Monday, October 17, 2011

Epic acts or the decline of empire?

What's wrong with this story? Paraphrased from the article Tiger Woods' hot-dog tosser inspired by movie in the SF Chronicle on Thursday of last week: guy throws a hot dog at golfer Tiger Woods during a tournament sponsored by electronics retailer Fry's, and explains himself by claiming "he wanted to do something 'courageous and epic.'"

The guy in question, Brandon Kelly, was quoted directly in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:
"I threw the hot dog toward Tiger Woods because I was inspired by the movie 'Drive,' " Kelly said. "As soon as the movie ended, I thought to myself, 'I have to do something courageous and epic. I have to throw a hot dog on the green in front of Tiger.'"

Here's how Brandon Kelly's thought translated into 'action,' captured on video like so much else in Our Modern World, and posted to YouTube:

I didn't see the movie Drive, and don't find the trailer inspiring. I read Anthony Lane's review in The New Yorker a couple weeks ago, and it didn't inspire me either. Drive is a thriller about a guy who does stunt driving for movies and moonlights as a getaway driver. Fast cars, violence, you know, you've seen something like it a dozen times or more.

But ... a guy from Petaluma throwing a hot dog at a philandering, past-his-prime golfer? And confusing that -- can we even call it a 'gesture'? -- with a 'courageous and epic' act?

Not that I've got anything against guys from Petaluma, mind you. I know and respect people from Petaluma. Gary Snyder's sister, Thea Lowry, wrote about egg farming in Petaluma, Empty Shells: The Story of Petaluma, America's Chicken City. Petaluma is not a city to be sneered at.

I won't dwell on the fact that an epic is, according to Merriam-Webster:

  1. a long narrative poem in elevated style recounting the deeds of a legendary or historical hero
  2. a work of art (as a novel or drama) that resembles or suggests an epic
  3. a series of events or body of legend or tradition thought to form the proper subject of an epic

To dwell on these definitions would be pedantic, if for no other reason than because Brandon Kelly used the word "epic" as an adjective, and the definitions given above are for the word used as a noun. As an adjective, we have, again from Merriam-Webster:
a : extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope
b : heroic

Take just a moment. Sit with the concept of epic as an adjective. Grok it if you can.

So if Brandon Kelly really needed to do something extending beyond the usual or ordinary -- or even something heroic -- what do we learn from the apparent and disappointing fact that he couldn't find anything to do of actual epic proportion that was also within his range of abilities (for lack of a better word) ... and so settled for throwing a hot dog at a philandering, past-his-prime golfer? Do we learn anything?

Did Brandon Kelly make the best possible choice, given that other unusual, extraordinary, or heroic actions he might have attempted instead could have included, oh, I don't know ... setting himself on fire in Zuccotti Park, or pledging to cut off one of his own testicles for each new illegal settlement Israelis build in the occupied West Bank, or breaking open his piggy bank and donating the proceeds to relieve the Eurozone crisis? These might have been ridiculous performances, had Brandon Kelly set out to perform them, but at least they would have occurred on a consequential stage.

Does Brandon Kelly's lack of imagination imply something about the impoverishment of the American mind, and the decline of American empire? Or is his ridiculousness singular?

Does Brandon Kelly's conflation of "epic" with "earning a guffaw on the evening news" point to the decay of American sense and sensibility? Does it suggest that life is now interchangable with so-called 'reality TV'?

Enquiring minds are at a loss to explain ...


  1. Ok, this is the best rant I've seen in a long time. Gotta share it with Nathaniel and his friend John (now living with us), a writer. I've talked with him about you, Steve, and your process. (He's 18).

  2. @Rebecca: thanks! And best of luck to John...

  3. I submit to you that this form of action is limited in scope: at best, two illegal settlements could be protested.

  4. @Steven: now there's a submission most anyone would accept...

  5. You cannot say that Tiger Woods is past his prime. The guy is only 36. Payne Stewart and Phil Mickelson didn't even win their first major titles until they were 33. Tiger's just having a slump.

  6. @katinsf -- I think my best move here is to consider it a compliment that you found this post quibble-worthy...