Feet of Clay

Since, lately, I’ve been dragged in every direction but this little space of the blogosphere, and in keeping with the recycling of older posts as a way of letting peeps know that I’m still around, I reblogged- weeks ago now, it seems- a little bit o’ something about some of the cool things that can be found in the OT Book of Daniel.

At that time, after reading my discussion about disembodied hands and holy graffiti, my blogging buddy Daniel (pay him a visit- you won’t be disappointed) put in a request for some more stuff about the madness of the dream of old Nebuchadnezzar. So, because I always try to accommodate interesting requests, and because I love saying the name Nebuchadnezzar, but mostly because that book about that guy Daniel (the biblical one) is full of  resonant language and enduring concepts, I am happy to oblige.

Interestingly, I didn’t have to wait long for one of those of those images to resonate with contemporary events. And it’s Hallowe’en, so a discussion about a mythological nightmare seems pretty apt…

I don’t usually pay all that much attention to the search terms that bring people to visit me here in my WordPress World. Really, I’m just happy to have people visit and for the chats that might ensue as a result. Every once in a while they sort of jump out at me, though.  Doobster reminded me of this over at his blog, not long ago.

My favourite still has to be about exorcising Pazuzu. I remain at a loss as to who might be looking to get rid of Mesopotamian demons, and I wish them well in that particular research, since I’m pretty sure that my blog post wouldn’t have been much help in that department. (Another of my recent faves asks: ‘is Don Henley a Xian’? Which is interesting. Since I don’t actually know the answer, and wouldn’t presume to ask him, since it matters to me not a whit. He’s awesome, regardless of religious background or belief).

A couple of days ago a search term popped into my settings profile that was timely and somewhat distressing. Just to make sure it wasn’t a weird anomaly, I googled it myself and, sure enough, I was directed here.

Looking at it closely, I realized that the reason the post came up in the search was due to to the proximity of the word ‘dated’ (which I was using as an adjective to mean ‘provided with a date’ with the implication that said date was long ago and that I am, in fact, old) with a reference to his name (not that common) as I described scenes from his recent book.

Contrary to the search term’s implication, I did NOT date Jian.

If you do a search on that selection of words (‘I dated Jian’) ALL kinds of other things will now come up far far ahead of my little post about a trip to the cottage over a year ago. He’s all over the news. Everywhere. He’s knocked our former mayor and the defeat of his brother (Praise Odin and the gods of Valhalla) out of all media coverage. New scandals await our insatiable appetite for the lurid. We are all talking about him- and lines are being drawn all over the place.

Know what? He is a creepy guy. He’s always been a creepy guy. This isn’t news to anyone. Especially not to anyone who has had even passing acquaintance with the tinytiny world that is the Canadian media.

What IS news is that he seems to be more than just creepy. If the women who have come forward since he released his PR-company-driven attempt at playing the victim came out on Sunday are to believed (and why shouldn’t they be believed?), he has a whole lot of issues. A need to exert dominance by beating unwilling women appears to be one of them.

There’s a lot of talk about this going on everywhere. The social media are overwhelmed with the discussions/arguments/attacks about this. Two sides to all stories and that sort of thing. There are experts weighing in- those intimately familiar with BDSM and the negotiated rules that are required to make such relationships work, and legal experts- citing case law that says that assault isn’t something for which people can grant permission, are but a few of the voices we’ve been hearing since Sunday night.

‘Abuse is abuse’, they say. ‘They’ include some who consider the guy in question a friend. Yesterday morning, on The Current, CBC featured an extremely well-put-together interview with one of the accusers- one who wasn’t intimated by the power play and who isn’t afraid of the back-lash that might come from stepping forward to make her voice heard (many kudos to K and the team for an amazing presentation).

By last evening, another woman had come forward, identifying herself and making her accusations- and her reasons for not going to the authorities with the events she recounted- clear. Brave women- speaking on behalf of themselves and those who feel they cannot. For whatever reason (and those reasons are, unfortunately, myriad).

It would hope that it’s obvious on which side of this story I can be found. Abuse of power (abuse of any kind) is not something that is remotely acceptable in my way of viewing the world. Ego (especially when its completely out of proportion to reality) as a primary personality trait is dangerous and something about which to be greatly concerned when it is made manifest- in the workplace and in interpersonal relationships. No matter how much I might enjoy a radio programme.

The fact that people- across the country- immediately leapt to defend the guy says a whole lot about us and the irrational attachments we build with people in the spotlight. And none of what it says is good. Especially since said messages of defence involved few cautions about waiting to hear the whole story. Instead, there was a shocking degree of shameful victim blaming. I saw a bunch of reallyreally bad language being thrown around. And I’m not talking about the sort with four letters.

