Swimming Away from the Piranhas

I am currently taking Challenge of Modernity and the first assigned reading was Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life.” Great, I thought – I’m about to read what I have been dreading all year. It took me forever to get through, and there were times when I would spend literally 15 minutes on a page and still have absolutely no idea what he was trying to say. I don’t understand this notion of intellectuals having to use ridiculous language to get their points across; aren’t we taught to be concise? After finishing what seemed like an eternity of Nietzsche, I thought I was done forever and was elated about it. I was wrong.

A couple of days later, during a usual dinner in the Frank TV room with my buddies, ESPN’s “Around the Horn” came on. After discussing what I believe to be the greatest Super Bowl of my lifetime, an image of Michael Phelps smoking out of a bong came on the screen. The normal chatter in the room ceased, and everyone gazed at the screen in awe. All that could be heard were the voices of the sportswriters on the show bashing Michael Phelps. “How could he do this?” they asked. He’s supposed to a role model for kids, a role he claimed to embrace. Where is his responsibility? I remember Jackie McMullan, a regular on the show, saying that she had to explain what a bong was to her little kid. She was extremely disappointed in Phelps.

And I was sitting there not thinking of Phelps, of the implications of his smoking out of a bong or of the sportswriters on screen. Who was I thinking of? Nietzsche! Nietzsche?!?! I thought I was done with him forever. But I couldn’t help thinking about one of the things he had said: Modern society is so crippled by its drive to attain knowledge and facts that there is no room for greatness or inspiration.

Though he was writing in the nineteenth century, Nietzsche’s words still ring true today. Why do we always have this urge to find the facts at all costs? Why can’t we simply be inspired without knowing the extent of the truth? I’m not disappointed in Michael Phelps; he’s in his early 20s and is allowed to enjoy himself. I am mad at whoever decided it would be a good idea to publish that image. He/she probably made a couple bucks at the expense of Phelps’ reputation and the influence he had over young kids. And, of course, as soon as this picture became public, the media had a field day. The media believes that they have this responsibility to disclose all the facts no matter what the implications. But I believe this to be the most irresponsible thing that they could possibly do. The truth does not always benefit society; sometimes, ignorance is bliss.

It is of no concern to me, and shouldn’t be a concern to society, what Michael Phelps does in his private life. It’s fine with me if he occasionally smokes pot; it’s not a fact I care about. What I do care about is that he recently dominated the Beijing Olympics, winning eight gold medals! This is a feat never before accomplished and should act as a source of inspiration. Being inspired is much more important than attaining all aspects of the truth. Michael Phelps recently apologized for the picture taken of him, but it is not he who should apologize, it is the media who believed that this minute fact would somehow benefit society.