Bob and Weave

Musings of an impostor. Welcome to the masquerade.

A Hero, and a Tragedy

Posted by flyingbk on 09/27/2016

(This is part 2 of a series I began last week. Part 3, the finale, shall be tomorrow.)

David Simon was recently in the news for an ill-advised tweet. That aside, he creates iconic TV shows. Of course, there’s The Wire: For my money, The Wire is 1, but The Shield is 1a. I’ve re-watched both series, but if I could re-watch again, I would opt for the last three seasons of The Shield. Forest Whitaker helped take the show to a new level, and the tense scenes between Vic Mackey (Michael Chiklis) and Shane Vendrell (my favorite actor, Walton Goggins) are forever etched in my mind.

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Anyway, while I was binge watching O.J.: Made in America, I also binge watched Simon’s HBO miniseries Show Me a Hero. Only someone as smart and talented as Simon could take a dry subject like the late-1980’s Yonkers housing crisis and transform it into a memorable period drama with well-developed characters.

The main character is Nick Wasicsko, played deftly by Oscar Isaac. Wasicsko is a former police officer turned Yonkers City Council member who runs to become mayor of Yonkers in 1987. He wins, at the tender age of 28, to become the youngest mayor ever in a major American city. During his campaign, he promises that he will fight the courts, who have mandated that Yonkers must forge a housing desegregation plan. The majority of white voters are furious and find the idea of being forced to live near blacks and Hispanics deeply abhorrent. So when Wasicsko vows to be their advocate, he wins their vote.

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But as we all know, campaign promises are one thing; actually implementing them once in power is completely different. Once he becomes mayor, Wasicsko realizes that the city and its lawyers have no chance of winning. The exorbitant fines that will be levied against Yonkers for noncompliance (within weeks, the price is $1 million per day!) become a non-starter, no matter what desire there was to fight. To save his city from bankruptcy, Wasicsko changes course and works to bring the housing desegregation plan into fruition. He receives praise in some circles (even being cited for the 1991 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award). But in his own city, he’s a pariah who receives death threats.

Despite the public outcry and even the jailing of city councilmen who resisted, the plan is approved on September 9, 1988. And of course, no good deed goes unpunished: Wasiscko is trounced in his bid for re-election the following year. He never returns to much success politically, and loses another election (for City Council President) in 1993.

There’s a heartbreaking scene in Show Me a Hero where Wasicsko approaches a house in the newly integrated neighborhood. He knocks on the door, which is answered by a black lady. He asks her how she likes the house; she is confused by this intruder and becomes suspicious of his motives. He wants her to know that he is the man responsible for her new abode… He desperately needs her to know. But she soon closes the door, and doesn’t think twice about their strange encounter. Wasicsko walks away, discarded.

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Imagine being in Wasicsko’s shoes. You become mayor. That goal’s been accomplished. Bur once you’re a mayor and you take a stand, you’re hated and they’re delighted to vote you out. And the ones you helped? Well, they’re oblivious. They don’t know who you are, and they’re certainly not appreciative.

SPOILER ALERT: It’s no wonder that Wasicsko commits suicide in 1993. He kills himself with a single gunshot at the Yonkers Cemetery, near the grave of his father. So it’s fitting that Simon (and the author whose book the show is based on) uses F. Scott Fitzgerald’s quote: “Show me a hero, and I’ll write you a tragedy.”

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Watching this miniseries alongside the O.J. Simpson documentary drove home the idea of how we are desperate for validation in our lives. Simpson had it all: a Hall of Fame career, wealth, a gorgeous wife, loyal and even sycophantic friends, beloved by the masses. And it still wasn’t enough; there was always that constant itch for more. Wasiscko reached a milestone at such an early age. But that blessing became a curse. Due to circumstances beyond his control, it became real clear real quick that he would never ascend to such heights ever again.

So what do we do? We all possess a deep desire for validation. We want, we need praise and the acceptance of others. We need to reach goals and milestones in our lives; otherwise we feel woefully incomplete and feel a constant itch within. How do we find true validation, true satisfaction when there will always be more that we want to do, want to win, and more people to please?

More on that tomorrow.

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One Response to “A Hero, and a Tragedy”

  1. […] « A Hero, and a Tragedy […]

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