Anniversary Post: King Charlemagne

CharlemagneOn this day in 771, Carloman I died. He was King of the Franks — for a couple of years anyway. He was the son of Pepin the Short, although I don’t know if that means he was actually short. Anyway, so Pepin was King of the Franks, and after he croaks, Carloman becomes King of the Franks, and after he croaks, his brother Charlemagne takes over. And Charlemagne is the great man who brought the Holy Roman Empire back together. Hooray!

Actually, I don’t really care. What I do care about is that Charlemagne, like most “great” leaders, was no kind of self-made man. They were almost all of them born into it. War was the family business just like farming was for the vast majority of other people. It’s the way with humans. Look at Hollywood. I’m a great admirer of George Clooney, but he was born into the business.

I don’t especially have anything against any of this. Genghis Khan’s daddy was a Mongol ruler. Fine! What I do have a problem with is this creepy cultural tendency — especially in America — to attribute success to some personal greatness. It just ain’t so. Let’s go back to actors again. I’ve noticed something about great old British actors like Laurence Olivier or Alec Guinness. Again: I admire them both greatly. Neither man was born into the business. But you could say they were born for the business. They were both very attractive young men. It wasn’t their acting talent that made them stars.

So hooray for King Charlemagne! I’m sure he did about as well as any other person put in his position.

19 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: King Charlemagne

  1. Disagreement city! Guinness, Olivier, Clooney, didn’t earn their opportunities — but they were awfully good. If you want to pick on any of these three, pick on Olivier a little (although he has a good stage rep, which I can’t attack/defend.) Guinness in things like “Tunes Of Glory” and “River Kwai” was amazing. Clooney has been amazing in more dreck than I can count and some great films besides.

    If we’re going to throw out Hollywood nepotism, it means throwing out John Huston, and that means throwing out “Maltese Falcon,” “Sierra Madre,” and his performance in “Chinatown.”

    The way I see it, the best of Hollywood nepotism was like how the best early American puritans saw inheritance. “You get my name, John Quincy, but you have to study a zillion languages and learn from other countries to use it, or I shan’t give you a farthing you ingrateful brat.”

    Of course that involved the whole tyranny of powerful parents, which probably wasn’t much better than parents who handed over the crown.

    Hence my train of thought collapses into shreds.

    Guinness, Clooney, and several descendant Hustons are pretty good though.

    And if Elvis’s dad hadn’t been a music-hall fixture who gave his kid a leg up in The Biz it would have been harder for Elvis to get an audience.

    To finish ranting, I don’t quite recall the name of that great Canadian folk kid you spotlighted a few weeks back (I’m barely awake on a pee break and haven’t been at my computer much for weeks.) That kid would probably be a star, at least a minor star, if he was born into a music family or had other connections. He deserves to be a minor star (deserves to be major, but I’d be happy enough if he was a big critical favorite with a devoted fanbase, as I’m sure he would be happy with, too.)

    Nobody knows who he is, and that’s just off.

    It’s likely nobody would know who Elvis is if his dad hadn’t gotten him performing gigs as a kid, and I’d be sad if I’d never heard Elvis.

    • I’m not criticizing these actors. I’m just saying that had they been ugly, they would have been at best footnotes in theater history.

      But your point about John Quincy is exactly my point! An intellectual environment is critical to development. Farmers don’t tend to have farmer children because of any genetics. It’s about the environment that they grew up in.

      Most people reject the Great Men theory of history. I just reject it far more thoroughly. I think hero worship can be really helpful for a civilization. At this point, I think it is harmful. Look at Donald Trump. Otis the Drunk was far more insightful.

      You know, it is only because I know a lot about Elvis Costello that I understood you were talking about him. Most people were probably thinking, “Elvis Presley’s dad was dance bandleader?!”

      • Yeah, I was tired and not reading with much brainpower. You’re right, as you are at least 50.0000000001% of the time (better than half! If I bat better than .314 I’m pleased with myself.)

        There’s another side to this. Clearly worshiping the rich is nonsense. Admiring artists is another thing — yet somehow we’ve got admiring their skill as entertainers mixed up with admiring their “success.” I want to watch George Clooney. I sure as hell don’t want to be George Clooney (I wouldn’t mind looking like him, though.)

        Many people dream of being “stars” because of the financial rewards, not because it’s good to get good at doing something you enjoy. Rosemary Clooney could give her son an intro into showbiz because she’d unlocked the magic door of “fame.” And it’s only a magic door because people dream of being a “star.”

        “American Idol” was well-named. Not “American Singer.” Who wants to be the Sinatra that could interpret his favorite unknown songs so well? A more vivid ideal is Chairman of the Rat Pack. Money! Lotsa money! Fame! Which equals money!

