Mark Juddery brings us his picks for the Academy of the Overrated. But what does that mean?
Maybe, like me, you'll think of Manhattan, the part where Diane Keaton waxes on about the "Academy of the Overrated," in which she and her intellectual paramour place Mahler, Jung and Fitzgerald. "What about Mozart? You guys don't want to leave him out. I mean, while you're trashing people..." replies Woody's Isaac. Or maybe you'll think of the blowhards in your Freshman dorm, who enjoyed dismissing everyone from the Beatles to Jane Austen to Cannonball Adderley into the wee hours...because, you know, they could.
Mark Juddery, who's written Overrated: The 50 Most Overhyped Things in History, obviously means to be inflammatory. Writing in the HuffPo he declares,
If this didn't incense people, the entries probably aren't overrated enough. (Think about it.) But there's one thing I didn't include that should get people even angrier. With this slideshow (and at great personal risk, no doubt), here are the most overrated people in history — or at least, the most overrated as they currently stand.
While picks like Reagan and Columbus will probably find plenty of adherents, Edison and Marconi may prompt discussion, and King Arthur and Machine Gun Kelly may elicit blank stares, he may in fact get some argument for including Gandhi. And I'd argue with it too, although not necessarily on the grounds he anticipates. Writes Juddery,
The Indian independence movement was a strong force well before Gandhi entered the scene. The nation's freedom would have happened within a few years of 1947 even if Gandhi had spent his life meditating in a cave. He was a figurehead for the cause, while various other leaders were doing most of the work (and if you say "I've never heard of anyone else," I won't be remotely surprised). In true Thomas Edison fashion, he was happy to take the credit.
Ahimsa was a nice idea (and yes, it inspired Martin Luther King), but Gandhi didn't exactly invent it. He admitted that it was based on Hindu scriptures, the New Testament and Thoreau, though Buddha was walking the talk some 2,500 years earlier. But while Gandhi had his spiritual side, "saint" is too strong a word. He talked peace, but played politics as ruthlessly and slimily as any politician. His ideological differences with Subhas Chandra Bose, leader of the Indian National Congress (the chief independence group) led him to try some truly underhanded tactics, gathering a faction to rid throw out Bose. (All's fair in politics, perhaps, but Gandhi was supposed to be above that.) Bose had too much respect for Gandhi (he was the one who called him "father of our nation") and, after dealing with Gandhi's backstabbing, despondently stood down. For the record, Gandhi was meant to be the meditative guy, and Bose was meant to be the militant one. It's all PR.
To this we could add highly questionable practices towards many a young female adherent - and a very different reputation amongst Pakistan's population. But to dismiss the people on this list due to good spin seems counterintuitive - doesn't "reputation" to a degree inform someone's legacy? Especially in this case: while it's always short-sighted to lose opportunities for honesty and discussion in the name of canonization, there's also a lot to be said for figureheads when we're talking about a movement. That Gandhi recognized this is not necessarily a bad thing. And however much of his rep was hype, one can hardly argue Gandhi didn't die by the sword: if the world believes his prominent role in India's freedom and partition (and anyone willing to do any research beyond Ben Kingsley really has no excuse to), so too did Nathuram Godse when he assassinated Gandhi on grounds of Hindu nationalism.
My point is this: education is indeed important. Getting a clear picture of a figure's complexity is vital. But to accept someone was not a saint - or indeed, real - is not to invalidate that which they did do, or to dismiss them totally. That's equally reductive - and needlessly contrarian.