Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Ruminations on Absurdity

I heard this fascinating story on This American Life  about "The Meat Question." It seems that back in the early part of the 20th century, people were worried about the lack of meat since the American population was booming. A couple of dudes decided that the solution was to bring hippos to America and start farming them for meat.  There's more to the story than that. Click the link - it's pretty interesting.

Ira Glass was talking to the guy who wrote about it, a writer by the name of Jon Mooaliem.  And Ira Glass remarked that the idea was absurd.  Mooaliem said something to the effect of "I'm not disagreeing that it's absurd… but why is it absurd?"  I very smugly said to the empty passenger seat, "It's absurd because hippos are not indigenous to the United States and there are all sorts of problems that come from introducing non-indiginenous animals into an ecosystem.  I mean, obviously!"

Benedict Cumberbatch thinks I'm being ridiculous

And it was as if Jon and Ira could hear me because Mooaliem casually mentioned that almost none of the meat we eat now comes from indigenous animals. Cows, pigs and chickens were all brought here from other places.

At which point, I was stumped.  It is absurd, right? But why? Neither Ira Glass nor Jon Mooaliem could come up with a good reason.

Which brings me to last night. I found myself watching the 30 for 30 about Bo Jackson (that show is great, by the way!) and it got me to thinking about a thing I used to think about back when I was a huge Bulls fan.  You know, the 90s.  Back in those days, I ruminated that the thing Michael Jordan did was comparable to the thing great artists like Dickens or Tchaikovsky did.   You're born with huge native talent which you then hone and master until you're at the summit of your craft, a craft which brings great joy to your audiences.  They all engendered a special community among their fans.  And, I'd argue, they all elevated the soul, whatever that means.

A good Doctor (but not the BEST Doctor) meets Charles Dickens and discusses his cultural relevance
I suppose there's an argument that literature and music are More Important than sport.  Great art is something you pass on through the generations.  But doesn't that then take Martha Graham and Enrico Caruso out out of this equation (the only indigenous animal we consume is turkey… and that's like once a year)?

Michael Jordan is not as deserving of our cultural passion as Charles Dickens.  It is absurd to think he is.

But why?

When you read David Copperfield, did you say "Daaaaaaayyyyyuuuum"?
I'm not disagreeing that it is absurd to compare Michael Jordan to Charles Dickens. But why is it absurd?  And could I offer you some hippo jerky while you think about it?

I'm a vegetarian.  As such equally opposed to all the jerkies.
* Edited to add that apparently that conversation was between Alex Blumberg and Jon Mooaliem, which makes me feel bad for Alex Blumberg who has his own storied broadcast career and I'm so blithely confusing him with Ira Glass…