Thursday, 6 December 2012

ASIDE: Crews Missile, Hamlet & Death of a Salesman

The e-mail message that the self-described middling father Nick Crews sent to his offspring has become a cause célèbre.  David Brooks, in his article for the New York Times, states, that in Britain, Crews has become “a hugely popular folk hero”(2).  The reason for this, the author goes on to say, is that many parents are “delighted that someone finally had the gumption to give at least one set of over privileged slackers a well-deserved kick in the pants”(Brooks, 2).

The Crews Missile, as it is now known in Britain, is the modern day father’s version of the Network rant by TV Anchorman Howard Beale: “‘I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”  In the email sent to his children, Crews outlines the bitter source of disappointment each of his children has been to both their parents.  Issues outlined are failed marriages, failed careers and a blatant lack of responsibility shown to his own children’s offspring, whom Crews describes as seven beautiful grandchildren. 

The detraction against Crews’ rant, according to the article, is that tirades such as these simply do not work (Brooks, 2).   The author states, “people don’t behave badly because they lack information about their shortcomings.  They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behaviour from which they’re unable to escape” (Brooks, 2).  The remedy then “is to maximize some alternative good behaviour” (Brooks, 2).  This follows an understanding of human behaviour that William Shakespeare, whom Freud called the first psychologist, examined over four hundred years ago.

Juxtaposing two scenes from the great playwright’s dramatic work Hamlet provides clear insight into the relationship between character flaw and habit.  While observing his drunken Uncle at a party, the young prince Hamlet makes the following observation on his Uncle’s propensity for alcohol: 

                        So oft it chances in particular men
                        That for some vicious mole of nature in them,
                        As in their birth, wherein they are not guilty,
                        (Since nature cannot choose his origin)
                        By the o’ergrowth of some complexion…
                        Their virtues else, be they as pure as grace…
                        Shall in the general censure take corruption
                        From that particular fault.
                                                                        (Act 1.4. 24-36).

The stamp of his Uncle’s weakness for alcohol, according to the playwright, overtakes the other virtues of the man and left unchecked, either through bad habit or lack of reason, corrupts the entire man.  Later, the young prince provides his mother with a remedy to her own natural defect---lust for Hamlet’s Uncle.  He tells his mother to no longer go to his Uncle’s bed even though she desires it:

                        Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
                        Refrain tonight, And that shall lend a kind of easiness
                        To the next abstinence; the next more easy;
                        For use almost can change the stamp of nature 
                                                                                    (Act 3.4. 161- 169)
Basically, the act of performing good actions will eventually transfer to the custom of doing good and so become a part of one’s nature through the re-directed power of habit. 

However, the Crews missile is not necessarily intended to be a guide to the errant offspring it is directed at.  The letter can and should also be viewed from the perspective of a man who will no longer accept responsibility for his adult children’s behaviour by being a party to it.  This also has literary precedence. 

In Arthur Miller’s great play Death of a Salesman, Linda Loman confronts her eldest son about his immature behaviour.  She tells him that if his life is to have direction then he, himself, must provide it:  “‘A man is not a bird, to come and go with the springtime’” (Miller, 54).  Chastising her son for roaming the countryside at the age of 34 and only returning to his father’s home when he desires respite, she attempts to impress upon him that the true mark of an adult is in the acceptance of responsibility for his own life.  She tells him that, even though death feels far away to a man in his thirties, the reality is that he has parents who are now in their sixties and so the support they have always provided for him will eventually be unavailable.  In the most definitive part of the exchange she gives her son an ultimatum about his disrespectful conduct toward his father and the future of their relationship:  “‘You’ve got to make up your mind now…Either he’s your father and you pay him that respect, or else you’re not to come here’”(Miller, 55).  Since her 34 year old son would never expect to seek refuge in another man’s home while at the same time treating that man with disrespect, Linda is essentially telling her son that the same expectations should apply to his father in his father’s home.  Essentially, at the age of 34, the home of one’s parents should no longer be considered the rightful home of the child, just as the opposite is true for the adult child’s own home with respect to his parents. 

In this same way, it can be argued, Crews abdicates his connection to adults that he no longer respects irrespective of their blood ties to him.  His folk hero status is ironically indicative of the traditional attitude that elder generations have stereotypically held for younger generations that come after them. Whether the negative estimation of today’s youth is actually true or not is debatable.  If only for a chuckle, however, it is amusing to compare today’s over privileged generation with that group of individuals who came of age during the Second World War, known as The Greatest Generation.  

What, for example, would the D-Day invasion look like if it took place in 2012?

Brooks, David. “How People Change.”  The New York Times, 26
     November 2012. Early Ed.: The Opinion Pages. Online.

 Hamlet.”  William Shakespeare: The Complete Works.  Ed. Alfred  Harbage.
      NewYork: Penguin Books, 1969.

Miller, Arthur. Death of a Salesman. New York: Penguin Books, 1977.

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