Churls Gone Wild

Kanye West grabs the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday.
Kanye West grabs the microphone from Taylor Swift at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday. (By Jason Decrow -- Associated Press)
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By Jeanne McManus
Thursday, September 17, 2009

Now that Rep. Joe Wilson has been rebuked by Congress, isn't it time to move on? Or couldn't we have moved on before his knuckles were smacked with a ruler? In fact, after recent displays of incivility, icon-smashing and anarchy in Congress, on the tennis court and at an awards show, why look to the past, when we can go forward?

Well, I'd like to. But can I ever again look at Wilson and not see the sputtering, fuming minor-leaguer who popped off in a full session of Congress and called the president a liar? If the guy is chastised, somehow rebooted and given anger-management classes and then goes on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in five years, I am still going to see a back-bencher in a baby blue tie caught in his moment of shame.

Can I ever again watch Serena Williams on the tennis court and not think about that belligerent explosive woman with her biceps, deltoids and triceps pulsing in anger as she clenched and sliced her racket through the air while berating a lineswoman for a bad call at the U.S. Open? Let's move on, her sister Venus implored. Okay, but when was the last time you saw a woman who was (a) that ticked off and (b) so physically capable of making good on her threat to shove a tennis ball down an official's throat? It leaves a lasting impression.

Hell on Earth has got to be finding yourself caught in one of these continuous loops of your own lunacy, a fish flopping in a video stream that doesn't even have the decency to dump you in a river where you can disappear. Your best hope if you're Serena Williams is that somebody else comes along soon with behavior so infinitely more boorish that your YouTube moment moves out of the Top 10.

Enter Kanye West, stage right.

I'd be lying if I said I was a fan of his oeuvre. But now I am morbidly fascinated by the hubris that would propel a man to rise up out of the audience of the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night, seize the stage, take the microphone from a nervous 19-year-old Taylor Swift and inform her that Beyoncé deserved the award Swift had just received. (Kudos to Beyoncé, who looked horrified during West's outburst, for the elegant way she later brought Swift back to the stage.)

A phone call to Rahm Emanuel, a less than expansive statement followed by a contrite news conference at the U.S. Open and a muted appearance on "The Jay Leno Show" have served as apologies for Wilson, Williams and West, respectively. But those aren't the replays we're watching. Let's face it: Why move on when we know it's much more fun to watch an explosion than an implosion?

Mired in the past, Michael Jordan was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame Friday night. In an unusually emotional and brutally frank acceptance speech, the guy stood before his colleagues and the cameras and ticked off the petty grievances -- dating as far back as high school -- that propelled him to compete and to excel. I'm not saying he's wrong to use that resentment as self-motivation. I understand: I'm Irish. We know how to carry a grudge. But it's one thing to think those thoughts and quite another to unreel every small slight at the moment when your greatness is being celebrated.

Yes, I'm all in favor of moving on. But moving on doesn't mean we can pretend it didn't happen. If we want to jettison the past and look to the future, it's an even better idea to chill in the present, whether at a town meeting, on the sideline of your kid's soccer game or on national TV. We can look to the coolness of Barack Obama's response to Wilson, to Kim Clijsters's professionalism toward Williams, to Beyoncé's outreach to Swift, to David Robinson's classy NBA induction speech for positive role models.

Sadly, none of those are spinning endlessly in replay.

Jeanne McManus, a former Post editor, is an occasional contributor to the op-ed page.

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