Herostratus and Cultural Rot

Sorrowfully, we can not forget Herostratus.

History remembers Herostratus because he destroyed one of the seven wonders of the world.   In 356 BC, Herostratus set fire to the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, burning it to the ground.  He did this for one reason, to be remembered.

Shocked by his act and determined to prevent others from following his example, officials executed Herostratus and banned the utterance of his name.  The Ephesian elite tried to scrub the name of Herostratus from history – as if he never existed.

It is hard to fault them.  Today we react in a similar way when someone disrupts a sporting event by running on the field or some such idiocy.  The television cameras cut away, refusing to give the attention the disrupter sought.  But if you are at the game, something entirely different happens – the crowd cheers the selfish attention whore.

It is a long way from a Herostratus to a Kardashian, or, well, pretty much anything on MTV.  Yet with any case of someone willing to seek fame at any cost, it seems like good policy to refuse them their gratification.  Whether they are destroying a world wonder, or an institution, or a culture, or even a single family, anyone who is willing to burn down something else in exchange for fame is contemptible.

But this really does not address the problem.  On “reality” shows, from Tila Tequila to the Jersey Shore, from Wife Swap to the Bachelor, the problem is that there is a willing audience.

Herostratus may have been a pioneer, but he was a symptom, not the disease.  Today, the disease has spread, infecting the whole cultural body.  One may be able to imagine potential cures, but I can not imagine a recovery to health.


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