News - Antiheroes

From Rome, Ga., to Iraq, we've lost our bedrock values

Newspaper stories so glowing that politicians would kill to receive similar publicity. Attention on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Scholarships to several colleges. A made-for-TV movie already being openly discussed.

A generation ago, such accolades likely would be rewards for a young man with an impeccable record of achievement. Perhaps an Eagle Scout. Certainly a young man with an unblemished record in his community.

In today's world, where bad is good and up is down, this sort of attention and hero status is lavished on one Marcus Dixon of Rome, Ga. And just what is this young man's claim to fame? What accounts for his hero status among many in America, including demigoddess Winfrey? The one fact that has propelled this 18-year-old, 6-foot-6 football player to national stardom is that he had sex with a 15-year-old girl — that, and the fact he was convicted of statutory rape for his pleasure romp.

Granted, some of the massive attention lavished on the strapping young Dixon was because his initial conviction netted him a mandatory and lengthy prison sentence under Georgia law for child molestation. Then, his conviction on the more serious charge was overturned by the state Supreme Court.

This resulted in his release back to his family in Rome, just in time to sort through the flood of offers coming his way. His legal guardians, in interviews, cannot say enough about this wonderful young Adonis, never apparently breathing a word of reproach for his being singularly unable to control his obviously excessive libido (the encounter with the 15-year-old apparently was not the first, or even the second, reported incident of what used to be called "inappropriate" sexual behavior).

Cutting through all the chaff regarding the propriety of the more serious charge — on which I take no position, not being sufficiently familiar with the facts of the case — what does it say about our society that hero status now is bestowed on an 18-year-old for nothing more than having sex with a 15-year-old? It tells us, perhaps, the same thing as when an admitted liar and plagiarist, Jayson Blair, recently received a "high six-figure" advance for writing a book detailing his deception while working as a writer for the once-highly esteemed New York Times.

It tells us that we as a society no longer have bedrock values. No longer do we appear willing to prioritize our values so that base behavior is deemed unacceptable, and qualities that once gave rise to exceptional, even heroic, achievement are held up for emulation and praise. Not only is the dull now sufficient for scholastic advancement and excelling in athletics the basis for immunity from accountability, but sex with minors is heralded as an appropriate basis on which to place the athlete on a pedestal.

It is ironic that the public deification of Dixon took place the same week that Americans (and the rest of the world) were treated to photos of American MPs in Iraq engaging in disgraceful and unlawful treatment of prisoners under their care. The images — now burned into America's collective, if short, memory — were of male and female MPs forcing prisoners to engage in explicit and lewd sexual behavior. The American service personnel, male and female, obviously had a grand old time doing this. Many, from the president on down, expressed shock and surprise at the behavior the photos revealed.

I ask, why? Why does this surprise them? What in this behavior is surprising, other than perhaps that the MPs were so immensely stupid that they took digital photographs of their depravity? Aside from that obvious conclusion, however, the simple fact is that these MPs come from the same cultural milieu in which Dixon felt free to engage his every sexual whim with whomever he chose, the same cultural milieu that causes thousands of his fellow Americans to proclaim him a hero for his actions.

It's sad, but I find none of this particularly surprising. Terribly upsetting, but not surprising. And I won't be surprised, either, if the same book, movie and TV types who sought Blair and Dixon, find their way to the disgraced MPs.


Bob Barr represented parts of Cobb County and northwest Georgia in Congress from 1995 to 2003.

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