Friday, February 1, 2008

seeking perfection (sports and politics)

Someone once said, " The most difficult part of attaining perfection is finding something to do for an encore. " I don't know who said this. I suppose I would if I were perfect, but I have never pretended to be. Frankly, I think it might be a bit boring to be perfect: think of the interchangeable handsome princes of old Disney films; isn't there something dull and wearisome and just plain wrong about those chiseled good looks and immaculate postures? They lack whatever it takes to make them individual, to make them memorable. And I believe that something is easy to define: flaws.

We only truly know things by knowing their opposites. We only know pleasure once we have experienced pain, for how else can we measure and understand our joys unless we know what it is not to have them? We only know light by comprehending darkness, for if everything were light we'd have no notion that such a concept even existed. And when we seek to know ourselves, we could do a whole lot worse than trying to discover what our flaws might be. It could provide tremendous clues.

Perfection means something that has no flaws, nothing wrong, no blemishes to speak of. It's a word bandied about a lot lately as the New England Patriots seek to become the first undefeated 19-0 Super Bowl champion ever. They are going to be "perfect" if they win! Perfect!

Well, sorry, but as George Fisher said, "
When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target. " I believe that the Patriots will win the Super Bowl, and I want them to win--truly, it's too great a story: the undefeated team, the ancient linemen, the mind-bogglingly gorgeous-I mean skillful-quarterback, the wide receiver with a new lease on his professional life, the young running back coming into his own, too many great stories, truly!--but even if they do, how does that make them "perfect" in any way but the won-loss column?

It's enough, you say. That's all sports fans ultimately care about. But if that were true, there would be no one writing some of the negative things one reads about the Patriots. Our emotions run the gamut about the Pats. We might stare in awe at their seven-year run of success, amazing in the modern NFL, which is designed to create parity and allow your random Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Tennessee Titans the opportunity to get to Super Bowls. We might gape at the records that they set this year, at the way they calmly went about retooling themselves after losing to the Colts last year and then began systematically tearing apart the league once this season began. But perfection is a moving target: come closer to it and the bar keeps getting higher and higher.

Are the Patriots less than perfect because they no longer roll over their opponents as easily as they did in the early part of the season? Are they less than perfect because Tom Brady threw three interceptions in the AFC Championship Game? Certainly that means that he is not perfect, right? Randy Moss? He of the two whole catches in the last two games? And what of Wes Welker? He's dropped passes in two straight games!
And what do we think about "Spygate"--when are we ever going to stop tacking "gate" onto every minor scandal everywhere?--which many of us are angry about even though we can be certain that A) the Patriots did not need to cheat to beat the Jets and B) they were doing nothing that every other team doesn't also do. Perfect? I don't think so!

The problem with the Patriots is that they set the bar for themselves way too high at the start of the season. They are not perfect. No one is. But they are a damn good football team.

We have a interesting relationship with perfection. We want to be perfect. We want our heroes to be perfect. We want our leaders to be perfect. And even though somewhere within us we know that perfection is not possible, we get disappointed every time they prove that they are not. Every time we have an election cycle we hope to find someone who approaches that unapproachable status of Camelot-legend perfection. Of course, Camelot too was imperfect, both in fable and in Kennedy-era reality, but that isn't what matters: we want the idea of perfection. We want the possibility. And every time we think we might find it lurking in someone, we get bitterly disillusioned to discover that--gee--he (or she) is human, has feet of clay.

Oh we want them to reach as close to perfection as possible, and when they cannot, we have two choices: we either conveniently ignore their foibles and their blemishes and worship them as icons of our ideologies, gods of government--or we grab the nearest scythe and start swinging, trying to cut them down, trying to destroy them utterly, obliterate all memory of our horrendous collective error in judgment. Mostly, we do a highly partisan way. Hence the canonization of Ronald Reagan by the right and his vilification by the left, the utter disdain for the Clintons by the right and their hailing as saviors by the left, and, well, the last eight years.

Now we have a new election cycle and Caroline Kennedy has stirred memories of Camelot in her endorsement of Barack Obama. She
called him someone "who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved." She describes him as being "like my father," evoking the dream that always has been Camelot and simultaneously raising the bar on expectations for the senator from Illinois. If Obama becomes President, he is no longer just the President to follow Bush or the first African-American President; he's the new Kennedy.

Talk about the need to seek perfection. But it all comes with a downside: you can't reach perfection, the ever-moving target, and when you fall short you seem to have failed. If the Patriots fail to win on Sunday, some will say that this whole season has been a failure. If Obama cannot bring his unifying vision to the White House and succeed in changing the way politics works in America, all of the young, idealistic faces standing behind him in his campaign stops will lose their hopes again. Americans don't see the nuances of failure; we have a tendency to think in black and white and forget about gray. Salvador Dali told us that we should "have no fear of perfection - (we'll) never reach it. " So why obsess about it?

To those of you who don't want to see the Pats win the Super Bowl: when they have done so, when they are basking in the glory not of perfection but of going undefeated and winning (again), don't be angry at Bill Belichick or Tom Brady or Spygate. You want to know who is to blame for the Pats' run of success? Think about it: how long have they been in this winning streak? Seven years. Who else has been hanging around for seven years? And who made one of his most significant programs something called The Patriot Act? Yes: George Bush is personally responsible for the dynasty of the New England Patriots. So if you want someone to blame, blame W.

And then, vote for Obama. He's on record as being a Bears fan.

1 comment:

sunspark said...

Note written just after the Super Bowl:

See how hard it is to maintain perfection?

Damn that moving target...



it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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