You should brace yourself for the
And, once enough time has passed, nor should the Paterno story be resisted. We've been dramatizing such personal tragedies for at least 2,500 years — they are how we make sense of our moral agonies and learn from our mistakes — and if any modern-day character could be said to possess modern-day magnitude, it surely was Paterno, great ruling general of Happy Valley. We don't yet know whether this story will end up as cheap, voyeuristic exploitation of the variously injured parties (reputational injuries being the most minor in this terrible story), or wise, thoughtful dramatic inquiry that might help us better know what to do when suddenly confronted with evil in our house. Since the latter usually takes longer, maybe decades or even centuries longer, there may well be both. But we do know that when that point of decision arrives, history suggests that the Paterno family will have plenty to say and much they want to control.
The furious public reaction of the clearly embattled family to the damning report by investigator Louis Freeh, and to the
The understandable part is their passionate defense of their loved one's legacy — if they don't attend to that, who will? Would you not do the same if Paterno were your father? There are, as with anything like this, legal and financial implications behind what anyone says in public; many civil suits are yet to come. And most of us can only imagine what it must feel like to watch someone you love be subjected to a barrage of ill-formed opinion from those who knew him not.
But the confounding part is a seeming lack of acknowledgment that the facts surely now prove, at minimum, that Paterno, like most men, had severe blindspots. And given the horror of what he chose to overlook, or to quietly sweep away, his legacy now is forever complicated. Period. Can't you love someone and still be able to admit to that? Can't you love someone and still give permission to a writer or biographer to reflect that?
You should. But history shows it to be difficult.
What are we expecting, for example, from the various movies and other projects in progress about
Otherwise, one is likely to end up with the trap into which the mighty
Much the same is true of another Cirque collaboration with a powerful deceased celebrity with a watchful estate, the Las Vegas show "Viva Elvis!," replete, tellingly, with a title that wants to confer immortality. This show, too, was produced with the authorization and cooperation of the Elvis estate, which controls most of the music and images that Cirque needed. We all know that the young, happy, virile, magnetic Elvis was only part of his life story; Presley reflected the ravages of his era. He was an American mirror, and a man who died. Yet no one had the nerve to deal with that.
To what extent these estates pressured Cirque, and to what extent the artists were just anxious to please their partners, is hard to know. In all probability it was as much the latter as the former. You could also argue that the fans of Presley and Jackson targeted by these authorized celebrations have little appetite for truth. A hagiography has the additional advantage of being good business. So who has an incentive to complain?
But artists wrestling with complex public lives have moral obligations. Those who defend the legacy of
Last week, HBO premiered Jeffrey Schwarz's clear-eyed documentary "Vito," about the late gay activist (and author of "The Celluloid Closet") Vito Russo, who died in 1990.
The film was made with the cooperation of Russo's family yet still makes note of its subject's flaws. But an honest portrait of a man in constant motion emerges, yet more importantly, so does an eye-opening revelation that transcends the man: how completely the world has changed for American gays and lesbians in less than 20 years.
Maybe, 20 years from now, we'll watch a film about Paterno (maybe played by Hoffman and authorized by Paterno's family) that gives full consideration to his great achievements on and off the field. And maybe, at the same time, we will be made newly aware of how quickly and fundamentally American universities realigned their priorities, and made certain no men, however powerful, got in their way of the fundamental obligation to look after the young.