Vail Daily columnist Jack R. Van Ens: Hero’s welcome: Cheers, then jeers
Vail, CO, Colorado
What draws readers to People magazine? Editors of this tabloid excel at creating literary roller coaster rides. They puff Hollywood’s stars on the way up and pummel them with bad press on the way down. People magazine first cheers its stars and then jeers them. Fickle adulation sells. With perverse delight in acting like voyeurs, readers can’t get enough of celebrities who attain fame and then fall from such lofty heights.
Charlie Sheen rides a puff-pulverize roller coaster. Before Warner Brothers pink-slipped him, People magazine raved that he starred in TV’s No. 1 comedy, “Two and a Half Men,” as the highest-paid TV actor.
When Warner Brothers no longer venerated Sheen but vilified him as “dangerously destructive,” People magazine sounded as if it copied the Hollywood studio’s news releases. The magazine reported how Charlie spun downward, claiming to be a winner who acted and sounded like a loser.
The late Elizabeth Taylor also received cheers, endured jeers and, toward life’s end, was cheered again for her humanitarian achievements. Hollywood’s press looked into her sultry violet eyes and crowned her “the most beautiful woman in the world.” Then she skidded because of multiple marriages and her amorous antics with Richard Burton on the set of the movie “Cleopatra.” Rising from bimbo to Hollywood’s beatification, Saint Elizabeth raised nearly $100 million for AIDS research.
Jesus followed a shooting star’s arc on the first Palm Sunday. Onlookers wanted to get a glimpse of this mysterious leader. Who was he?
Scott Black Johnson, preacher at Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, imagines some responses to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. “I heard he is a charismatic teacher – lightning in a bottle on the lecture circuit.” “I heard he is a revolutionary come to kick the Romans out of Israel.” “I heard he has the healing touch!” “I heard he is fake, a charlatan and a nutcase.”
Left scratching their heads over this mysterious Jesus, some in the crowd clipped palm branches and wildly waved them, treating Jesus like a rock star. He became their last, best hope to escape Rome’s tyranny. These fans chanted, using words that rolled like great waves through the crowd. They yelled, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 11:9).
“Hosanna” served as more than a popular cheer. It was a fervent plea for liberty from iron-fisted Rome. “Hosanna” means “Save us.” “By God, save us!” chanted the crowd as they roared with approval at this parade starring Jesus.
Those cheers turned to jeers when the crowd figured out that Jesus was no Jewish swashbuckler who would rescue them. Five days later, the crowd-turned-mob gladly exchanged “Hosanna” for “Crucify him.”
That’s what our culture does to heroes, doesn’t it? First we honor those we place on pedestals. Then we knock them off. Like those lining the streets that first Palm Sunday, we are fickle toward celebrities. Our infatuation for fame burns hot and cold. First, we honor heroes. We expect them to do what we can’t accomplish ourselves. Then we drift into doubt, complaining how heroes aren’t benefiting us. Emotions shift. Cynicism replaces adoration.
Talk show radio exploits this strategy to attract large audiences. Rush Limbaugh makes cynicism fashionable. He perfumes what ordinarily sounds like sour grapes. His hero, President George W. Bush, pressed for a freedom agenda and the free-flowing course of oil. When a ruthless dictator denied freedom to his people, Bush said God wanted them to have freedom. And the only way they would get it would be when America’s military invaded Iraq. He led us into war, acting like a sophomore rushing at goal posts of a rival football team after his college had won.
President Barack Obama isn’t a hero, declared Limbaugh, because he initially dithered over Libya. He shouldn’t share leadership with European allies when establishing a “no-fly” zone. A hero calls the shots, declared Limbaugh. Other cynics chimed in, displeased over President Obama holding back on a military solution to Libya. “We have a spectator in chief instead of a commander in chief,” groused Newt Gingrich, smiling at his clever word play.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, along with other Republicans, chafed because President Obama devoted more time to his March Madness picks then he did to the Libyan crisis. Graham feigned befuddlement, wondering why Obama acted as if “leading the free world is an inconvenience.”
Of course, the pop historian of this fickle crowd, Rick Santorum, remembered how in the Bush II presidency, patriots eschewed “french fries” but did eat “American fries.” Santorum lashed out when President Obama surrendered our No. 1 military role to the French in the NATO coalition.
Then, when President Obama unleashed the fury of our Tomahawk missiles at Libya, which seemed heroic to those who want to protect Europe’s primary oil supply, Republicans criticized the president for acting unilaterally. He bypassed Congress, they complained, and attacked Libya without congressional approval.
Hosannas turn to taunts. Life replays the flare-up lit that first Palm Sunday. That’s how heroes often get treated. We love to hate them.
The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.
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