I was reminded of the contrasts and intertwined natures of civility and brutality by two things last weekend. The first was a piece in Esquire magazine: Rahm Emanuel and his tough SOB brethren have officially replaced the douchebag. No excuses. (by Stephen Marche).
As Obama's first hire, Emanuel was a welcome sign of things to come, for Obama's lovely dreams will mean nothing without a thug to realize them. The beautiful cannot exist without the crude, or, as Walter Benjamin put it, "There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism." Emanuel's boss has the world's most charming smile; Emanuel has a sliced-off finger. Obama says there are no red states or blue states; Emanuel likes to stand on tables and holler "[The Republicans] can go fuck themselves." Obama is "yes we can"; Emanuel is "yes we are doing it right now so why don't you piss off." How tough is Emanuel? He's so tough, he was offered a scholarship to dance with the Joffrey Ballet. He also once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him and has said of himself, "I wake up some mornings hating me, too." The guy's like a character out of an Elmore Leonard novel.
I watched "Thrilla in Manila" the new HBO documentary on the infamous third fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Fraizer.
Muhammad Ali, a personal hero since childhood, was a great boxer, athlete and one of the most charismatic and entertaining figures in American history. Which is why I found it so painfully disillusioning to see this realistic, sobering glimpse of a legend who's myth had all but cleansed him of the inconsistencies and ugly failings that are a part of any life.
After being stripped of his license to box for refusing induction into the armed forces during the Vietnam War, Frazier befriend, supported and went to great lengths to aid in the renewal of Ali's boxing license to make possible the fight which would give him his career back. Once the fight was announced Ali turned on him and used his position within the Islamic community to subject him to bitter racial attacks. The film also shows clips of Ali siding with the KKK on issues of segregation and publicly flaunting his marital infidelity.
I've always maintained that behind every great brand (Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, George Eastman, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison) there is an asshole birthing it through the arduous, painful process of creation. Maybe legends and the storybook versions of culture we find it easier to live with are are born the same way.