Friday, 30 January 2015

On a pedestal

I've been musing over the deep need to idealise people. Not just celebrities but politicians, lovers, teachers, authors, all sorts of people. They're put on a pedestal and seen as perfect, their human weaknesses stubbornly overlooked or denied.

Of course there are also those who refuse to idealise or venerate anybody, or even systematically tear everyone to bits with icy contempt.

But it's the urge to idealise that fascinates me. I was especially curious about the massive eulogising of Barack Obama when he was still the presidential candidate. It was hard to find anyone willing to criticise him.

Yet right from the start I assumed he was unlikely to be the brilliant president people were predicting. Surely everyone was aware of all the presidents (and prime ministers) who turned out to be bitterly disappointing? But no, people wanted to believe Obama would be a dazzling success, and they refused to think otherwise. Surprise surprise, many of the same people are now sadly disillusioned.

So many people are painted as saintly figures who can do no wrong, even when the grubby reality is plain to see. We seem to need someone to look up to, however much varnishing and laundering it requires. Seeing everyone as they really are is too depressing, too sobering.

I like to think I'm immune from such stupidity, but of course I'm not. I always remember how besotted I once was with Elena, in blissful denial of the humdrum reality. I worshipped her calmness, her wisdom, her sophistication, her gracefulness, unwilling to believe that inside she was probably harbouring the same neuroses, anxieties and prejudices as all the rest of us. I refused to look past the no doubt carefully crafted exterior.

We all have our rose-tinted spectacles to hand, ready to enhance some unlikely person.

28 comments:

Helen Devries said...

No rose tinted specs here, not even for Geoffrey Boycott.
An interest in history - pursued beyond primary school books - soon reveals the feet of clay.

Cheerful Monk said...

I don't have rose-colored glasses either. I enjoy real history and real biographies. Much more interesting than glorified versions.

Dave Martin said...

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I don't seem able to do the whole 'hero worship' thing.
As humans we're all flawed and although we may come across people who possess admirable attributes that we appreciate, there's always going to be something else about them that fails to meet that high standard. A Lamborghini Aventador may be immensely fast and exciting, but it's incapable of carrying a washing machine home from Currys. In the same way I've come across academics who are brilliant in their own field yet display a staggering lack of common sense. I've met women who're stunningly beautiful but are narcissistic bitches, and some who you'd cross the road to avoid if you passed them in the street yet turn out to be really friendly.
For my own part I consider myself to be kind, helpful, and infinitely practical, but the concept of calculus causes my brain to melt and run out of my ear.
I believe it's important to recognise that being flawed is a fundamental part of being human - it's those flaws that give us character.

Nick said...

Helen: I'm very impressed by the complete lack of rose-tinted specs among my blogmates. Slightly incredulous but giving you all the benefit of the doubt.

Indeed, a knowledge of history soon reveals all the imperfections among our puffed-up rulers.

Nick said...

Jean: Ah, another history buff. Mind you, I remember from my schooldays that even history books can sometimes glorify the great figures and gloss over the more scandalous episodes.

As for biographies, some of them go in the other direction and paint their subjects as out-and-out villains with scarcely a redeeming feature.

Nick said...

Dave: True, it's the flaws that give us character. Anyone who was 100% perfect would soon be 100% infuriating.

You're dead right about academics with no common sense and female beauties who're hopelessly narcissistic. And you could have mentioned the famous authors who treat their own family disgracefully - or use them as raw material for their next book.

I'm also kind, helpful and infinitely practical. Hang on, I think there's something wrong with my glasses, everything's looking a bit pink.

Rummuser said...

I have a different problem Nick. I am usually the guy on the pedestal.

Nick said...

Ramana: I know, everyone comes to you for advice, seeing you as worldly-wise and eminently sensible. And from what I can gather, they usually get very good advice.

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Nick,

Like you, we would like to think that we are 'above' the rosy tinted spectacles idolisation about which you write here. But, sad romantics that we are, we have to say that we fall time and time again under the spell of certain individuals who seem to be able to work their magic upon us. And, usually, but not always, it ends in tears.

We argue to ourselves that, whatever the eventual disappointment, however far from grace the idol may fall, it will, nevertheless, have been worth it. Better to love and fail in love than never to love at all......at least this way one is alive!

susie said...

