Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Leisure Defines the Man

August 1st, 2011 · 11 Comments

Coming off a hugely frustrating weekend of writing, in which I ended up deleting hundreds upon hundreds of words that seemed cold and lifeless upon the screen. After much thought and a few of these, I figured out a big part of my problem: In an effort to make the story more vivid, I was layering on minor details that coalesced into one huge confusing mess. That, of course, is not the master’s approach—quality beats quantity when it comes to narrative details. ‘Tis better to have a single, booming anecdote than lots of ancillary descriptions that are thrown against the wall in the hopes that they’ll unify into something worthwhile.

A great example of the master’s approach is a detail used by Mark Bowden in Killing Pablo. Whenever I mention this book to folks seeking non-fiction recommendations, I invariably bring up this passage, which does a better job of conveying Escobar’s complex combination of lunacy, malice, and megalomania than articles that have droned on for thousands of words:

To entertain his closest friends, Pablo would hire a gaggle of beauty queens for evenings of erotic games. The women would strip and race naked toward an expensive sports car, which the winner would keep, or submit to bizarre humiliations – shaving their heads, swallowing insects, or engaging in naked tree-climbing contests.

It isn’t just the strange abuse of power that gets to me here; it’s the creativity of Escobar’s sadism, the way in which he took such great pleasure in seeing Colombia’s paragons of beauty laid low. A reporter less enterprising than Bowden could surely have dredged up some anecdotes about prostitutes or strippers, the standard vices of the fabulously wealthy and amoral. But beauty queens forced to climb trees while naked? Say no more—I get where this Escobar cat is coming from, and I fear for the safety of anyone who crosses his path.

(Image via Colectiva)


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11 Comments so far ↓

  • Jordan

    While a rather different style of writing, I’m struggling with my own bits of text while I try to put together a grant proposal. Some days it’s tempting to chuck it all and turn in a piece of paper that reads “Please give me money to do cool stuff”, but I don’t think that would really cut it.

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Jordan: “When you have the right stuff, you don’t need to brag. A simple declarative sentence will do.”

  • Captured Shadow

    Escobar had Rhino? and rode it? I better add that book to my reading list.

  • Mark Bowden

    Thanks for the kind mention, Brendan. To put yourself in Pablo’s head, try to imagine that you can buy ANYTHING in the world, that you have no real interests beyond pleasure, building your own legend, and making more money (even though that has become pointless for you). You are also stoned most of the time. Naked beauty queens swallowing insects? Why the hell not?

  • Brendan I. Koerner

    @Mark Bowden: Whenever I’m at the grocery store and I find myself contemplating whether a box of pasta that costs $1.69 is really worth the splurge, I can’t help but think, “My life is very, very unlike Pablo Escobar’s.”

  • Franciskus I Arnum

    Hi Brendan

    Right now I read your article ‘Leisure defines the Man’ on internet from aug. 2011. You’re right: That detail – Escobar paying beauty queens swallowing insects – says more than a thousand words about his sadistic etc. “creativity”. Nevertheles, he is a criminal.

    I would like to ask you to comment the following:

    Imagine a Christian priest in his own children’s service on sunday morning. He brings 50-100 living grashoppers into the church. He allows them to hop around in order to enjoy the boys and girls. He even sets one of the animal on the arm of a 2-year-old girl who seems to be happy to see such a (relatively) straneg animal so close. And, then, the priest takes one of the small animals, breaks all its legs and bites (!) the head off – while the animal is still alive. He puts the rest of the body in his mouth and keeps on preaching – among others he says the words: That is what “real men” do…

    Would you think that is possible? Would you think that is a GOOD or a BAD Christian church? A GOOD or a BAD message?

    I like to hear your comment. Perhaps I can tell you more about it.

  • Franciskus I Arnum II

    Mark Bowden wrote: “Put yourself in Pablo Escobar’s head, try to imagine that you can buy ANYTHING in the world, that you have no real interests beyond pleasure, building your own legend, and making more money (even though that has become pointless for you). You are also stoned most of the time. Naked beauty queens swallowing insects? Why the hell not?”

    Mark Bowden made a point there: Why should a criminal like Pablo Escobar, stoned and sadistic, not do such things?

    But my question to all of you, including Mark Bowden, would be: If we condemn that kind of behaviour regarding a mass murderer, why on earth don’t we condemn the same kind of behaviour regarding a priest and his children’s service and the fact that even the responsible bishop accepts it?

    Is the Milgram effect THAT effective?

