Monday, September 14, 2009
We encourage arrogance, so why do you expect humility?
Hopefully, perhaps and quite possibly we have learned first-hand this weekend the perils of out-of-control, excessive arrogance.
But in a sense, it is our fault. We like our icons to talk, to sell themselves, play themselves up. We only want them to be humble when we want them to be humble and then we criticize them for crossing the "vain" line. This weekend, Michael Jordan and Kanye West angered their fans and millions of others with their overconfident and rather petty actions.
Jordan treated his basketball Hall of Fame speech like Martin Lawrence in the infamous "Pretty Ricky" episode of the 90s series "Martin". If you didn't catch that classic segment, Martin attends to his 10-year high school reunion with a checklist of people he plans to avenge for their mistreatment a decade ago. After winning "Man of the Year" from his classmates, Martin essentially disses the award because he admits he never liked any of his classmates, especially arch rival Ricky Fontaine, or "Pretty Ricky," who took his prom date.
Isiah Thomas revived the role of "Pretty Ricky" as Jordan recalled when Thomas and several other all-stars decided to "freeze" him out of the 1985 All-Star Game because they were jealous of Jordan's new-found stardom and felt the rookie hadn't paid his dues. He then added rivals to the list as if he were shopping for a Super Bowl party. Dean Smith for not inviting him to pose for a Sports Illustrated cover, check. Pat Riley for not allowing the Knicks players to fraternize with Jordan before playoff games, check. Leroy Smith for the heinous act of accepting an invitation to join the varsity team at Laney High School in Wilmington, N.C. while Jordan didn't receive one, check.
It was classic Jordan, a summation of a man who was as good as creating motivational tools as dunking on opponents. He listed every one of his adversaries and thanked them for having a part in his Hall of Fame induction.
Less than 48 hours later, West jumps on stage (where is the security here?) at the MTV Video Awards grabs the microphone out country singer Taylor Swift's hands and proclaims Beyonce as the real winner of the best female video. He then hands the microphone back to the shell shocked Swift and then walks off the stage, as if he just solved the health care debate.
This is the only time you will hear me compare Jordan and West, because there is no comparison. One man is the greatest basketball player of all time and image icon, and another is a pretty decent artist who has capitalized on a horrid music market that devours and lauds anything, including "Mary Had a Little Lamb, the remix."
But people have spent the weekend complaining about both acts, and honestly neither Jordan nor West would have been successful with strictly humility. Jordan told friends he would become a shoe icon while he was at North Carolina.
West complained when his "College Dropout" CD was not given prestiguous five-star rating by Rolling Stone magazine and threatened to never to grant a cover story again. We didn't complain then. We kept buying his CDs, calling his stunning acts of pompousness a mere personality trait, not a concern that needed to be addressed.
We seem to live in a society where everybody considers themselves "all that" even if such feelings are conceived or serves as a defense mechanism for insecurity. Humility is frowned upon until the moment we feel as its appropriate and then we expect our artists, athletes and even politicians to immediately know when to say "Aw shucks."
This weekend was a lesson that there is nothing wrong with opting for humility or modesty, even if you privately want to tell the world how great you are. As one wise person told me, when a person constantly lauds themselves and their own accomplishments, they are more trying to convince themselves than anyone else.
We consider our humble icons boring or dry. We relish arrogance and conceit, even sometimes in our mates. It makes them more attractive. But the question is what exactly was attractive about the events of this weekend? I don't heard anyone admiring, just cringing.
It starts with young people judging each other for their material goods and looks, and it ends, unfortunately, with talented artists and athletes unable to control their own emotions because they have been allowed to fester and smoulder too long. It may be too late to save MJ and Kanye West, but this should serve as a lesson for all of us to stop encouraging such behavor and excusing it as genius.
We're smarter than that.