Friday, April 20, 2012

Day 10: The Symbol and the Thing

Monday of this week, a co-worker of mine came bounding down the hall and into my office (hint: only one co-worker of mine could EVER have been said to "bound") and without saying a word held up a hand-made card.  Scribed on the tombstone shaped piece of cardboard were the letters R.I.P. and also January 9, 2012 - April 14, 2012.  In the middle of the card was what looked to my sleep encrusted eye like a strange oblong amorphous crystalline blob. 

At first, I thought something terrible had happened and this was her way of telling me.  I was struggling to understand what it was... and trying to think how I would keep from looking like a jerk because I didn't get it right away.  Then I realised the amorphous blob was supposed to be a football, and it was made of crystal because it was supposed to be the BCS Coaches Trophy awarded to The University of Alabama (my Alma Mater)  on the night of January 9, 2012.  The fate of that particular trophy was decided on the later date (April 14th) when a player's parent accidentally knocked the trophy off it's perch (apparently tripping over a carpet); where upon hitting the ground the 8 pound crystalline grenade exploded all over the carpet.

Did I fail to mention, my friend and co-worker is an Auburn fan (chief in-state rival of The University of Alabama)?  

No small amount of glee was to be had by all those wearing different colors from the crimson and white of Alabama.  What's more, the University initially withheld information about specifically which player's parent had committed the party foul fearing retribution to either the hapless parent or the completely innocent player.  (We be crazy about our football in the State of Alabama, as I think has become apparent: (link)). 

Clearly this state-wide, and really regional, psychosis surrounding football is harmful.  As an Alabamian (though currently living in Virginia) I have argued as much for a long time.  It bears mentioning, though, that the crazier people get about the largely meaningless pursuit of football victory, the more the media frenzy eats it up.  For instance, the shattering of the BCS trophy made every national news outlet in the country, from the New York Times to Yahoo! news.  Why?  Because what are those crazy people gonna do now... that's why!  Still, one wonders, especially in this case, where there is no news story, if so much ink would be spilled if it weren't suspected that the spilling of said ink might itself induce some action and then give birth to the sudden (and totally unexpected) need to spill more ink at premium prices.

Today the identity of the offending parent was revealed; it's none other than Carleton Tinker, father of UA long-snapper and survivor of a direct hit from the infamous Tuscaloosa tornado Carson Tinker.  Just last year, prior to the football season starting, young Tinker was tossed into the field in front of where his apartment once stood by the tornado that killed his girlfriend and more than 50 other individuals in Tuscaloosa, Al. 

Poor kid.  My heart really goes out to him and all the other victims of that tornado and it tears me up inside to think about the devastation which I witnessed even months and months after the fact. 

You really can't imagine a more sympathetic figure, and I'm sure that had some calming affect surrounding whatever ire for his father there might have been.  Add to that the reports where Alabama coach Nick Saban confirmed it was a total accident and made it clear it wasn't a matter of concern to him and shouldn't be to anyone else.  Further add that Carleton Tinker suggested that he might work off the debt with the athletic department (an offer obviously declined, as Carleton put it, "insurance is a good thing") and it should obviously be no harm no foul.

(Incidentally, my favorite joke to come out of the incident was a graphic of text passed around on the Internet that said, "You can't even trip in Tuscaloosa without knocking over a national championship trophy."  Pure gold, in my opinion; and an excellent effort to diffuse a tense situation.)

But, I want to talk about the idiocy of the whole thing.  There is a difference, often forgotten in our world where black box design abstracts out the actual way things work and allows the confusion of a thing and it's abstraction, between the symbol of a thing (in this case, a trophy) and the thing being celebrated itself (success on the gridiron). 

For another example, let's consider the recent death of Dick Clark. In multiple places and in multiple forms have I now seen people bemoaning the notion that we won't be able to ring in the new year without Dick Clark.  Or, New Year's just won't be the same.  Or, good job Mayans, now that Dick Clark is dead we can't ring in the New Year.  Obviously, these are largely meant in jest, but the confusion of ideas is still present, lurking underneath. 

Look, even if no one ever took notice, time would still pass.  The completion of one year is not dependent upon the celebration of it's passing.  They are not one and the same.    
Incidentally, this confusion of the thing and the symbol of the thing must not be a new phenomenon given the ancient precepts in the Judeo-Christian tradition (and in other traditions, as well) against idolatry and graven images.  Perhaps we haven't advanced as a species as far as we'd like to think.   

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