  • Fan of Albert Schweitzer

    Fan of Albert Schweitzer

    I was shocked when I first heard about these things. And I am sad. Especially because they are connected to the Christian church. I thought back and asked myself: What would I have answered five years ago, if someone had said to me:

    “Hi, I know you’re a big fan of Albert Schweitzer and his ethics. As you know his theology claims respect for life. What would you say, if a Christian priest/reverend brings 50-100 living animals (grasshoppers) into the church’s children’s service showing the animals to boys and girls and allowing the animals to hop around, breaking the legs of one animal and biting off the head (while the animal still is alive), spitting out the head, putting the rest of the body in the mouth, preaching with the animal’s flesh and blood in the mouth, presenting a message like: That’s what “real men” do in contrast to “dancing women”?

    Would you think of this as a GOOD or as a BAD children’s service? Would you think that’s a GOOD church or a BAD church? A GOOD or a BAD message?”

    Five years ago I would have said: “That is a totally hypothetical question. I refuse to comment such nonsensical questions.”

    Now, knowing that those perverse things really happened in Denmark in Gram Kirke (Gram Church which is part of Haderslev Stift) and that the responsible bishop Niels Hendrik A. has accepted it, now, I would say: Don’t listen to me, but listen to Albert Schweitzer himself! He said: “To destroy life, also animal life, is evil, if it is unnecessary.”

    Of course, not even Albert Schweitzer himself with all his imagination could have thought of the possibility that a Christian church accepts showing, molesting and killing animals in children’s service during the sermon…

    Naturally those so-called Christians have all excuses in the world. Some of them point out that many people in Asia are eating insects. Perhaps they are. But do they eat LIVING insects? In Christian churches there? Combining it with discrimiating messages? I don’t think so.

    Some of them say: “The animals don’t feel pain!” Perhaps. Perhaps not. But we, we humans, we do feel pain and shame about this kind of priestly animal killers and their backers!

    Some of them, including the responsible priest and bishop, say: “It is okay, because John the Baptist ate grasshoppers.” Perhaps he did. But did he eat LIVING animals, and did he do that in front of children when preaching to them? Think of Jesu. Christ himself may have eaten chicken. Is this reason enough for the Christian church to show living chickens in children’s services biting off their heads while they are still alive???

    One thing is sure: Pablo Escobar, who loved those things according to Mark Bowden, would be very very fond of this kind of animal killing in Christian children services!

  • Leisure Fan

    Yes, leisure and the church’s sunday services define the people – even in a horrible kind of way!!!

  • Sadism or good Christian doing?

    Hi, Brendan, hi Leisure fan, hi Francis of Assisi and Albert Schweitzer!

    indeed, you, Brendan I. Koerber, and you, Mark Bowden, made an important point there. A little thing can say so much! Pablo Escobar, one of the world’s most notorious massmurderers and drug barons, revealed his character even when he not was busy with smuggling or killing and dismembering human victims.

    “The creativity of Pablo Escobar’s sadism,” as you put it in the year 2011, became obvious even when he was throwing a party. Even “the way in which he took pleasure” (for example that he humiliated young girls by letting them swallow insects) was treacherous.

    Even more treacherous, though, is that in the very year of your and Mark Bowden’s remarks on Pablo Escobar something similar was done in the church. In Sunday school. By a priest. He showed living animals to the children, pulled out one of the animals’ legs, bit the still living thing, chewed on it, went on preaching with the animal’s blood in the mouth. Before and after Sunday school he gave interviews on the matter to promote it. It happened in Denmark. Both the provost Kim Eriksen and the bishop Niels Henrik Arendt accepted this kind of Sunday school—even regarding future church services. They were reluctant to say such a simple word like: No more!

    There are two possibilities. We say, Pablo Escobar’s doing regarding girls and animals was “sadism”. Then we must say, that the church’s doing is even more sadistic. Why? Because according to the mentioned theologians and priests they do not worship Escobar’s demon of death and destruction but the church’s God of Life.

    Or we say, the church’s killing of animals in Sunday school is really good and okay. Then we must admit, that Pablo Escobar’s “creativity of sadism” was really good and okay too.

    Thus, if one looks upon the “creativity of Pablo Escobar” as “sadism”, one must look upon the creativity of the described Sunday school as “sadism” too!

    Or: If you look upon the described church’s “creativity” as “a good Christian children’s service”, you have to look upon the mass murderers leisure and party activities as “good” and “Christian” too!

    What do you say, Brendan I. Koerber? What do you say, Mark Bowden?