Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

William, Winston, and Wayne: Meditations on Fame

September 17, 2010 · 2 Comments

Dave Chappelle has an old routine where he talks about President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky: “I always wondered what it would be like to be that famous. Monica has a book out now, which made me think that nobody has a pickup line that good: ‘Sleep with me, there’s a future in it!’” Likewise, there are many writers whose work remains immortal. But only one is that famous that his childhood home is simply referred to as “The Birthplace”: William Shakespeare. It was cool to visit the place where Shakespeare (or, as one of the worst lyrics in the history of music refer to him, the guy who “wrote a whole bunch of sonnets”) was born and is buried. Nobody calls it Stratford, though. It’s always, in hushed tones, “The Birthplace.”

After a mere twenty days here, I can’t pretend to have a great feel for the national psyche of the Brits. But it seems that they have a special place in their hearts and minds for heroes. Other than Shakespeare, I’ve obliquely encountered two more people with massive social status in Britain: Winston Churchill and Wayne Rooney. A large group of us visited the Churchill Museum, which contains the Cabinet War Rooms that housed the British war effort during the Blitz. Despite the fact that Churchill was voted out of office nearly the second the war ended, he is treated as a demigod, repeatedly referred to (and we’ve heard this in other places as well) as “Britain’s greatest war leader.” A bold statement for a country that has been in many, many wars in its two millennia of existence. And then there’s Mr. Rooney. Just as we arrived, he found himself in the throes of a prostitution scandal. It did not help his cause that he employed said prostitute the night before he was to marry his pregnant wife Coleen, nor that he reportedly texted Coleen once she found out that it was “no big deal.” It seems easy to compare this case to that of Tiger Woods, but the difference here is that the mainstream papers (and not just tabloids) have relentlessly covered the case. And that’s the problem with heroes, in England, in America, or anywhere: they’re human, and when you find out, it’s a disaster.

Categories: 2010 Dennis

2 responses so far ↓

  •   seann // Sep 17th 2010 at 19:04

    Yes, we should stop holding “heroes” to higher moral standards than ours. But I suppose that’s easier said than done.

  •   bowmanc // Sep 18th 2010 at 10:46

    This post is great. Did you see the wayne rooney lion in front of bath abbey? it was awesome. This kind of obsession with the idea of people, rather than the reality, reminds me a bit of the imperial war museum. It portrayed Britain as the clear hero of WWII, and failed to mention that little-known continent of Africa. Interesting the false perceptions people hold on to, and the government and curators prescribe.

You must log in to post a comment.