Today is the annual semi-holiday when everybody goes WorldStarHipHop and watches men injure themselves for money, more money, and the chance to kiss a carved glass football. I'm just as guilty as you for letting that dominate all. But I heard bad news, and it sucks. So let's pause just long enough to say some good words before we go back into celebrating American brutality in the name of competitive "sport."
I had just returned to the house after getting a much-needed haircut when I saw the news on Facebook. "Philip Seymore Hoffman found dead with needle in arm: cops." Dammit.
This is one of the greatest actors of our time. Have you seen Boogie Nights? What about The Big Lebowski? Maybe you saw The Master, or one of my all-time favorite movies, Almost Famous. It reminds me a lot of my own experience being a writer who fell in love with the music industry, except that I didn't start that soon and I haven't yet produced a movie about that time in my life. PSH played Lester Bangs, and delivered a performance that made me appreciate all the very cool people who helped me along the way, and didn't disown me for some of my very dumb youthful mistakes. And I made plenty. He was there for the main character when he fell for it, and talked him back to reality without being a judgmental jerk. He was easy to relate to, and that was a trait he carried into whatever most people (including me) figured the real person was like.
I never met PSH, but I wonder if it's too late to be a true friend to him. Because if so, I'd tell him he meant way too much to the world not to do any and everything possible to kick his drug habit. If the reports are true, and he died of an overdose, it's definitely not encouraging to creative people like me.
At the beginning of the song, "Gasoline Dreams," Andre 3000 says "All of my heroes did doooooope..." And the older I get, the more I find that sad statement to be true. Not all of them overdose and die, but a lot of them do. The ones who don't are glorified for surviving the times, and excused by all for doing what it took to get through to the other side.
And ain't that like football? I mean, here's a game where we give a guy a ball made of the skin of a pig. We tell that guy, "Hey dude, you have the ball. Now run. Run like there's no tomorrow, because there isn't one. You could very well get killed because you are brave enough to take this ball and run with it--people are after you. Various players stand in your way, and they're all trying to chase you down and take that ball from you, or at least knock you down before you reach your goal."
"And if you do reach that goal, guess what? You just might get the ball again, and put yourself in physical jeopardy for the entertainment of the masses. And you're not just running from broken bones or concussions; you're running from financial ruin. We're putting the pressure on you, because you can take it. So take the ball, and run. Don't worry if you need something to ease the pain or help you to cope with it all--we'll cover for you. But don't you forget to suit up again next Sunday and get ready to run. For your living. For your life."
Not to force the whole football analogy, but hopefully you see where that's going. America is about winning at all costs. There's a war going on outside no man is safe from. You put yourself in potential danger every time you open your door and take that walk. And that's just for those of us who are regular people. What if you were an Oscar-winning actor? Or an all-pro football player?
You're expected to perform, at all times. And maybe that pressure is too much to deal with on its own. Maybe you believe that you need something to give you the ability to deal with it. Or maybe you're just what people in the south call a "geek monster."
It takes a special type of person to entertain Americans. You have to sacrifice yourself totally to the cause. You have to prove year after year that you're willing to kill yourself, just to say last year was a good year. They turn those lights on in the stadium, or in the theater, and it's showtime. And you're getting millions to play yourself.
I don't really know how to pay homage to a great actor who probably didn't realize that his drug habit would claim his life so early. But I do know how to say it's a shame that people who entertain the rest of us continue to find it OK to die for the cause.
The game starts this evening. Someone will win, and someone will lose. Someone will surely be injured. And during the game we'll surely hear or see tributes to PSH, televised and on social media. But we'll keep watching and expecting to be entertained, no matter the human cost, because money will be made.
That being said, I have two trays of baked jerk wings that I have to take to a friend's Superbowl party to compensate for the beer he hopefully has, and we're going to watch gigantic men run into each other at full speed just to earn their keep. I guess it only makes sense that as watchers we'll also have something to keep us numb as we watch--isn't that convenient?
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