by Conor Goetz (’11)
Watching the Winter Olympics this year, I was struck by how much our culture rewards the best sob story. Everyone loves when a hero triumphs over catastrophic adversity, and it certainly can be inspiring. The world was moved when Joanne Rochette, the Canadian figure skater, skated a magnificent routine days after her mother’s sudden death in Vancouver. Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, an American freestyle skier, took home a silver medal after struggling through years of alcohol and drug addiction and finally getting clean and focusing on the sport he loved. However, this insatiable desire we apparently have to marvel at others’ hardships has spiraled out of control. It is no longer enough that a snowboarder lands a double helix; has he, we wonder, ever suffered through difficulties? The more painful his tragedy, the more he deserves to take home the gold. Bob Costas has apparently never met an Olympian with a happy childhood. It got so bad that, during one of the interviews NBC aired at 2 AM, one of the athletes was complaining about some issues he had in second grade with some of his classmates as inspirational music played in the background.
American Idol is supposed to be a singing competition, but the singer with the saddest story often garners the most votes. I hope I don’t sound heartless, but I doubt I was the only one who was, frankly, tired of hearing about Danny Gokey’s recently deceased wife and how the music competition was his only salvation. I felt sorry for the other singers who struggled to find a story to compete with Gokey’s recent widowhood, though it was sometimes funny watching them try. Scott MacIntyre came pretty close, since he was blind, but the singer who sobbed after dedicating her song to her sick grandmother clearly lost that competition. If only one of the singers could have lamented that his brother was born without a head, it might have silenced Danny Gokey and his dead wife.
I am not proud to admit that I have given some thought to the dreaded college essays and fully intend to take advantage of our predilection for others’ grief. No matter the question asked, I will find a way to casually mention my dead father. Jealous? Actually, my father’s death may have already helped me gain admission to school. When I was in fifth grade and had applied to St. Albans, I was “interviewed” by Coach Wolkind together with a number of other 10-and-11-year-old applicants in the Parrott Library. The Coach, unaware that my father had just recently died, asked us each to describe a difficult situation we had faced. He called on me first, and, after I told him about my father’s death, he called on the next nervous-looking boy, who proceeded to tell him about his grandfather’s death. I knew at this point that I was winning the contest. When the third boy, with a clear look of defeat on his face, started to discuss the death of his grandmother’s cat (I’m not kidding), Coach Wolkind ended discussion on that topic because, clearly, nobody could beat me.
In our increasingly competitive society, mere talent and accomplishment are not enough. “A’s” may be good, but hardship and tragedy may garner more invitations and attention. I am sure that the singer with the headless brother would have a spot waiting for him at the Ivy League school of his choice.