Monday, February 08, 2010


I found this article in the Sunday paper extremely interesting and somewhat bizarre:
Sinatra song has fueled karaoke killings in Philippines

GENERAL SANTOS, Philippines – After a day of barbering, Rodolfo Gregorio went to his neighborhood karaoke bar still smelling of talcum powder. Putting aside his glass of Red Horse Extra Strong beer, he grasped a microphone with a habituĂ©'s self-assuredness and briefly stilled the room with the Platters' "My Prayer."

Next, he belted out crowd-pleasers by Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. But Gregorio, 63, a witness to countless fistfights and occasional stabbings from disputes over karaoke singing, did not dare choose one beloved classic: Frank Sinatra's version of "My Way."

"I used to like 'My Way,' but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it," he said. "You can get killed."

The authorities do not know exactly how many people have been killed warbling "My Way" in karaoke bars over the years in the Philippines, or how many fatal fights it has fueled. But the news media have recorded at least half a dozen victims in the past decade and include them in a subcategory of crime dubbed the "My Way Killings."

The murders have spawned urban legends about the song and have left Filipinos groping for answers. Are the killings the byproduct of a culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?

Whatever the reason, many karaoke bars have removed the song from their playbooks. And the country's many Sinatra lovers practice self-censorship.

The article goes on to further to suggest another potential motive for the killings: that the victims sang the song out of tune.

That makes three wildly different motives: (1) the Philippino "culture of violence"; (2)something inherently "sinister" in the song; or (3) the singer sang out of tune and angered the crowd.

(1) and (3) I could go for, since human nature is what it is. But the second motive mentioned in the article got me thinking about why I have loved this song since the first time I heard it sung by Sinatra when I was just a tyke; and why I still belt it out loudly (and off-key) in the shower at times when I'm feeling particularly good about life. Sinatra himself gives a clue. In this recording of the song, he jokes to the crowd that he's singing "...The National Anthem...but you needn't rise."

I rather like his explanation that this is the "National Anthem"; though, of course, I don't know whether Sinatra used the term because the song became more popular than he ever imagined; or because he sensed that the song somehow distilled into its lyrics the essence of the American character and spirit.

I would like to think he said it primarily because of the latter reason, since I believe that if the American spirt had an "anthem," this song would do very well.

Some of the reasons why this is so are explained in a post where I discussed the political and societal implications of narcissism.

Contrary to popular belief, every healthy individual needs to have some degree of narcissism . The word has received such a bad rap, you might believe that any degree of narcissism is a bad thing; but without a healthy dollop of it in our characters, we humans would be extremely low on ambition and purpose; and wholly unable to enjoy the pleasures of life. Believe it or not, that self-centered grandiosity that is so charming in children, is absolutely essential for normal adult self-esteem (and I don't mean the kind of faux self-esteem that is foisted on our children today). And, further, narcissism is also an essential aspect of the ideals we pursue as adults. Healthy narcissism fosters a belief in something outside of one's own self that guides and gives meaning to one’s life. This side of narcissism makes healthy interpersonal relationships possible.

But either aspect of narcissism may be defective and lead to serious problems--both for the individual and for the society.

In some ways, the rise of human civilization from the cave to the present day has resulted because of attempts through the Rule of Law and social controls to set limits on the unrestrained grandiose side of narcissism. This is primarily due to the destructiveness of the malignant narcissistic rage which is generally associated with defects in that aspect of narcissism.

Because of this, the grandiose aspects of narcissism (and those who possess them) have generally received a bad reputation philosophically, morally, and politically. The natural development of Governments and Religions (which ultimately are an expression of the the other aspect of narcissism--"idealized" narcissism--have all too often attempted to ruthlessly suppress the grandiose self--much to the detriment of the individual AND the success of the particular society or religion.

In fact, despite the obvious truth that governments, nations, and religions are in a much better position to wreak far more systemized misery and death on human populations, it is almost always the grandiose narcissism that gets the blame. But a quick glance at the last several hundred years will demonstrate that all those idealistic "people's revolutions" supported by the political Left (grand champions of idealized narcissism) and purportedly for the purpose of "freeing" large populations of people have somehow mysteriously resulted instead in enslaving those populations and increasing authoritarian rule.

Without a political or economic framework that is able to incorporate what we refer to as "human nature" into its calculations, all so-called "perfect" societies and ideologies will at best simply fail in the real world; and at worse cause untold human suffering. With the best of intentions (this is perhaps debatable), the social engineers of philosophy, political science, and economics have caused so much more slavery, misery and death on a grand scale--that the grandiose CEO's of the largest corporations can be considered mere pikers by comparison.

When we talk about the individual versus society; or the individual versus the state; or indeed any discussion of individual rights versus the rights of a group, we are also referring to the psychological tension between the two poles of the Self. Any political or economic system that expects to succeed in the real world will have to accommodate that tension, and find a way to optimally negotiate the needs of BOTH sides of the Self--that is, they will have to take into account human nature.

A perusal of any list of economic systems will demonstrate that ALMOST ALL OF THEM are relatively extreme expressions of idealized narcissism. Almost all emphasize the group, the community, the collective, the nation, the state, or god at the expense of the individual. Examples are numerous. Socialism and Communism; fascism and religious fundamentalism.

The major exception is capitalism, where the individual and the individual's needs are emphasized over the the group.

What is essential for healthy individuals, as well as for healthy societies is that there be a balance of these two aspects of narcissism--the grandiose and the idealized. Because an over emphasis on one results in a culture or society promoting sociopathy; and an overemphais on the other results in submission and slavery to the collective.

So the sentiments in "My Way" are nothing more than a healthy expression of the grandiose self; which is why America stands as a shining beacon if freedom and libery in a world where the norm is to oppress such expressions of individuality and promote submission to the group. "I'll Do It Your Way" would be the appropriate anthem for those societies.

For what is a man? What has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels,
And not the words of one who kneels...
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

UPDATE: After writing this morning, I went over to Belmont Club where I discovered that Wretchard had penned a few words on the subject of the "My Way" killings....

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