Friday, April 27, 2007

Tournament of Everything World Semifinal: 1 The Sumerians vs. 5 Rushmore

Hey, remember this? The Tournament of Everything is back after some downtime. Today's tilt: The Sumerians, beloved wheelwrights and codifiers vs. Rushmore, bittersweet portrait of gentle obsession and beekeeping.

I've harped on the Sumerians' many contributions to our society, and for good reason. I enjoy that wheels allow me to save precious joules which I can expend in other ways. I am thankful the rule of law saves me from serfdom. And I am thankful for beer.

But as remarkable as these things are, it's safe to say that if the Sumerians hadn't come up with them, someone else could have. I mean, do you think those fuckers rolled to China and Europe, where there's also evidence of wheel-inventing (or more likely, discovering)? Eventually, a group of people would have tired of getting whacked in the head and having their beer and wheels taken. And hell, the Germans probably would have figured out the beer thing, what with their Teutonic resourcefulness.

Meanwhile, even if those thousand monkeys and their thousand typewriters managed to get the final draft of Hamlet off to their agent, could they have stumbled upon a tale as true as Rushmore? Unlikely.

One of the great functions of storytelling for a society is that stories give order to the world. Most works of literature that stand the test of time do so because they have at their heart a fundamental truth about what it means to be human and to be alive. Rushmore is film, and not literature, but it plays the same chords. You watch it and can appreciate how wonderfully absurd and heartbreaking life can be. It also reminds you that not everything is a happy ending, but sometimes what you get is good enough that you can keep living and taking another crack at things.

If the Sumerians had only invented beer and wheels, they'd be formidable opponents, but still blown out of the water here. But the concept of a codified set of rules is basically the foundation of civilization and freedom. I've never set foot in New Hampshire, but I can appreciate a state that believes in freedom over life itself. One of the reasons I find the Bush administration and its fellow travelers so incredibly odious is that they have actual, malicious contempt for freedom and citizens. I'm in danger of getting too serious here, I realize, but this is important shit.

That said, the Sumerians aren't the fount of all freedom, just the first drop in the bucket. That's pretty damn good, but how does it compare against fundamental truths, like the fact that guys are always doing stupid shit like building aquariums or hanging gardens to please pretty ladies? I'd still give the nod to freedom here, but wait.

How does it compare to a story that can relate to just how crushing it is to realize that you're not going to get your Rushmore degree, and inspire you to make a go of it at Grover Cleveland? Oh, and it's going to make you laugh your ass off, too.

Sorry, Sumerians. It's been a good run.

Rushmore 81, The Sumerians 73.

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