When I woke up this morning to the photos of Penn State students protesting, I initially thought “college students are stupid” and went to make my coffee. But there’s something bigger here that’s been bothering me for awhile.
This week, football fans and Penn State alums are in an uproar because a man they put on a pedestal isn’t there any more. Last week, reality TV fans and anyone who’d ever thought there was a shred of sanctity left in the institution of marriage was in an uproar because a woman they’d put on a pedestal isn’t there anymore.
Now, I realize that comparing Joe Paterno and Kim Kardashian is a long shot, but bear with me here. I’ve thought a lot lately about the American tendency to create idols out of regular people who tend to have some pretty big flaws. Mostly, it seems, we like to do this posthumously: Michael Jackson’s death was mourned so extensively you’d almost have expected wailing on the streets. Steve Jobs might as well have been the second coming as much as people mourned the world’s loss of him.
A football coach, a reality TV star, a musician, a businessman. These are the kind of people America chooses to follow, to praise, and ultimately to mourn. That we expect more out of these people is a given, but what I don’t understand is why. They never said we should. They didn’t pledge to honor an office or agree to abide by any kind of moral code.
We pick the wrong people for our pedestals and then we’re angry when they disappoint us. And instead of learning from our mistakes, we just keep repeating them. Maybe those rioting college students aren’t the only ones who are stupid.
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