Covering Up Debacles: The Sandusky Affair and the Vietnam War
Life is overflowing with metaphorical material. Maneuvering through reality is a constant dialogue and negotiation between what’s inside our heads and what’s going on outside in the chaotic flow of what is. We understand what's outside by comparing it with what's inside. This is true whether or not the average anti-intellectual Joe Sixpack or Joe the Plumber recognizes it or not. In fact, those who don't understand this process are the ones most swayed by metaphor and symbol because they don’t see it working on them.
This dialogue between inside and outside is what it means to be human. It’s also how power is parsed out in all cultures, especially ours. And in America, football is a big player in the process.
For all the above reasons, the just released Freeh Report on the Jerry Sandusky cover-up at Penn State is pretty incredible. In today’s New York Times, stories that started on both the Front Page and the Sports Page jumped to the Business Section. The story touches on a number of sensitive chords. The cable news shows love it.
Like nothing we’ve seen lately, it lifts a huge and heavy flat rock to reveal dark, wriggling life underneath. It’s like the opening scene of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet where an old man watering his lawn in an antiseptic suburban community suddenly suffers a stroke. The hose in his hand falls and becomes kinked, the perfect metaphor for a stroke. His head hits the grass. We begin to hear sounds of teeth crunching and struggle as the camera drops with a macro lens into the grass, to reveal a chaotic, Darwinian world of insects and survival of the fittest.
It’s a powerful metaphor to open a neo-noir film about the underbelly of seemingly ordered American suburban life. It leads to one of Dennis Hopper’s most menacing roles as a petty gangster.
The Penn State narrative is one of twisted sexual predation, institutional secrecy and cover-up. There’s the revered status of Penn State in State College, PA -- known as “Happy Valley” -- and the empire built by Coach Joe Paterno, known affectionately as “Joe Pah.” Paterno was a beloved and powerful man known far and wide for the great things he did for his school and his community. The extent of his fall from grace is not yet fully understood.
Certainly many people will reject where I’m going with this and insist that using the Sandusky incident as a metaphor is -- to employ another metaphor -- to be a vulture exploiting a vulnerable institution when it’s wounded. And there’s a bit of truth to that, since if the “wound” we’re talking about at Penn State is the fact covered-up truth has been belatedly revealed it’s obviously those who favored a cover-up who are vulnerable targets. To keep the metaphor going, it’s to avoid vultures like me that the cover-up was undertaken in the first place.