It seems like celebrities and politicians over here are beyond flawed.

Secret Agent Woman said...

What do you mean no one was willing to criticize Obama? The right tore him to shreds from the moment he started running for president. And on the left, there was heated debate about who would be a better candidate, him or Hillary Clinton. Those of us who did think highly of him still worried about his lack of experience in foreign policy. Maybe none of that was crossing the sea, but in my experience he was definitely not seen only as a perfect figure.

I've never understood hero worship and think the term gets bandied about far too frequently. Taking serious risks to help someone (when it isn't your job to do so) makes you a hero. Not making a winning touchdown, successfully performing surgery or simply enlisting in the military.

I guess I don't own rose-colored glasses. Maybe its because I've heard to many stories from people who are respected by others to believe that there is a person alive who doesn't have flaws. Even in my giddy newly-in-love state, I have no illusions that the guy is perfect. But I've never needed perfection.

Nick said...

Jane and Lance: Glad to hear someone admitting to rose-tinted specs! You seem to be even more susceptible than I am! But as you say, better to love and fail than never love at all. It's all part of life's rich and varied tapestry....

Susie: Public figures in the States seem to be just as fallible as those in Britain.

Nick said...

Agent: I was certainly aware of the right-wing hostility towards Obama. But the general message of what I read and heard was that millions of people idolised Obama and wouldn't listen to any nay-saying or scepticism.

I do agree about the lazy use of the word hero to refer to quite ordinary everyday activities.

I'm sure your job must make you very aware that everyone has their flaws, however saintly they seem to others.

Bijoux said...

I always hated assignments in school where you had to write about your 'hero.' I could never come up with anyone!

Nick said...

Bijoux: Me too. I even find it hard to think of significant role models. I've never modelled myself on anyone, just copied the best bits of everyone I meet.

Grannymar said...

I prefer to meet people as equals and hope I am acceptable, warts and all!

Nick said...

Grannymar: I hope I'm also acceptable warts-and-all. But not many people see the whole me as most of those I meet are just casual acquaintances. I think my blogmates and Facebook friends probably see more of me than most.

Keith said...

I used to think Renee Zellweger was fantastic. She is a great actress and had the girl-next-door appeal (Bridget Jones). When she smiled her whole face seemed to light up, and I think that is why I "idealised" her. I have nearly all her films, but since she had something done to her face she now looks like just another Hollywood bimbo. I'm looking for another hero!

Nick said...

Keith: Oh dear, it sounds like you're judging her totally by her appearance. No wonder you're now disillusioned! I rather like Sienna Miller, but not for her looks so much as the fearless way she took the paparazzi to court and stopped them harassing her.

Keith said...

No Nick, I admired Renees' acting ability more than her looks, but her looks helped!

Nick said...

Keith: Oh okay, I got you wrong there!

Liz Hinds said...

I've just been listening to a TED talk which concluded that, in spite of what the researcher had wanted to believe, vulnerability was necessary. It must have been a really good talk because I can't remember any more than that ...

Liz Hinds said...

Oh and I don't idolise anyone - except maybe Leigh Halfpenny. And Adam Jones.

Nick said...

Liz: Eh? Not sure what the connection is between idealising people and feeling vulnerable....

Given my total lack of interest in sport, Leigh Halfpenny and Adam Jones do exactly nothing for me. But if you'd mentioned Pharrell Williams....

Jay, Sparking Synapse said...

As you know, I am one of those people who loves to find someone to idealise, and I've been guilty of putting a certain someone on a pedestal, from which he has now - predictably - plummeted to earth.

I always knew it would happen someday, so when it did, I was more saddened and philosophical than anything else, but it's disheartening all the same.

Or is it? Maybe I should consider it heartening to know that it's really true that nobody is perfect, after all!

Nick said...

Jay: That's true, you may be disillusioned but now you're more aware that nobody's perfect, however glossy their public image!

Liz Hinds said...

I've just re-read my comment, Nick. It probably made sense to me at the time although I might have omitted a large bit of sentence that I only wrote in my head, a bit that would have explained it.

I now have no idea what I was talking about. There is little hope for me I fear.

Nick said...

Liz: Ha, I know the feeling. The "What the hell was that all about" syndrome!