What Does Dick Cheney Have in Common With Teenage Girls?
I’m a youth pastor. In my experience, one of the most common laments I hear among parents and fellow youth pastors concerns the excessive drama produced by teenage girls. Unfortunately, because of my line of work, I know all too well the verbal, physical, and psychological damage teenage girls (and boys) can inflict upon one another.
Of course, teenagers make good scapegoats for parents and youth pastors.
Let’s be honest: We adults love drama as much as teenagers do. We love to be in control. We love to feel the power that comes from manipulating others. Where do teenagers learn about drama? From us. Teenagers absorb and mimic the drama they see in the adult world.
Which leads me to this current event: Dick Cheney has been on the street promoting his forthcoming book In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir. The book will be released tomorrow, so, of course, I haven’t read it. I disagree with most of his political policies, but I don’t hate Dick Cheney. My skin doesn’t crawl when I see his picture, hear his voice, or read his name. I don’t think his real identity is Darth Vader. There are people I love who passionately agree with his policies. So, I figure if I hate Dick Cheney, I have to hate those people, too.
Still, I feel like I have to say something about the drama surrounding his book. In his interview with NBC’s Jamie Rengal, Cheney stated with an exuberant chuckle, “There are gonna be heads exploding all over Washington!”
(Incidentally, if a teenager in my youth group laughed while making such a statement, we would have a very long talk. Then, depending on the outcome of our conversation, I might suggest to the parents that their teenager receive counseling. Again, I don’t hate Cheney. In fact, I think we could all probably use some good counseling.)
Apparently, three of those exploding heads will belong to Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and George Tenet. So far, Rice and Tenet have refused to defend themselves. Powell, on the other hand, defended himself yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer. He stated that Cheney made “cheap shots” against him and others in the Bush cabinet. Cheney apparently takes credit for orchestrating Powell’s removal as Secretary of State in 2005. Powell refuted that accusation by insisting the decision to resign was purely his. Powell couldn’t resist making his own cheap shot, so he attacked Cheney’s comment that “There are gonna be heads exploding…!”
That’s quite a visual. And in fact, it’s the kind of headline I would expect to come out of a gossip columnist or the kind of headline you might see one of the supermarket tabloids write. It’s not the kind of headline I would have expected to come from a former vice president of the United States of America.
70 year old men in a cat fight. Oh how we love the drama.
Of course, it’s not just 70 year old men and teenage girls who fall into this trap. We all do. As Rene Girard has claimed over the last 50 years, humans are
mimetic. By that he means humans are non-consciously imitative. This event is a great example. While I agree Cheney’s comment deserves to be critiqued, Powell’s critique went beyond critique and into the realm of a cheap shot by comparing Cheney to a “gossip columnist” and a “supermarket tabloid” writer. By defending themselves and making counter accusations, Cheney and Powell are simply imitating one another in defending themselves and making counter accusations.
That last sentence was purposefully repetitive. Mimesis, especially negative mimesis that creates a posture of defense and accusation, is by its nature repetitive and banal. When someone in our family, neighborhood, church, school, or workplace gossips about us, our instant reaction is to defend ourselves and gossip in return. It’s very predictable and lacks any originality. Teenage girls do this; 70 year old men do this; and so does everyone in between.
But there is hope. Our negative mimetic tendencies can be redeemed by positive mimesis. In the same way we imitate negative, violent, and destructive behavior, we can imitate positive, non-violent, and gracious behavior. Cheney and Powell are putting on public display the dramatic allure of negative mimesis. Maybe Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet will show us a better way. I hope they will. Because the way of positive mimesis that leads to the spirit of forgiveness, peace, and reconciliation is what we need modeled in our public leaders and exemplified in ourselves.