To be honest, it wasn't all the trouble in the world or a crisis of faith or anything along those lines that drove me to take a night class in Nietzsche. It was J. Lo's butt. More specifically, it was the obsessive media attention on Jennifer Lopez and her butt and Christina Aguilera's video and "must see" TV and the blurring of serious news and stupid entertainment that equates a terrorist bombing in Israel with the latest casualty on Survivor.
Because we're all exposed to such claptrap whether we like it or not, and because the course on Nietzsche was being taught by two friends of mine from Rhodes College, and because it just seemed like the contrarian thing to do, I signed up for four sessions of "Nietzsche Squared."
The class meets at Boscos Squared in Overton Square, hence the name of the course, which includes drinks and appetizers. Professor Dan Cullen, who is Canadian, which may account for the choice of venue, said a few introductory words about the course and old Friedrich. Soon, the beers arrived, and for possibly the first time in Memphis history, a barroom bull session kicked off with an explanation by one of the participants -- a very lucid and concise one, I might add -- of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
We're not really reading Nietzsche -- at least, not much. "Be Hard!" said Nietzsche. Be Easy! is more like it when you're talking one night a week at Boscos. Professors Cullen and Steve Wirls can talk philosophy and political science with the best of 'em, but the assignments are pretty short, there aren't any tests or grades, thank goodness, and two pints of Oktoberfest don't exactly stimulate the old brain cells.
Unless I missed the point of the readings completely, which is possible, the general drift of Nietzsche's thought is that the mass of humanity is intellectually flabby, foolish, lazy, and going to hell in a handcart. And who can doubt it?
Like a lot of other people, after 9/11, I started checking the news via my computer several times a day to see if the U.S.A. was being attacked. To get to the news, I have to go first to my Internet navigator's start page. This is what greeted me there last week: "Working Wives and Their Trophy Husbands." "Kidnapping Tales of the Rich and Famous." "Man Beaten by Child Mob Dies." "Best New Cars for 2003." "See Christina Aguilera's 'Dirty' Video."
When and if nuclear war breaks out, I expect it to get equal billing with some celebrity's video, a story about a child stolen by Gypsies, and a cyberpoll on whether to lob one at Iraq or Saudi Arabia first.
There is more behind this than the space limitations of a computer screen. The line between news and entertainment isn't being blurred, it's been wiped out. Don't tell me there's no connection between all those television dramas about kidnappings and missing children and the hyping of real-life crime stories as major news. Chandra Levy, a missing child in California, a serial killer in Oregon, the crash of the Twin Towers, whatever's in the 8 p.m. slot on Channel 8 -- it's all programming to AOL Time Warner, NBC/CNBC, Disney, Fox, Katie, Connie, Diane, Dan, Tom, and Peter.
I can only imagine how Nietzsche, who I gather was a guy who did not suffer fools gladly, would feel about all this. So what? Like the bathroom graffiti says, the joke's on you, Fred:
"God is dead" -- Nietzsche
"Nietzsche is dead" -- God
For three more weeks, I will steadfastly light my little candle in the intellectual darkness. I will be a seeker of wisdom and truth. I will emulate the Superman. I will learn to correctly spell both Nietzsche and Ubermensch. I will Be Hard! At least until the Oktoberfest makes me fall asleep.