A Piropo of Nothing


    Journalism disabused me of any hero-worshipping. While it is fine to admire and acknowledge exceptional feats, those performing them are just as human as the rest of mankind. Having acquitted themselves well in stressful situations the remainder of us might’ve fallen woefully short, I learned often that more than the feet of such people were made of clay.

    All the more so here in the States. Maybe it’s part of the American character. Maybe it’s possessing an adolescent outlook in a mature bulked-up body, but our culture craves heroes. We’re quick to anoint them, almost as fast to discard them, and on continuous searches for the next one regardless.

    Almost without fail our heroes disappoint us. That after the adulation and amazement have faded, the discovery they’re more like us than we particularly care for diminishes their acts and further dulls their luster. Wouldn’t a more mature society simply be happy to celebrate the deeds instead of inflating the responsible stalwarts into impossible to sustain idols?

    Two events this May got me thinking about our hero business. If laurels must be awarded and humans briefly deified, there are two entities I wish were so exalted. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s closest associates and the Argentine writer Juan Terranova.

    Mind, Schwarzenegger himself has behaved badly. (Romping with his mistress in the marital bed? A giant step too far!) On a certain level Schwarzenegger’s indiscriminate conduct reestablishes a lot of missing overt American macho. (Accent and place of birth aside, since naturalization Arnold is one of us. Whoever we are.) But its effect is curtailed by Maria Shriver being one quality woman.

    She’s the sort of classy partner a confident man would’ve cherished and recognized his equal. One aspires to Maria Shriver, not schedules assignations around her. Sarah Palin she isn’t.

    Schwarzenegger’s pals, seine Kumpels, on the other hand, deserve glory. The garlanded kind. If Arnold revealed his secret to them, they maintained the world’s hardest task: they kept it among themselves and generally kept their mouths shut. These aren’t just buddies. They are true brothers.

    Schwarzenegger’s sins are his to consider. Frankly I don’t care. Yet I appreciate the discipline and loyalty shown by his cohort.

    At anytime anyone of them could’ve reaped the biggest payday imaginable for busting the shimmering bubble that was the Schwarzenegger marriage. There are plenty who’d have done so for cab fare to less visible and quieter couples. That these men placed friendship beyond magnificent gain denotes what could pass as a mythic bond for our era.

    Despite Schwarzenegger’s low shenanigans, his friends’ silence around it demonstrated an unswerving resolve. Where plenty of women have understandably flocked to Maria’s side, there are as many men who, though disapproving of her husband’s blatant disregard of his vows, approve wholeheartedly of his solid circle.

    We wonder whether our own cronies might shield us in the same manner. We wonder whether they could depend on us in that same respect.

    Until Juan Terranova lost his feud against a South American affiliate of a North American feminist organization, I was unfamiliar with his byline. An Argentine, he writes, sorry, he wrote for a magazine that wasn’t for the little old lady from Mendoza. Think of Mendoza as Argentina’s Dubuque.

    High-falutin’, the magazine likely prides itself by catering to a lofty readership. Therefore, it probably pooh-poohed middlebrow standards and sought slapping the most daring content permissible between its covers.

    That sort of targeting limits potential readers, yes, but those eyeballs attracted invariably draw high-end advertisers who crave association with “edgy.” Edgy. The new lure for high-yield customers. Patron and purveyor receive mutual ego strokes while the publisher basks.

    In this instance that three-way crumbled. Terranova concluded a critical essay with a suggestion which offended a humorless member of the strong-and-proud yet victimized sisterhood. As a man, I snickered at his sentiment, a particularly pointed piropo.

    The piropo is a remark somewhere between flattery and giving voice to rank desire. Latinos issue them to Latinas like kids eat jelly beans at Easter. An Anglo version might be construction workers catcalls.

    Spoken right, the gesture can draw smiles. Done wrong, and the honey can explode into a harridan. Terranova now knows the latter result.

    Unfortunately, his subject had her sense of humor sapped by too much claptrap passing as worthwhile dogma. Or as balanced adults know it, she and her organization take themselves way too seriously.

    Rather than ignoring him, or much better, responding in kind, Terranova’s tormentor and her cadre campaigned for a severe felony conviction when a scofflaw judgment would’ve sufficed. An apology wouldn’t do. No. Pressuring noble advertisers, Terranova’s nemesis not only got the magazine to grovel, they also forced his firing.

    Worst of all, they considered this a victory. Even for Argentina that bar was set low.

    Sure. What Terranova wrote was rank. Insulting, too. But it was funny.

    However, the Argentine’s sacrifice exposes once again that “-ists” who cleave hardest to “-isms” lack the touches which humanize those of us who exist on more than credos alone. Were these not feminists they could’ve been blinkered revolutionaries or reactionaries.

    Terranova’s accuser claimed herself a target of sexism. Through his objectification she felt violated. She believed a legitimate threat of violence rode upon his printed words.

    Oh my.

    The writer merely exaggerated. He mocked her stridency. Her harangue undercut whatever point she’d intended making.

    Of course when one can’t step back, observe and evaluate the self objectively, then I suppose a disparaging view will bring menace.

    Reading about Terranova’s case and its aftermath, I wondered whether luminaries such as Rosa Luxembourg, Emma Goldman, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, or even Oprah Winfrey ever faced objectification. Or scorn. Or ridicule so sharp it lacerated. And if so, how had they responded to the diminishment?

    Painful as it must’ve been for each woman, given male enlightenment towards the fairer sex borne of these times, and since none had nothing resembling the support system around Terranova’s accuser from which to draw comfort, how could they have endured? Then persevered? And triumphed?

    Given her goals, somehow I imagine each steeled herself against saccharin-laced or crude verbal flack sooner rather than later. I doubt none let hormone-derived comments derail them at all, much less for long.

    Nor did any retreat into helpless female posturing. Instead of railing and needlessly fomenting, perhaps the striving women comprising Terranova’s detractors might’ve adopted and adapted qualities from the prior examples of fortitude. Otherwise piropos may always provide convenient hindrances and forever thwart them from excelling.



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