By Selwyn Duke
"When small men cast big shadows, it's a sign that the sun is about to set." -- Lin Yutang
When I read the above proverb, I can't help but think about our time. Can anyone deny that we have become the land where small men cast big shadows? Think about it. The Simon & Garfunkel song asks, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" but it would be better to ask where Mozart, G.K. Chesterton, Edmund Burke and Thomas Aquinas have gone. And one thing we'll ask that's similar is, "Where are all the leaders?" but it's the wrong question. We should ask, "Where are all the followers?"
In reality, the leaders, thinkers, great artists and writers exist -- at least to some extent -- but they're not recognized today. Consider Alan Keyes, for instance. Keyes is a truly great man, a peerless philosopher with a real gift for communicating Truth. Yet he has run for public office -- including the presidency -- several times and can't get to first base. He casts a long shadow, but the people just don't seem to appreciate the shade.
A perfect example of choosing the small man over the great one involved Keyes and a 2004 Illinois Senate race. Keyes was running against none other than Barack Obama (PBUH), and never was there a greater contrast between substance and style, depth and superficiality, real intellectualism and relative infantilism. Just watch the debates the two men had, such as this one here (they're posted on YouTube). Quite frankly, it's clear to any discerning observer that Obama isn't fit to be the parrot on Keyes' shoulder. Yet, Illinois chose the very, very small shadow, thereby setting the stage for the Obamanation we have today.
Not surprisingly, the diminution isn't confined to just our leaders, as everything -- entertainment, academia, etc. -- in some way reflects the wider society (even if it just reflects the civilization's tolerance for evil). Just think about the people we place on pedestals today. There are rap stars, the absolute worst of the worst. Why do you think so many of them end up dead or arrested? These are thugs who, if they weren't making obscene money disgorging cultural poison, would be mugging innocents in dark alleys.
But they're not alone. We have individuals such as Howard Stern, who isn't separated from the rap miscreants so much by superior moral fiber as by 40 I.Q. points. In fact, he's smart enough to know exactly what he's doing. As an illustration, consider a story I heard about him many years ago on a radio show. Supposedly, shortly before he became a sultan of sleaze in the 1980s, he said (I'm paraphrasing), "The country has become so immoral that it's my time now."
But who is really to blame? The lowlife who cashed in on the corruption or the corrupted? Both are, of course. But never forget that Stern is only one man.
Madonna is another example of a small "man." And she also knows better. After all, what happened when she had a daughter? She said she wouldn't allow the girl to watch TV, which is wise. Yet, she had no problem helping to corrupt millions of other people's children, did she?
Then we have reality television, which only proves how far out of touch with reality we've fallen. One of the worst examples of this I know of (and I don't watch it, so my frame of reference is limited) is that ridiculous show "Growing Up Gotti," which, mercifully, didn't last long. Its central figure was a small man named Victoria Gotti, the daughter of the notorious former head of the Gambino crime family John Gotti. She's what I would call a Long Island redneck, and the only reason she and her horrible sons were given their 15 minutes of fame was that her father was a murderous, psychopathic thug. Hey, kids, that's how you make it in America.
Talk-show host Michael Savage, on whose show I sometimes do commentary as a guest, has addressed the matter of small men himself. One day, while talking about California Senator Barbara Boxer and her accomplishments, he said, "In my day, at most -- at most -- she would have had a brassiere store on Queens Boulevard. Then, after 19 years, she might have had two brassiere stores."
Savage related the idea with his usual wit and creativity, and the essence of what he said is absolutely correct: We have a habit today of elevating small men to a point above the level of their own incompetence.
We might be tempted to say that those who espoused Truth and created beauty always faced an uphill battle and that people have always glommed onto demagogues and the purveyors of sin. And this is somewhat true. Yet there was a better time in our nation, a time when people held actors in low esteem, a time when being a sports figure wasn't considered respectable employment.
Today, everything has been turned on its head. Bill Ayers has a professorship, "Flavor Flav" a TV show and Obama a presidency. As for the truly gifted, I sometimes wonder if someone such as G.K. Chesterton could make it in journalism nowadays. After all, that business is run by the smallest of men. Small men in a shrinking culture.
© 2008 Selwyn Duke -- All Rights Reserved