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Joseph H Cooper
Joseph H Cooper

Perhaps a different kind of American Idol – the nominees are

When Scorsese and DiCaprio celebrate “The Wolf of Wall Street,” we all get taken

For 2013, a genuinely humble man was named “Person of the Year” – but among the finalists were a couple of unapologetic international miscreants. Acts of contrition are rare indeed.

Many who achieved “star power” in 2013 did so with gaudy, self-inflating, outlandish and outrageous displays – and, in some instances, naked power.

Though film-awards folks will nominate dramatizations of heroic struggles and triumphs, most of those heroics were played out on historically heroic stages.

How about some prime-time accolades to those for whom unassuming, unheralded decency is not an act. How about some limelight for those who – on a small scale, well out of the limelight – act commendably. Shouldn’t such performances receive some front-page fanfare?

No, no, not as “The Person of the Year.” Most certainly, the father-in-law I have in mind is not a transformative personage on the world stage. The kids’ grandfather – “GF” they call him – has his, well, in a manner of speaking – has his ministries.

He buys clothing and savories for vets at the “retirement home.” He brings magazines for those who can still make out full lines of type through their cataract eyes; eyes that hunch behind bottle-thick lenses which are held slightly askew by unfashionable black frames; frames that are re-rigged with white adhesive tape, at pivotal junctures.

Back in the 1950s, several pairs of those now cataract eyes had surveyed the landscapes at the 38th Parallel. They might well have been judged heroic persons-of-the-year, for their grit, hand-over-hand (and hand-to-hand) courage, and self-sacrifice. In 2014, the 31-year-old “supreme leader” of North Korea may be a person-of-the-year, attaining such notoriety by his narcissism, megalomania, paranoia, and flesh-tearing cruelty.

It seems that the egregious, the outlandish and outrageous, make for front-page lead-story celebrity, while humility and good works are celebrated, if at all, with far less prominence. Scandal sells. Entertainment TV and tabloids revel in the ribald. And self-congratulation is megaphoned.

Regularly, the GF puts into the collection bowl at Rotary and puts in time as a volunteer for the hospital’s blood-donation drives. Every few weeks, he shows a video in the retirement home’s “recreation” room. He looks into the legitimate possibilities for bumping up the vets’ pensions and other income.

Devoutly, the GF manages his own accounts so that he’ll never have to reside at “the home” – so that he will always (as long as feasible) be a visitor and a help, rather than a resident; a care-giver rather than a care-getter.

At his condo, in a grandfatherly way, he keeps an eye on the kids of single-working-moms who have rented apartments in the complex where he is a cheery presence. When his grandkids josh him about his taking on more, he responds without a hint of self-importance: “I’m still pulling sentry-guard duty.”

His is an old-fashioned charm: With no hint of lust, but with humorous ardor, the GF flirts with the young 70-year-old ladies who dress for early-bird dining at nearby restaurants. In a most courtly and gentlemanly way, he is especially attentive to any lady who happens to be dining alone. He sends over a low-cal dessert, with his compliments – and a wink that has them both laugh, in appreciation of the lark.

Yeah, he is a person of the year.

He’s not everyman; he’s not just any man.

With an investment company for over 40 years, he would never palm off the firm’s inventory to his customers. He would never liquidate over-valued or dodgy in-house inventory into his customers’ accounts, despite nudges and tacit cues from office managers. When admonished by a Yuppie office manager, he would dip into his portfolio of composure: Calmly, he would perk up the crease in his suit pants, fold his hands across his still trim mid-section, and look the YupPup straight in the eye:

“You don’t want me to put your mistakes into my accounts.”

“It’s the firm’s...”

“Right, they are the firm’s mistakes; not my customers’ .... ”

“It’s your....”

“My accounts aren’t your dumpsters.”

“You have a....”

“I’m not a pusher; I’m not the firm’s broker. And I’m most certainly not your garbage man. I’m a customers’ man. For my customers, I buy the investments I buy for myself. I sell for them when I sell for myself.”

The Yuppie office manager might smirk, and then demonstrably enter a gibe into his little (fine leather) black book.

