How Paterno should be remembered
If you looked for photos detailing reactions towards the passing of Joe Paterno, the images of Penn State students would be sobering.
Hunched over cell phones, huddled in groups or reflecting inwardly, what you’d find is the widespread mourning of a valued cultural figure, the sort of guy you’d want to have over for dinner, or to feed your dog during a weekend vacation.
There’d be no mention of their attitudes towards the man a few months prior, as word of his detachment from a much less flattering scenario ascended from whispers amongst higher-ups to dinner table debates.
The difference is polar enough to make you wonder if it’s the same man — but of course it is. The gesture is one of many that have fluctuated in the media over the past few years: That of the people’s hero turned fallen angel turned beloved indebted. We saw it with Amy Winehouse, as news outlets contrasted her “undesirable” status with her genuine ability to light up a room.
It was present with Steve Jobs, whose innate ability was continually marred by his own ubiquity. Michael Jackson’s name still prompts raised eyebrows.
When someone has died, they’re dead. It sounds redundant, something a toddler’s mother might tell her son after an evening of questions at bedtime; but that may be the reason it’s rejected so often. Looking at the way we treat our deceased in the media, our acceptance of this rite isn’t always so certain, and our society’s ongoing practice of tearing someone down only to build them up after their final hours has become an even bigger paradox as of late.
There’s no such thing as an absolute, but complete reversals of thought do shed light on how we’ve come to identify with mortality in our society.
What in our personal belief systems has changed that prompts the distancing or expansion of a persona? It could be that an increased reliance upon our own personal aliases has contributed to the image of an individual on Facebook as opposed to the eccentricities of the individual themselves. And even if technology is playing a role, what’s to say for the sudden inquisitions? People have been dying for years.
So we’re left with a choice to make. Do we acknowledge the mistakes our idols have made after their passing? Or do we let things lie once they’ve drawn their final breaths?
Whatever decision we make probably says more about ourselves as individuals than any sort of greater collective, but it’s still a resolute one. At the very least it serves as a reminder, that with advancements in our lives — both technological and personal — our beliefs shift accordingly in turn. At some point, it’s something we’ll have to put in check.
Then again, maybe we’re not above that either.
Bryan Washington is a sociology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]