively guilty? What then? Those who defended the person then have to deal with whatever it was they urged caution about. Melvin Morse was convicted. So where does that leave me?
According to Morse on his Facebook page, “Randall Chase of the Associated Press did a good job of describing the events in the Court Room. I will point out that I was charged with five felony counts of child endangerment. Two of these were dropped, I was acquitted on two and convicted of one. Contrary to press reports, I was acquitted of the charges related to ‘waterboarding’.”
Many people clearly wanted this verdict to stand as the rationale to dismiss all of Morse’s NDE research. Ironically, for me, NDE research has provided insight into the life review aspect of dying. In life reviews, people re-examine what they did with their lives second by second. In a life review a person also feels everything that s/he caused someone else to feel. Thus, when it is his time for his life review somewhere down the road, Morse–as any of us–will experience any pain and suffering he/we caused others.
The body of research that Morse participated in collecting guides my thinking about what happens after death. If it were more commonly known that an afterlife exists and that life reviews are in our future, logic would say that most of us would change our behavior. It’s one reason why people who have had profound near-death experiences change their behavior so dramatically.
While I abhor what the court determined how Morse behaved, I do in the bigger picture think that justice will be served in ways beyond the human court of law as well as the court of public opinion.
HEROES AND VILLAINS
I think we put our heroes up to unrealistic standards. Most celebrities have their public images groomed by a cadre of professionals. We want our heroes to be perfect examples of our own finest aspirations. When our heroes disappoint us, we take it personally because it is part of ourselves that we are grieving through them.
Over the years, I have admired Woody Allen’s work, not just from the perspective of the PR-groomed image of who he is, but from other sources, like reading his screenplays or appreciating his many artistic talents. In my younger days some of the creative ideas I was working on eventually showed up in Woody’s movies, which back then was more like a cosmic sign that I was on the right track. It has personal meaning.
When our heroes are accused of being villainous, whether true or not, it can be very painful. Some of what they are accused of doing would be hard to defend, especially if true, but these days I cannot say I trust the accounts of wrongdoing as I once did. It’s not just Congress that is polarized. People make money from polarizing.
THE IMPORTANT QUESTION
As a consumer of media, when I read or see or hear something that emotionally grabs me with intensity, I ask myself what’s being stirred up inside? Where is the emotional charge coming from? I frankly have no personal investment in what Woody Allen did or did not do, and he doesn’t care what I think, either. Any of the anger, heartbreak, or angst that media coverage and commentary stirs up about Mia vs Woody or Dylan vs Woody is actually a mirror-image reflection of personal issues going on within me. It is more accurately Us vs Us.
If I am compelled to defend Woody, it is some sacred quality within me I am defending. If I am compelled to attack someone, that, too, would be something festering within me.
Yet we live in a culture that is not very introspective. We focus outside ourselves. We’re becoming more trained to shoot from the hip like they do on cable TV shout shows. We get involved in rhetorical warfare and the seething emotions that they stir up—just like those shows are designed to do.