Since Pope Francis got snagged by TIME, I’ll move to my second choice. (Not that this pope is ideal. Anyone ideal would never make pope. But he’s closer than most. Let’s hope he doesn’t catch a cold – as savvy Catholics say – like the last “progressive” pontiff.)
First though, I’ll name my Not Person of the Year. I’ll restrict myself to media presences to narrow the field, and go with Kevin O’Leary in his CBC and other incarnations. It’s not the pomposity, it’s the predictability. I’ve searched and hankered for an unexpected opinion that might surprise viewers, but without luck. You might as well have an app for the guy, it would be less mechanical. Those leases to frack in Gros Morne Park? No worries, the market will sort it out. Bell selling your personal info to advertisers? He’s fine with that since as a Bell shareholder, he wants to make more money.
Never even a feint to unsettle conventional mental patterns -- like, say, the fact that enriching shareholders isn’t the sole or even a major legal obligation of public companies. Greed Is Good is the best he offers, on a loop. I’d hoped on the subject of unions he might break ranks with hmself, since lots of good capitalists have seen labour’s value in calming social unrest or furnishing consumers. Forget it: "We didn’t take advantage of the financial meltdown to crush the unions… It’s one of my big causes -- I love to get out there and union-bash and, frankly, I think it’s a good thing." The frankly is the tipoff: the signature of a lazy mind embedded in loutish self-regard. In fact, Kevin O’Loutish could be an archetypal character in the Pilgrim’s Progess of Predictability he embodies.
As for Person of the Year, I give you Patrick Jane, of the TV series The Mentalist. I know he’s fictional but nobody’s perfect. He makes up for that in relevance. A friend from central Europe recently reminded me of the savage time the Roma are having, how the foibles of humanity in an era of inequality and deprivation get offloaded onto them. It made me realize what an excellent, unlikely image Jane is for The Other everywhere.
His background is as a carney; he wandered the U.S. as an outsider, studying the delusions of "normal" folks and making a living off them with card tricks, mindreading scams, etc. He’s empirical and smart, while pretending to higher powers. He has nothing in common with the wave of supernaturalism in pop culture; he just knows how to read human nature and run with his instincts, based on the upside of not being an insider. He turns outsider status – like that of the Roma or the half million immigrants detained yearly in the U.S. – into a plus.
But it’s less his canny wisdom than his defiant joie de vivre that’s inspiring. His family were slaughtered by the devilish Red John and he’s been obsessed with revenge, yet not at the cost of enjoying life and the world. He knows, as many do, that the life you get is usually a rum go, but there remains a margin of choice where you can will to be buoyant. For some reason he didn’t kill himself or go insane, even after he finished off his nemesis. He pursues justice although it’s unattainable and wouldn’t make him whole even if it was. For that ability to delight in any given moment, we have actor Simon Baker to thank. When he goes off-camera, we feel bereft except, perhaps, for Cho, the dour cop who’s basically Jane turned inside-out.
This is what art does. It portrays how things could be in the face of what is. We’re not an unimpressive species; a walk down any street can strike you dumb at what this frail mammal has created in a (cosmologically) brief span. Yet it also messes up and even self-extinction looms as a possibility. Since political action always comes up short, it’s the role of art to indicate what could be though it probably won’t arrive. I’d say that’s all deftly implied in Jane’s raffish responses to the harsh world he moves through. A better 2014 to him and us.
This article was first published in the Toronto Star.
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