I’m talking about words like ‘vindictive’ and ‘jilted’ and ‘attention seeking’ and ‘gold-digging’. As people high-jumped to conclusions with an alacrity that is pretty damn stomach turning.

Voices of reason stepped in- to rationally discuss the reasons why liking/admiring a radio host does not automatically make him exempt from having done terrible things, to address the common charge that none of these women filed police reports about the incidents, to inform us about some of the realities of being a woman in our society that many people would rather leave under the rugs where they’ve been swept.

The CBC will survive (provided the leader of Harper’s Conservatives and culturally ignorant individuals (no names mentioned *cough* Christie Blatchford) don’t get their way). I’m old enough to remember the national sense of loss that we felt when Peter Gzowski, long-time host of Morningside, one of CBC’s most distinctive voices, and true National Treasure, died in 2002. His vision continued. In many ways, Jian is one of the heirs of his legacy- and of Peter’s lifelong attempts to identify and express Canada’s cultural identity.

But he’s only one of the heirs. And, really, not necessarily even the best of them (I should note here- for the record- that I’ve always been partial to Strombo).

As guest host Brent Bambury said so eloquently on Monday- while introducing a show that was profoundly under the microscope and likely facing irrevocable change- Q is more than one person. Much more. There are dozens of people who work to make the show what it is. They are still there. And will be, as long as there are listeners who appreciate what Q continues to be about.

Which is a lot of things. The variety, the diversity of subjects and perspectives on art and culture and politics and society is something that has kept me engaged with and enjoying the show for many years.

What it isn’t about, shouldn’t be about, is a cult of personality, created by one individual, that has led to people believing his press releases (figurative and realized), without reflection or analysis, and to blind, reactionary responses that are stomach-turning and, frankly, un-Canadian.

Just last week (was it over a week ago already?) I went on and on and on, to anyone who would listen, about the class with which the CBC (and Peter Mansbridge, in particular) handled the day-long coverage of the terrible events, as they happened, in Ottawa. The difference between that coverage and anything comparable that one might witness on the 24-hour-a-days ‘news’ channels in the US, was a sizable gulf- a fact that gives me great pride.

Which is why the trolls and the misogynists and those who just can’t simply wrap their brains (such as they are) around the potentiality of wrong-doing on the part of a ‘celebrity’ because, well, he’s a celebrity– who is, admittedly, great at his job- makes me want to bite something. But they know him. He’s ‘part of their lives’. And loving/revering/worshiping a public figure means giving them the benefit of every possible doubt. Evidently.

My fave Babylonian king (you know his name. Say it- ‘Nebuchadnezzar’) once had a dream that both baffled and disturbed him. None of his own courtiers or wiseguys were able to interpret the dream for him- since doing so required the input of the gods.  And they didn’t seem to be forthcoming with any guidance- much to the distress of the wiseguys. Distress that grew, quite significantly, when it became clear that Neb was going to execute the bunch of them for their inability to help him sort it all out.

As they were being rounded up (as I re-read the passage I had an image of the Brute Squad clearing out the Thieves’ Forest in The Princess Bride, for some reason), Daniel asked the Captain of the Guard what was up with all this. Once answered, Daniel then asked Arioch to hold off on the whole executing-the-wiseguys thing, and to give him some time to figure out the troublesome nightmare.

Granted the time, Daniel and his Judean buds prayed to their god for mercy, and the meaning of Neb’s dream was revealed to them. Daniel was taken to the king and recounted it fully, before beginning his interpretation- which, he noted, he was able to do because of the guidance of his god. Who was better than Neb’s gods. Just a BTW.

Nebuchadnezzar had dreamt of a great figure- with a head made of gold, upper body of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet made partly of iron and partly of baked clay. A stone- uncut by human hands- came along and smashed the feet of clay, causing the entirety to topple and shatter- with the precious metals being blown away by the winds, as the stone became a mountain which then filled the whole Earth.

Daniel tells Neb that he, the king, is the head of gold. He has been given his dominion by god and is great among men, in his power and glory. After his time, another kingdom will arise- one inferior to his. And then another. And another. Then will arise a kingdom that is divided- and the weakness caused by this division will lead to its downfall- by another kingdom, established by god, that will smash all the others to bits.

Neb was so happy to have his dream interpreted, he made Daniel his chief wiseguy and lavished rewards upon him and his friends (Daniel wasn’t one to forget his buddies…).

There are all kinds of interpretations of this dream and its interpretation. The separate sections of the figure are generally thought to represent specific nations- Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome, as one example- and, as such, is more of the same sort of social commentary you find throughout the narrative of the Book of Daniel.

But… as is often the case with such things, strong mythological images develop nuances of their own outside of the context of their creation.

‘Feet of clay’ is colloquially used to reference a character flaw- usually one that is pretty darn significant. The fragility of the feet- the flaw- caused by the hubris or ego of the figure- endangers the whole. Up to and including it’s wondrous head of gold. The (self-) perceived beauty and wisdom and charisma cannot remain standing under its own weight when any sort of stone shows up to smash into that problematic and fragile underpinning.