As to the succession of young-men-in-a-hurry, the GF remained unruffled: He kept them in the cross-hairs of his resolve and rectitude. His back-up, his reinforcements: the row of the three-ring binders aligned on his desk, with their meticulous entries of trades and scrupulous confirmations of discussions as to investment goals and aversions.

“Fire me, if you like. Fire me, and the office loses its most loyal customers. Fire me, and my whole ‘book of business’ leaves with me. Explain that to the head office.”

“Whoa, lighten up, senior.”

Six months later, that dismissive YupPup was shown the door. His arrogance and “hurry” finally got the best of him. Another “youngster” was brought in, and then another. The GF outlasted them all.

He had integrity, which was the best kind of leverage. Was, anyway.

Most fittingly, most fortuitously, his son-in-law came by the same DNA.

At a once-major accounting firm, his son-in-law (the SIL) had put himself at odds with certain managing partners who didn’t find it convenient to accept what are known as Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. The SIL’s integrity wasn’t sufficient leverage.

Neither the grandfather or the son-in-law will ever be pictured on the cover of any celebrity magazine. Just as well. They were never right for supermarket check-out-line stares, giggles, clucks, and “oooos.” They won’t be booked for cozy well-hyped sit-down TV interviews or chummy major-media promotional chats.

Leonardo DiCaprio will not be cast to play either the GF or the SIL by Martin Scorsese (whose “The Wolf of Wall Street” celebrates the ultra-cavalier, dishonest and amoral stock-huckster Jordan Belfort). DiCaprio will not be cast to play either the GF or the SIL by Baz Luhrmann (whose gaudy hip-hop music-video version of “The Great Gatsby” lacked the subtlety and authenticity of the 1974 film version).

Crew members of Captain Richard Phillips’ ship claim that, in “Captain Phillips,” moviemakers hijacked the truth, to put over a more dramatic and heroic story.

Today’s celebrity stars can’t seem to resist self-celebration. Kanye West declares himself to be the zenith – north, south, east, and west.

By any celebrity-mag standard, by any Hollywood standard, neither the GF or the SIL will make any list of the most interesting people of the year. They’ll never be voted into a hall of fame. Though not memorialized with a HOF plaque or a HOF bust, they are not everyman; they are not just any man.

A cancer-survivor, the son-in-law pays his bills and takes care of his kids. He has never applied for disability or unemployment compensation. Since “losing” his full-time W-2 position, he has managed to put together part-time and temp work along with direct client matters that he can handle on his own as an independent contractor. Those “gigs” pay enough – not a lot; nothing like he used to make – but enough. Enough for now.

Comfort and Joy? Let nothing you dismay?

While his work provides some comfort and his kids provide much joy, he is not a merry gentleman. He would like to be, but there is little rest for work-seekers; for those who have to shepherd their small flocks of earnings. There is reason for dismay. The reward for not going astray: a modicum of comfort and joy, yes. But the olden days, golden days of yore – done and gone.

There are golden days for some: for the sports-world free agents who, inexplicably, command multi-year multi-million no-cut contracts.

Those with 6-year 9-figure deals have been accorded many many tidings of comfort and joy. Their hearts can be light. Though troubles may not be out of sight, whatever troubles they may have are many decimal points removed.

In the business and the political worlds, youth and youthful bravado are celebrated: the up-and-comers – the “40 under 40” – are admired, heralded, even feted.

Why aren’t there recognitions for “the 60 over 60” – “the 70 over 70” – and “the 80 over 80” who don’t have start-ups but who have been starting over (and over)?

AARP cover stories “airbrush” the realities that millions of seniors contend with. AARP cover stories celebrate those whose high net worth is already tribute enough. Where’s the acclaim for those whose worth is not the stuff of Golden Globe and Oscar tributes; whose talents for decency and humility and humanity do not rise to American Idol idolatry?

Out of the limelight, on very small “stages,” in unassuming uniquely personal supporting roles, there are many persons-of-the-year. The son-in-law would be one of them; and so, too, his father-in-law.

About the Author
Joseph H Cooper

Joseph H. Cooper teaches media law and ethics, along with film-and-literature courses, at Quinnipiac University.

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