Flawed Greatness: PBS Documentary Unveils Hemingway

There are no unscathed heroes. They fight well but womanize. They are great actors but on the wrong side of politics. They write masterfully but drink too much. They are powerful speakers but terrible fathers.

One by one as we’ve invaded the lives of history’s greatest men and cut them down at the knee, “humanizing” them, destroying the fire of their greatness that burned in our memories as children and as young men.

Maybe it’s a lesson we all have to learn — about our own fathers and about ourselves, a grounding, a necessary perspective about the inherent flaws of all men that keeps us from being racked by depression and disappointment at what we are as opposed to what we thought we might become; a reminder that reality is not an action movie, that there is a banality of goodness, that real world heroism is not quite like fighting global villains from inside a Hollywood studio.

Or maybe it’s just the greed of paparazzi culture, knowing there is money to be made in mastering the art of character assassination. On the backs of the greatest men we painted the biggest targets.

Whatever it is, it sucks. The Ernest Hemingway documentary on PBS is a hard slog. He was such shit. The women. The booze. The petty squabbles with critics.

We value men who walk the walk. Who do what they say. Who keep promises. Men of action, of good action, who live their philosophy. Hemingway was not that. He was a masterful writer, a great hunter, and a brave warrior. In the modern world, we cannot leave it at that, but we should, because there is wisdom in what he said even if what he said was not always what he did.

Hemingway is yet further evidence that our search for secular perfection is in vain. He’s a regular man with a magical pen, and even though the wisdom of his words did not manifest in his morality or actions, it doesn’t negate the words themselves.

When you watch a movie or read a story and find yourself thinking or talking about it a day or a week later, it has had an impact on you. IMPACT GAUGE is a recurring column analyzing those movies, shows, books, or podcasts that have lasting meaning.

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