We invest so much in our public figures- in those personalities who keep us entertained or informed, or those who seek to lead us in our day-to-day lives. When their clay feet are (often inevitably) revealed, we tend to react with either 1) hostile doubt and by lashing out at those stony accusers who dare to imply anything less than golden about the figurehead they love, or 2) with knowing self-assurance that the idol was always destined to be toppled from his lofty height.

Those who make of themselves a cult of personality do so at their own risk. We like them, until we are presented with reasons to despise them- or their behaviours. But sometimes we cling to the illusion, regardless of the weight of evidence, and maintain the defence long past all logic or rationale (I could cite another recent example having something to do with our recent Municipal election, but I’m too pleased by the overall outcome to harp on the idiocy of the remnants of Ford Nation…), hoping that the object of reverence will remember the loyalty when returned to power.

I actually hated this song when it came out. Although, really, that largely had to do with the fact that one of my uni housemates played it All. The. Time. (Until Fletch stormed downstairs and turfed it far out into the snow of the backyard, that is. I think I need to buy him a drink in remembered thankfulness for that…). I’m still not sure I like the song all that much, but its lyrics stand up as well today as they did back in 1988.

Neon lights, Nobel Prize
When a mirror speaks, the reflection lies
You won’t have to follow me
Only you can set me free

I sell the things you need to be
I’m the smiling face on your TV
I’m the cult of personality
I exploit you, still you love me
I tell you one and one makes three

You gave me fortune
You gave me fame
You gave me power in your god’s name
I’m every person you need to be
I’m the cult of personality

And that title.

The song is about psychology and politics. And ‘cult’ is a loaded term that is, generally (i.e not academically), used negatively. A cult of personality happens when a person uses things like the media to construct an idealized image. It is based in charismatic authority and has connections with narcissistic leadership.

So. If the shoe fits…

Perhaps it can be used to cover up those fragile tootsies.

The hand, writing on the wall

The Hebrew Scriptures have some pretty cool stories that contain some really cool characters and memorable lines.  I’ve been studying the texts of the OT and NT and the Apocrypha, and Pseudipigrapha, and the literatures of neighbouring countries (Egypt, the Ancient Near East, Greece, Rome, and etc.) for so very long now, it’s tricky trying to single out what (and who) makes my absolute top of the pops of ancient literature.

I have resolved my love-hate relationship with the particular text(s) that served as the focus of my doctoral thesis- and I’m back to hanging out and having fun with my gnostics, in all their ‘heretical’ glory.  I’ve neglected the Egyptians and Mesopotamians a bit lately- after teaching about them for a few years running and visiting with them at the ROM on a weekly basis we all needed some time apart.

The NT and I remain estranged- there are still some residual hard feelings left over from my Master’s thesis, and, to be honest, I’m not sure that Saul of Tarsus and I will ever really see eye to eye on things.  The Revelation has a lot of fun stuff, but it’s being used all over the place lately (the Headless Horseman of the Apocalypse- on Sleepy Hollow, for e.g), so I’m feeling the over-exposure and forced interpretations more than a little bit right now.

My last new, not re-blogged, post- about our current selfie society- generated some great dialogue in the comments section, and led me to pull out the ol’ Old Testament and have a look back at the Book of Daniel (thanks, Susan!).

Now Daniel and I have always been buds.  He’s a guy you can really cheer for- and the book about him marks the real, canonical, beginnings of apocalyptic literature in the biblical worldview (I’d rather not get into an argument about whether or not the book belongs with the prophetic books or the writings.  Some day, perhaps, I’ll talk a bit about biblical prophecy being not so much- or at all- prophetic but very much about the social commentary of the time in which it was written- and therefore a type of early apocalypticism– but right now I’m grooving with Daniel.  Who belongs with the writings as a proto-apocalyptic).

Next to my gnostics, I love the apocalyptic peeps best.  Sometimes it’s like choosing a favourite from among two cherished children, so why choose?  They tend to overlap a fair bit anyway- hardly surprising since both arise out of discontent and disconnection with the society when the texts were written.

When people are pissed with the status quo things often get a little apocalyptic (it’s happening now, as a matter of fact).  Daniel- and the pseudonymous book about him- was a harbinger of a whole lot of discontent and attempts at change.  And it gave us one of the most interesting images of the whole bible.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

The narrative tells the story of Daniel, who, as a member of the Judean nobility, is serving some time in the service of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.  He, and three of his pals, refused to succumb to the lures of the food and wine provided by their captors, and maintain the mandates of their heritage and religion, even while in exile.  They catch the eye of the king, who declares them to be superior to his own wise men at court and enlists them to his service.  Daniel soon gains a reputation for the accuracy of his dream interpretations, and, since Nebuchadnezzar (I love that name.  Just typing it makes me happy.  Saying it makes me smile.  I guess I was a Babylonian in a former life.  Or something) frequently needs his dreams analysed, he eventually appoints Daniel as his Chief Wise Guy.

