In praise of Icarus

The day that Anna Nicole Smith died, she was the top search item on Technorati. The second most popular search item was Amanda Marcotte. When I saw this, the juxtaposition struck me. Yet with a few days past now, I’m starting to see connections.

On a media education mailing list, people have been complaining about the coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death. Roger Conway compares Anna Nicole’s death to that of Army Spc. Alyssa R. Peterson who “killed herself two weeks after objecting to the interrogation techniques being used on Iraqi prisoners”. What is this prurient voyeurism that draws the media to Anna Nicole Smith, while ignoring the tragedies of Iraq?

Others had a different view of Anna Nicole’s tragedy:

Instead of cursing another woman who had little to no educational opportunities for advancement--who married the cook of Jim's Krispy
Fried Chicken, where she was a waitress, at age 17--had a kid at 18 and then found work, as a single mother, at Wal-Mart and Red Lobster before becoming a stripper--perhaps we would be better off searching for a little empathy.

Yes, a little empathy would be a nice thing. It would go a long way. The same applies to Amanda Marcotte. Everyone is talking about whether or not the Edwards campaign dealt properly with the attack by right wing extremists for hiring her. Everyone is talking about whether of not her decision to leave the campaign is a good or bad thing for the campaign. What about a little empathy for Amanda? It sucks to have people try to get your fired because you’ve strongly expressed your views. It sucks to have to leave what could have been a really great job because you are too controversial.

I received an email today from a friend involved in non-profits. It quoted a line from a poem, which is quoted all over the place, but I can’t find the original source:

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd, is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing do nothing, have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves; they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

Anna Nicole and Amanda took risks. The risks might not always have turned out the way they, or others would have liked, but we should honor such risk taking. We should show a little empathy to those who struggle to make their own condition and the condition of those around them a little better. We should all take a few more risks ourselves.

Yet, as W. H. Auden observes about the suffering that comes from risks that don’t turn out right,

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

So yes, perhaps I’ll take my risks. I will stand on the shore and point to the disappearing ripples of where Icarus fell. I will point out the need for empathy for Anna Nicole and Amanda. Like Zarathustra, I will take the corpse upon my shoulders and set upon my way, as town people say “Leave this town… there are too many here who hate thee”

Who’s coming with me?

(Cross-posted at Greater Democracy).

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