The Internet recently has introduced the world to two memorable individuals - mostly recognizable by their mouths - who vividly illustrate the striking cultural difference between East and West.
One is best known as "Rage Boy," featured on several blogs and popularized by Christopher Hitchens in a recent column. Rage Boy is a Kashmiri protester - one of those perennials who show up for marches, funeral processions, wherever there's a crowd and, more importantly, a camera.
In every captured image, he is, well, enraged. Bearded and bug-eyed, he shouts protests against, oh, whatever: Salman Rushdie's knighthood, Pope Benedict XVI's remarks about Islam, Danish cartoons that hurt Muslim feelings. Another day, another outrage.
Now a familiar icon, thanks to blogs such as thenoseonyourface.com and snappedshot.com, Rage Boy's oral fixations and dental architecture are recognized by millions.
As are those of the other gentleman, though for distinctly different reasons. Paul Potts is the humble cell phone salesman from southern Wales who recently won "Britain's Got Talent," a television talent-search show like "American Idol," by singing "Nessun Dorma," an aria from Puccini's "Turandot."
It was stunning to watch and hear, not least because of the audience's and judges' surprise when the tenor opened his mouth - a mouth notably in need of dental correction. That, against one's wish to be polite, is what one notices right off. Then this painfully shy fellow begins to sing and is transformed from ugly duckling to swan.
That's a metaphor only, for Potts isn't ugly. In fact, he's beautiful when he sings, but he is otherwise a quintessentially regular guy who wouldn't catch anyone's eye - or cause anyone to suspect he has the voice of an angel.
Within a few notes, the judges, who all but rolled their eyes when Potts told them he was going to sing opera, were leaning forward in their seats, while the audience exploded in applause and, in some cases, tears. It is simply a thrilling moment, one that has resulted in at least 10 million views on YouTube.
Not surprisingly, some critics have taken a turn playing iconoclast. Potts, apparently, isn't really "all that" among the operati, but who cares? He's got what it takes to bring tears to cynics and joy to the jaded. My own introduction to Potts came via a Marine-minister who found in Potts a heavenly respite from the hell of wartime.
Granted, one wouldn't ordinarily find Potts and Rage Boy in the same thought balloon, but their intersection in the blogosphere (not to mention their common iconographic feature - the wide-open mouth) makes the graphic connection a natural leap.
They are beauty and the beast - one a testament to civilization and hope, the other a monument to primitivism and despair. One is driven by a search for the sublime, the other by ... what? Bitterness? Resentment? Retribution for perceived insults to an ideology, a system of spiritual beliefs?
Or is it merely what "they've" got that Rage Boy thinks should be his. Success. Prosperity. Freedom. In Rage Boy's world, anything or any person perceived to undermine his fragile sense of self is justification for someone to incite a riot, or to wear a bomb to market, or even to fly an airplane into a building. The fact that Rage Boy is obviously an actor sent out to hype outrage at these orchestrated events only confirms the cynicism that underpins jihad's moral bankruptcy. Rage Boy is nihilism unleashed.
Meanwhile, over yonder in Merry Olde England, where grand traditions of civility and decency are daily being eroded by resident, hate-spewing Muslim clerics, a plump boy with bad teeth got teased growing up and turned his inner rage toward something outside himself. He sang.
Not everyone has the natural talent to sing an aria, obviously, but everyone has the voluntary will to see beyond one's personal wounds and to view narcissistic rage for what it is.
One does not have to be an imperialist or a champion of Manifest Destiny to consider that there may be something about Western Civilization - the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, to mention a few highlights - that makes Potts a possibility.
Something about the culture of Islam, as radicalized by embittered malcontents, stoked by governments in need of scapegoats for misery, and sanctified by disciples of self-importance, makes Rage Boys probable.
There is a world of difference.
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