        (The “other” Elvis is a perfect example of this. A gifted singer with a nice voice, he was never near the artist my Elvis could be covering “Valentine” . . . or, for that matter, most good disco records. But he was famous. And became an Idol for being famous.)

        Should entertainers be paid this much? Lord, no. Yet admirers are willing to pay money for their music/movies/sporting events. If we were to tax the hell out of rich entertainers (and we should), we’d better also more importantly tax the serious hell out of entertainment companies.

        It’s fine that people want to pay for entertainment. It’s entirely right that the entertainers should make the majority of the money from this rather than the companies employing them. We should tax the damn out of both.

        Now I think this veers onto the copyright topic, so I’ll go there . . .

        • Yeah, let’s stay away from copyright; I think that’s what I was asking Dean Baker about in my dream…

          I think I am right 50% of the time — on all binary questions.

          As I was writing the last Elvis post (tomorrow), I was thinking about the whole American Idol thing. It isn’t that those people don’t have talent. But it is so limited. I just looked up Elvis Costello’s net worth: $60 million. I think that’s totally out of balance in an absolute sense. Within the system we have, however, it’s a good example of injustice, because he should have a lot more. But I’ve been talking about a perfect world. I just don’t see how any human being is worth more than say a million dollars a year, given our interconnectedness. People think economics is perfect so everyone gets what they deserve. That couldn’t be more wrong.

          • Ah, I fucked up, yet again. You are right! I did like Clooney’s “Mambo Italiano” used in “Married To The Mob,” though.

  2. Why Frank, it is almost like you think Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier were the Kardasians of their day-famous for nothing but looks.

    • You bring up a good point. It used to be that you had to be good looking and talented. Now you just have to be rich.

        • One positive thing about my life is that I’m cut off from a lot of pop culture. So I really only have the vaguest notion of who they are. Isn’t one of them married to Caitlyn Jenner? That’s about the extent of it. I couldn’t pick one out of a lineup. I also know they are rich. Are they the hotel people?

          • Now you are just joshing (teasing) me. It is Paris Hilton who first became famous for the fact that she was rich and had sex once on a secret tape of the Hilton hotel chain. Now she does things like professionally party and DJ.
            I think one of the Kardasians was married to Caitlyn Jenner way back when and then they spanned several children. Something like that.

            • In all honesty, that is exactly what I wrote. Then I remembered, and wrote, “No, that’s Hilton.” But I thought that kind of stream of consciousness wouldn’t work. So I left that out, because I did think for a moment that it was the Kardasians. Or rather: they all seem kind of the same thing. Probably because they are. I think for me, before the whole Citlyn Jenner thing, that it was Kardasian: just one. Anyway, I also associate them with that woman (I really don’t know her name) on a reality show that I think was called “The Jersey Shore,” but at least had something to do with New Jersey. It’s the most vulgar side of humanity.

              • They are all kind of the same thing-people who make it easy to produce content for the nine million TV channels. I think it was inevitable just like how the news has become infotainment once it became so big. If you have 300 channels, then you need to have something to air on all of them just like you had to have something to fill 24 hours of news. And it cannot be educational because the average person does not want to think much when they get home after 14 hours of working.

                • I know that MST3K went to Comedy Central because it was a 90 minute show, and they really needed material to fill time. So there’s a good side of it.

                  What bothers me is the appeal of the worst aspects of human nature. I first probably noticed it with Jerry Springer. But then there were Cops and those awful court shows. Really, it all goes back to 1950s professional wrestling, and people’s desire to see justice done. But in these cases, it is a parade — A celebration! — of humans at their worst. I don’t get it. When I see these kinds of shows, they just upset me. And even at my most cynical, I don’t believe people are generally like that. I say it too much, but this is a sign of an empire in decline.

                  • Yes you do say it all-the-time. :-)

                    I get it-it is making things simple and easy to deal with in a controlled environment and of course the righteous feeling of being better than those people. Having dealt with people often at their lowest point, I find that sometimes yes, there are people who are that awful. Most however just want to get their lives sorted out and don’t know how to do it.

                    • Yes, and that is what we are at our best — when we see others as being like us. What I note too much in our society is people thinking that the only people who deserve help are those who do not need it.

                    • For me it is more that people think that only a tiny segment of the population is really needing the help-like one in 100,000,000 or some such nonsense. The rest are the undeserving poor and middle class.

                    • Yeah, that’s where you get the Fox News ranters complaining that people in poverty have microwave ovens.

                    • I usually say “yeah, cuz they are half off on Sundays at Goodwill” in the most withering tone I can come up with. Plus many states have laws requiring certain things to be in rental properties like a stove and microwaves count towards that.

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