To very loosely paraphrase a famous statement by Churchill, these may not be the last days, but they could well be the beginning of those days.
Consider the carnage in Aurora, Colorado. An orange-haired villain (or a psychopath affecting to look like one) shows up wearing armor and firing an armory at the helpless attendees of the latest installment of the Batman saga at a suburban movie-plex. After seriously wounding 71 patrons and accomplishing an outright kill in the double digits, the fiend apparently allows himself to be peaceably captured by regular police just outside the theater.
A scene that went something like this, featuring the late celebrated actor Heath Ledger as the Joker, might well have been included in the previous Batman film and probably was.
Life is imitating art, folks, and we're in trouble.
A football coach beloved for decades on account of the Renaissance qualities imputed to him and revered for his supposed synthesis of athletic honors with respect for education has his statue posthumously yanked from its moorings outside the school's 100,000-seat stadium. In effect, he is desanctified and redubbed in some quarters as a de facto demon for blithely tolerating year after year the sexual plunder of helpless young boys by his main coaching assistant.
And this, too, the dismaying saga of Joe Paterno at Penn State, which reached this latest climax the morning after Aurora, is real. No fall from glory in any contrived tragedy, from Aeschylus on, could have been so swift, brutal, and dramatic. Compared to this reality, the prolonged cutting down to size of another presumed sports immortal, the once invincible Tiger Woods, first deprived of his storybook personal aura and more recently reduced by his own erratic performances to the status of just another golfer, is almost reassuring.
Yet relief of sorts from these reminders of mortal failure — and worse — is at hand, in the commencement this weekend of the quadrennial Olympic Games in London. For weeks, TV will no longer resemble the "vast wasteland" it once was dubbed by FCC commissioner Newton Minow, and we get to experience vicariously something close to human perfection. Literally, in the case of such prodigies as Chinese high diver Qiu Bo, who achieved no fewer than 25 "perfect 10" scores for flawless dives in his most recent international competition.
Oh, officiating scandals will still be possible, as not so distant memories of skewed scores from a Korean boxing judge or an East German skating judge might remind us, and there is always the prospect of a doping scandal to be revealed later on, but still — for the space of those few weeks in London, we'll be encouraged to imagine genuinely great deeds and to see some of them actually enacted before our very eyes. Nothing make-believe about it. Reality itself, not a "reality show." Whatever might happen after the fact, what we'll be looking at will actually be happening, and it will inspire, not dismay.
We feel better already.
This week it starts in earnest — the questioning. You can't escape it. It comes from your spouse, your kids, your parents — at the breakfast table, in the car, on the phone, via email: "What do you want for Christmas?" ...