Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Pathos of the Gator

It was, at first glance, a classic “jock-mobile.” A large black SUV, tall enough that the license plate was at eye-level as I pulled up behind in my little Yaris. From that vantage point I couldn’t help noticing the various “shout-outs” to the reptilian team from points South. Above the standard “Yukon” logo was an equally-sized ornate “Gators” written in chrome script. Level with my hood was the towing hitch, capped by a grinning Florida ‘gator.  The license plate frame surrounding the prestige plate declared “Florida Gators – National Champions.” The date was conveniently omitted, allowing the claim to ripple out across the decades.

“Jock-mobile,” right? Well, that aspect certainly can’t be over-looked. But as my Grandfather used to say, “Alles ist nicht so einfach,” – “It is not that simple,” or as Facebook would assert – “It’s complicated.” I told you it was a prestige plate. Six letters, no symbols, one word: PATHOS.

Whoa, there Nelly Bell!

I’m having trouble reconciling what seem to be the discordant worldviews etched across the back of this vehicle. Obviously sports, and certainly fandom, is all about emotion – but it is most often guy-type, fist- and chest-bumping passion – “I AM A WARRIOR!” Prevents any misinterpretation of all the butt slapping that goes on in pro sports. But “pathos?” Come on now, I mean it is Greek and it doesn’t stand for a fraternity. You encounter it in courses in literature, art and cultural criticism – not PE for crying out loud. The seeming contradiction in the juxtaposition of these various sets of symbols was, well, mysterious. And I love that.

You see, most days it feels like much of the mystery is draining out of human interaction. In just the last week Facebook has announced the release of “Actions”, which along with “Timeline”, “Ticker” and other various Apps, allows you to “instantly and seamlessly share” what you are doing, listening to, thinking about, eating, etc., etc. with all your “friends.” Google countered the next morning with Search Your World – which sends Google’s search spiders scurrying out through all your Google+ contacts, and includes their posts, reposts, pictures and whatever in the results of your normal Google searches. Just what I need to know, what do my second cousin’s school age children in Montana think about the candidates competing in the Presidential primary in South Carolina?

Let me share with you ancient hieroglyphic inscription by Peter Steiner published by The New Yorker on July 5, 1993.

"On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog" Quaint isn’t it?   The notion that on the Internet nobody knew who you really were. It is now ancient, the idea that the Internet was this huge Carnival, a Masked Ball where mystery and intrigue were only a mouse click away. "Who was that?" "What did they mean?"

Now, almost two decades later, I know the "mysterious stranger" just had the egg and cheese biscuit at the McDonald’s on Western Boulevard, while listening to Colin Cowherd on ESPN radio. Also they are looking for a parking place in the parking structure off Dan Allen Drive while tracking the campus bus that they hope to catch out to Centennial campus because parking out there is just terreeeeb! And maybe they have a little cold coming on because on their pillow this morning . . . .

Do we really want to know? Is there any way we could possibly care?   Zuckerberg may believe that privacy is so 20th century, but this old guy clings to the notion that a life without secrets, without mystery, without romance, is not worth living.

No, I don’t really need to understand "the pathos of the gator" to take comfort in the knowledge that something that mysterious is gliding through some swamp, somewhere.

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