Cicadas, Tebow, & Comet Kohoutek

The 17-year cicada. Gerry Broome/Associated Press.


When I heard that zillions of cicadas would emerge to greet the sun in June, have sex and, according to the journal Science, create a “nightmare” of unrelenting cacophony, I had a flashback – not to 1996, or even 1979 but to 1962 – when I lived in Westchester, New York – and the summer of my eighth year was accompanied by the wall of insect sound Science warned about.


But nothing – nothing – has happened. The Silence of the Cicadas. All quiet on the Connecticut Cicada Front.


When the silence became deafening, Comet Kohoutek immediately came to mind. In 1973 Kohoutek was touted to be the “”Comet of the Century”. According to scientists (different, I am sure, than those timing out the Cicada Wall of Sound) it had been out there so long that its visible tail would be a “spectacular display of outgassing.” (Something I usually associate with the overconsumption of legumes) and light up the night sky for weeks.


It didn’t.


While the Silence of the Cicadas is a letdown, the hype that preceded it has no real impact. Kohoutek was so hyped that Journey wrote it a rock anthem, Pink Floyd had a bootlegged album named after it, and Kraftwerk, Sun Ra, Burl Ives, Peanuts, and, finally after it flamed out, ‘The Simpsons’ used its non-event as joke, and REM used its non-appearance as a metaphor for romantic failure.


But most disturbingly a cult, the Children of God, took the hype ball and ran with it declaring the world would end in January 1974.


Tebow just kicks ass as hard as he can, others are moved by it, and those who feed off it ran with it. Now, in a Peter Principle moment, he has probably been advanced beyond his ability to perform – the hype is now recriminating against him.


Kohoutek’s failure to enflame caused it to be a never ending Carson riff, and made us all once again shrug our shoulders. Scientific non-events are just one bit of non-self-fulfilling prophecies.


NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. Bill Kostroun/AP.

Tim Tebow won every conceivable honor a collegiate athlete could in his sophomore year – 2007, including a Heisman Trophy, his last two collegiate years also were terrific, but not as amazing, and yet the Denver Bronco’s traded up to get him in the 2010 draft, and his 2011 season had a bizarre run of improbable success.


Those who know football and saw him knew two things: he is a very mediocre quarterback by NFL standards and yet an extraordinary leader of men. Unlike the cicada or Comet Kohoutek, Quarterback Tebow created his own hype by heroic effort – often rewarded by victories, despite some bizarre ineptitude. The bugs and the blob of space ice and dirt do what they do ignorant of the human apprehension of their performance. All the expectations are on us – we humans who create scenarios that are impossible for these rudimentary performers to fulfill.


The Coming Ice Age of 1978 became Global Warming of 2000 and is now Climate Change. The Higgs Boson morphed into The God Particle. Tebow just plays, often poorly, and yet has the innocent intensity of extreme commitment that forces you to either believe in him, a la Tinkerbell, or “bah, humbug” his potential.


Either way, our overwhelming desire to possess the truth, often an unknowable future truth, can create its own fleeting reality. Those who want so desperately for Tim Tebow to be triumphant as a man of God, or wish that he would just go away, fall into the human trap of wanting to possess the future.


Tim Tebow may be a fairly lame quarterback but he is a great football persona. He has the dynamic full-on physical force and the radiantly glowing vibrant love of bodily expression that I find unique to football. His genuine, intense love of his teammates and his obvious unthinking willingness to sacrifice himself to get his team in a better place inspires those who, like those who clapped for Tinkerbell, feel the reality of his gifts.


Like the silent cicadas or the black skies of a Kohoutek night, Tebow’s obvious failures allow those who “know” he is useless in the NFL at playing quarterback to revel in his incapacity.


Tim Tebow does not seem to promulgate his own myth – that lack of pretense and innocence in the wash of hype put him in the position of the silent cicadas and the invisible Kohoutek – despite the fact he is aware how much he can, and can’t, do.


Tebow just kicks ass as hard as he can, others are moved by it, and those who feed off it ran with it. Now, in a Peter Principle moment, he has probably been advanced beyond his ability to perform – the hype is now recriminating against him.


Just like the quiet cicada and the dark comet, he is no victim. But he holds up a mirror to our folly of hope in the human capacity to possess the future and control it by predicting it, with a surety that becomes absurd in retrospect.


For now Tebow may yet be the hero of our expectation, but he, and the cicada and Kohoutek are not the perpetrator of anything other than being who they really are – versus how we “know” they are.



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Duo Dickinson, architect, has designed and built over 500 projects in over a dozen states in the last 30 years. Dickinson sits on seven not-for-profit boards, including the New Haven Chapter of Habitat for Humanity, Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, and Madison Cultural Arts.  Twenty to 30 percent of the ongoing work in his office is dedicated to pro bono or at-cost work for not-for-profits, totaling over 50 projects for over 30 organizations over the last 25 years. He is the architecture and urban design contributor to the New Haven Register and the contributing writer in design for New Haven Magazine, and has been contributing editor in home design for Money Magazine and co-host of 14-part CNN/Money website series “Home Work.” He is the author of seven books on home design, including his most recent book, Staying Put, which was published in 2011 by Taunton Press. Mr. Dickinson has taught at Yale College, Roger Williams University and the Harvard Graduate School of Design Summer Program, and has lectured at dozens of universities, AIA associations, and national conventions and gatherings.

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