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Right Down the Middle

One thing you can say for mediocrity, lots of people excel at it. The same cannot be said for public service, which has become an oxymoron like social security or spotted owl (you don’t see them around any more, do you). Lately I goggle (I am agog as we speak) at the failure rate of everything done on the public dime in this country. This is exactly what I am supposed to do. You see? Government doesn’t work, just like they said! Privatize everything! But privatization is the root of the problem. We privatized the presidency, and look where that got us. Even God has decided to give us a right pantsing. The first MBA president, indeed. Mediocrity, where is thy sting? Meanwhile, such companies Republicans have never heard of such as Halliburton, Shaw, and Bechtel, the same outfits that have made Iraq the playground paradise it is today, will be reconstructing New Orleans with the same mediocrity they have displayed in their overseas efforts.

Here’s the thing about mediocrity, which comes from the old French word for ‘television’, derived from the Latin ‘medius’ (middle) and the Greek ‘okris’ (peak or point). Mediocre just means ‘middling’, such as a C student, for example. But the word has a strongly negative connotation, or I would have found a different word, like ‘schmendrik’. See, mediocre might be okay in the service industry, but if you’re the president of a fair-sized superpower, such as the United States, mediocre just isn’t good enough, not even for Southerners. Mediocre is a disaster, yfaith. Mediocre is only good enough for motion picture executives and sports announcers and stockbrokers. You can’t run the world on mediocre, nor even haul a bunch of people out of a flooded downtown area.

And that’s the point. When America first toddled along, a hale and ruddy babe, excellence was the rule. Great men, such as Benjamin Franklin, the Thomases Jefferson and Paine, George Washington, and Irv Schwartz, rose to the challenge of challenging times and created a model for statehood so visionary it would survive almost 200 years. Great men, the great women they forgot to mention, and great deeds. Now we are at a similar crossroads in history, as I often remark, splashing beer on my soup-stained cravat, and there are no great men in politics, unless one includes George Galloway, MP, but he’s not one of ours. In America, we’re fresh out of greatness. Which is just what the Neodeconservative movement is after. Hire a bunch of party hacks, pocket-liners, sycophants, and boobs, and while emptying the treasury and running up the national credit card, prove to the mediocre minds of the polity that Government Doesn’t Work.

It’s a brilliant maneuver, if it’s intentional, but I suspect it’s just the same mediocrity that’s sinking the country, only on a quantum scale. Clever but visionless mammon-lovers scuttling around behind the wainscoting dismantling the government to that some day they can have their own fiefdoms in the hills of Montana, or whatever whack-pated nonsense they have in mind. None of it will work. They’ll just ruin everything for everybody, because all the mediocre people that don’t have cleverness on their side went along with it rather than look like they can’t follow orders from their betters, or whatever whack-pated nonsense rings their bells. But is mediocrity necessarily a bad thing? I mean it would only take a handful of people with a little more than not much in order to overthrow these bozoids, ne c’est pas?

Not so fast, Flash. Mediocrity can’t be controlled, the way outright stupidity or genius can. With geniuses, you just give ’em what they want (a research lab, a piano, some scratch paper) and they go do their thing. With idiots, they don’t have a thing, you just tell them about Jesus, or Mithra, or whatever’s going around, and they settle right down to watch reruns of Hollywood Squares. Mediocrity usually thinks it’s better than it is. Talk radio and cable television and the opinion pages of the big newspapers (your remember those, the paper bundles that came wrapped around the Sunday comics) are infested bedbug-fashion with mediocrity; some fool told these people they had an audience, and the next thing you know, they’re brilliant. Only they’re not, they’re still mediocre.

What is to be done? Buy my book, of course, which only contains a half-dozen truly mediocre pages. But also, look to the margins (of society, not my book). Even now, above-average folks, the Franklins of our time, are emerging from the stews of mediocrity. It’s up to us ordinary dopes to recognize them. That’s all we have to do.

BEN TRIPP is an independent filmmaker and all-around swine. His book, Square In The Nuts, may be purchased here, with other outlets to follow: http://www.lulu.com/Squareinthenuts. Swag is available as always from http://www.cafeshops/tarantulabros. And Mr. Tripp may be reached at credel@earthlink.net.