While Nebuchadnezzar had his good qualities (like his name.  I love his name), he did steal the treasures of the Temple of Jerusalem (during the destruction of the city and the beginning of the Exilic Period) and brought them back to Babylon with him.  While Neb deals with his demons (7 years of crazy, living like a wild beast and all that) his son Belshazzar (although the Book of Daniel is the only source that lists Belshazzar as Neb’s kid- other historical sources list him as the son of Nabonidus- but we can let him be Neb’s son- no harm to the story) acts as co-regent, and then king in his own right.

One night Belshazzar and his noble friends throw a big party- and use the sacred vessels plundered from Solomon’s Temple as their pint glasses.  They make toasts to their gods- mainly inanimate deities- using Yahweh’s own sacred vessels.  Those of you who have read the Hebrew Scriptures up to this point in the continuing story have to realize that this is not a good idea.  Yahweh does not (generally) take kindly to his word, his people or his stuff being messed with.

To the horror of the collected party goers, a mysterious disembodied hand appears and starts writing on the wall.  Still reeling from the strange apparition, neither Belshazzar nor his assembled guests can figure out what the writing says.  He calls for Daniel to come and have a look.  Daniel, the superlative and Yahweh-favoured Chief Wise Dude, reads the words as Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.  At first inspection they seem to be meaningless references to weights and measures, but Daniel interprets them as the verbs that correspond to the nouns: numbered, weighed, divided.

As such, he explains that god has numbered the days of Belshazzar’s kingdom and decided that they are at an end.  The kingdom (and its king) have been weighed and found wanting, so it will be divided between the Medes and the Persians.  Like now.  The interpretation is quickly realized, and that very night Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede became king.

Generally the story is used (‘the writing on the wall’, ‘the hand writing on the wall’, ‘Mene Mene’) to indicate imminent doom, originating in misbehaviour or inappropriate governance.  Those who attended the feast- and shared culpability for the bad politics and decisions- were able to see the hand as it wrote on the wall, yet were totally unable to understand the message that was being imparted.  The interpretation had to come from someone who wasn’t in any way responsible for the negative behaviours- or the misuse of the vessels and the sacrosanct ideology behind them.  Only Daniel was able to give warning and explain the impending collapse of the Babylonian kingdom by reading the writing on the wall.

Increasingly, these days and with the societies and systems of government that we have created and institutionalized, fewer and fewer people are able to see the imminence of danger as we continue headlong down a path that is becoming less and less equitable and more and more dictated by those who hold power.  That those in power were, ostensibly, chosen by the people (rather than through hereditary ascension, as in the Babylonian example), makes the systemic problems all the more glaring and frustrating.

We are not doing enough to hold our leaders to account (don’t even talk to me about the idiots of FN- who will STILL vote for that guy come next October.  As much as I despise name-calling, those who remain convinced that THAT guy is the best candidate for mayor, ARE idiots.  There is no other adequate descriptive word.  And I know LOTS of words) while they choose to ignore the disembodied hand and its message entirely.  Claims about improvements to the economy (while myriad citizens remain in situations of un/underemployment and the middle class continues shrinking while the divide between the haves and the have nots become more pronounced), to the housing market (as home ownership is increasingly an inaccessible pipe dream in most major Canadian cities), and the short-sighted politics that reflect immediate self-interest rather than long-term nationwide benefits… These things, as serious as they are, only scratch the surface of the current crises we are facing.

As I say over and over and over again, our myths- and their interpretations- have a whole lot of wisdom to offer, if we bother to take the time and pay attention to what those who came before us had to say.  Especially since we keep on making the same sorts of mistakes, driven by greed and one-upmanship and the ever-increasing need to hear ourselves speak (or yell) over the voices that might be offering an alternative (and better, more equitable) perspective.

In February 1964, as a response to the assassination of JFK a few months previously, a young lad named Paul Simon wrote a song.  The Sound(s) of Silence (the original title was plural) shares an enduring sense of futility and awareness of the dangers of silence- the problems that arise when people fail to effectively listen to and speak out about the cancers growing around us.

As we bow to our own neon gods, perhaps we need to take time to listen to this song- about to celebrate its 50th (!) birthday- a little more closely.  It might help us to see the hand and decipher the message it is continually writing on the walls that surround us.

And the sign flashed out its warning, in the words that it was forming

And the sign said, ‘the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls’

And whispered in the sounds of silence.

Mene Mene, my friends.  Take heed.  That hand is getting pretty emphatic with its messages.