Treebeard in Rome
Back in the 1970s, somebody once asked Zhou Enlai what he thought of the American Revolution. He replied, “It’s too early to say.”
That’s what you call taking the long view of things. And given how the French Revolution helped give rise to the radical nuttery of communism and various other lefty movements — and how those movements have fared since the ’70s — there’s something to be said for it.
I remember thinking of Zhou’s remark back in 1993, when Time did some breathless cover story on Clinton’s first 100 days and demanded: “What has he accomplished? How long must we wait for the Transformation of American society?” It takes a whole lot to get me to say that a murderous communist showed some wisdom. But in Zhou’s case, I have to say that, compared with the American media’s fruit fly-like intelligence and attention span, Zhou was a veritable Solomon when it came to historical perspective.
Now it’s all flooding back to me again as I watch some members of the untelligentsia suggesting we just need to inaugurate Obama right this very second so he can unleash his magical healing powers on the planet and the economy, while others are expressing puzzlement that Obama doesn’t seem to be telegraphing an instant end to the Iraq war and the economic crisis, and still others are trying to figure out why Team Obama is asking people to dial back their millennial expectations and (now they tell us!) not expect some sort of Messianic Miracle Worker.
Part of this is due to the nature of modern news.
We have whole media machines devoted to news and nothing else 24/7. The problem is that there is never really enough news to feed the hungry machine, so they create (or repeat) the same stories again and again and again to fill up the time. And with that goes hype. Lots of it. And with that goes the attempt to make audience members resemble sheep more and more as they are conditioned to believe all the hype.
That’s part of what gives us the truly incredible thing about our media-sodden culture: our bottomless reserves of faith, whereby we Americans convince ourselves that the Newest and Latest Fix will surely bring about instant and permanent happiness. We never seem to tire of it.
When, as will surely happen, it is revealed that Obama is mere flesh and blood and cannot miraculously stop the economic catastrophe we have created for ourselves, nor heal the planet, nor achieve world peace, nor do all the other delusional things that a stunning number of fools think he will do, it will never occur to the fools that their expectations were delusional.
Instead, they will blame Obama (who admittedly deserves blame for encouraging the messianic expectations), or they will somehow persuade themselves that Sinister Conspirators are standing in the way of Obama’s imminent millennial triumph.
The thought of glancing in the mirror and beholding the face of a fool will never so much as dawn on many of the people who are currently awaiting the Deliverer’s Inauguration.
As I ponder our curiously imbecilic impatience and shortsightedness, I turn to the papers and discover a sharp contrast with our cultural hubbub. Here’s the story:
Forty-some years ago, John Lennon quipped that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. There was a big stink at the time. Thousands of angry Christians burned Beatles records. Thousands more burned their fingers burning Beatles records.
In late November 2008, the Vatican, after giving it some thought, decided that Lennon’s remarks weren’t that big of a deal and made it clear that he seems to have been a troubled young man who was just trying to deal with the effects of massive and almost instantaneous global fame.
I love that.
Most people pretty much formed their opinion about that remark, oh, 40 years ago. They ran around, shouted stuff, had meetings. Eventually, they cooled off and started listening to the Beatles again. Then in 1980, Lennon was murdered, and everybody felt bad. Time went on.
The Beatles gained the status of “Classic.”
New generations arose for whom the Beatles are as remote in time as Glenn Miller or Duke Ellington was to me growing up. Life went on.
And then, finally, 40 years later, the ents (the tree-like elder statesmen of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings who take a lo-o-ong time making decisions) in the Vatican bestirred themselves and said, “Bararoom! Hoom! Hom! Young Master Lennon! He seems all right to us! He’s one of those young rock ‘n’ roll musicians, isn’t he? Seems rather not to our liking. But still, we mustn’t be hasty. I’m sure he meant well and was just in a difficult spot. Hoom! Hom!”
Many people will undoubtedly find this ridiculous. But I actually appreciate it. In a world full of bloody fools rushing off to do bloody things, a few ents in Rome are a refreshing change.
Mark Shea is senior content editor
- December 21, 2008-January 3, 2009