Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tragedy and Travesty –The End Game at Penn State

Why the hell do I keep thinking of The Wire Season four whenever I consider the atrocities that have occurred at Penn State?

Why do I keep equating the fictional lives of four youths in West Baltimore attempting to avoid the never ending cycle of crime and drugs with that of the all too real expanding roster of boys turned young men who suffered physical and psychological damage at the hands of a monster.  A monster that had the unmitigated audacity to brazenly wave a twisted personal double-entendre to his sexual deviancy below our collective ignorance by titling his biography Touched.
I do it because the expertly told novella that played out on HBO in the fall of 2006 didn’t provide easy solutions.  It wasn’t a sugar coated, afterschool special where the kids absconded to lives of gingerbread cookies, white picket fences, and loving homes that wiped away the scars of an unsympathetic culture.    Innocence was violently taken, never to be replenished.
That’s what the epilogue will be at Penn State. 
It’s an exercise in repetition to recount what has turned Happy Valley from Rockwellian portrait to ironic description.   I can’t even bring myself to link to the grand jury report that is as shocking as the Starr report was salacious.  I’m a big believer in knowledge is power, but there’s been very few documents that have ever left me so powerless to the reality that man’s monstrosities will always defeat its humanity.   That feeling of ineptitude led me to the harshest reality of all regarding this scandal; the truth that The Wire taught in its entirety, but most cruelly in season four.
People will die from this.

Jerry Sandusky will die.  He will go to jail for the rest of his life and prison justice will see to it that the rest of his life is a finite number.  We will read between the lines upon learning of his passing, flash our sadistic grins, and allow the dark corners of our imagination to feed our silent blood lust. Then we will hang our heads, for we will know it can never equate to what he selfishly bequeathed in the name of a perversion that has left so many feeling a victim’s guilt for doing absolutely nothing wrong.

Joe Paterno will die.  I don’t say that haphazardly or to incite controversy.  Paterno has said himself on multiple occasions that he has no hobbies, no off season activities.  He doesn’t even like to vacation.  All he knows is football.  He has even implied that the reason he has coached so long is due to his own fear of an expedited mortality upon retirement.  That time is now here.  I do not find Paterno to be the devil incarnate.  I find him to be a product of a generation that doesn’t articulate its feelings and minds its own business; the product of a year-long military experience at eighteen that molded him into someone that follows the chain of command with blinding rigidity.  These are not excuses nor are they meant to forgive his egregious transgressions. They merely provide the foundation that led Paterno to make judgment errors so lacking in any semblance of common sense that multiple lives have been irreversibly altered.  On Dan Patrick’s show this week, Chris Collinsworth equated Paterno’s actions with the officers in A Few Good Men; he acted according to the code of the legality, but not the code of humanity.  To piggy back on the point, I wish Paterno would go the route of Lt. Col. Markinson:  express in no uncertain terms that these young men were indescribably harmed because he wasn’t strong enough to stop it.  After that, the combination of losing the only thing he ever wanted to do with the guilt of why it was taken away will serve as his nickel plated pistol.  Whether this is a fate deserving of his actions is left to the many heated debates still to come.

And whether you choose to accept it or not, chances are some of the victims won’t make it through either.  Too dramatic?  Consider the following:  The victims are about to relive the most horrific experience of their lives in the most public forum imaginable.  They will be subjected to the court of public opinion and the devil may care reactions of internet toughs and non-thinking electronic Neanderthals in their most vulnerable hour.  Victims of child abuse have ways of coping with their unfathomable pain, the vast majority of which aren’t healthy.  You really think that throwing such fragile souls into this pressure cooker won’t inevitably have tragic consequences?  If so, I guess you also think that inner city kids don’t have to jump through hoops to escape their pre destined life and attain the normalcy so many of us take for granted.

The Wire Season four ended with three of the four kids it focused on destined for a life that involved crime, violence, and a shortened expiration date.  But one of the four had a chance.  Not a promise, not a guarantee; just a chance.  That’s all we have now.  A chance to provide these damaged souls with the opportunity to heal as much as one can from such a predatory invasion.  If we can’t do that, then the only poet who ever got it right about the inhabitants of this big blue marble was Jim Morrison.

Five to one baby, one in five.  No one here gets out alive.


  1. Something is rotten in Happy Valley. I don't know what it is just yet but you have something here. It's a cycle... of what I don't know. I don't feel badly for him. Not even if he dies. All I can think about is those children who KNEW that nobody was going to protect them. They KNEW. What happens to them?

    I am sad. Very, very sad.

  2. I read an Chicago Tribune opinion piece that renamed State College "Creepy Valley." Indeed. I'm becoming unhealthily fixated on this story. I don't want to, but I'm reading everything I can find about it. I read also that through witnesses and at least one more victim that the potential victim count is up to 17. Based on statistics about the cycle of abuse, as many as 1 in 10 victims becomes an abuser. That piece of garbage might have created at least 1 and maybe 2 (who knows, maybe more--this might be the tip of the iceberg) potential abusers. And so on. It sickens me to think such things, but I can't seem to help it.

    These people KNEW what was happening and sat on their hands, kept their mouths closed. No excuse. NONE. And no quarter given.

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