Snidely or Dudley? Or both?
October 16, 2013
This morning, as I settled in to finish my column, desperately hard up against deadline (as always), I made the mistake of glancing at the newspaper.
That glance revealed Margaret Romero's reasonable and heartfelt defense of her husband, Dwayne, in response to my mockingly mean-spirited attack on him last week.
Mrs. Romero properly defended her husband's impressive resumé, including his valiant (and, no, I'm not being in the least satiric here) service to our country in the U.S. Army.
I cannot argue with almost anything in her letter — even her insinuation that my own resumé falls far short of her husband's, and the accompanying suggestion that I have never served our country. She is right, I fear, on both counts.
From her point of view, as wife and mother, she argues that Mr. Romero is much more of a heroic Dudley Do-Right than the evil Snidely Whiplash that I made him out to be.
And, again, I expect she is entirely right.
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But (and you knew there'd be a "but" in here somewhere) there is a larger issue that I didn't get to in my column — partly because newspaper columns are limited in space and partly because when I'm having a good time being nasty, I get carried away.
That larger issue hinges on the fact that while Dwayne Romero may be a deeply honorable man, he was also the man who made the deeply regrettable decision to kick the Village Market out of Snowmass.
And that decision was a bad one: heartless in a fashion that I characterized as Snidely Whiplash-ian and contrary to the desires of a community that was very fond of that local market.
That decision, of course, was — as the Mafia bosses say in "The Godfather" when they order the assassination of a rival — "just business." (And, no, I am not suggesting that Dwayne Romero is the moral equivalent of a murderous Mafia crime boss.)
Mr. Romero is the head of Related Snowmass, a corporate entity (as they say). And, as the head of such an entity, he has a fiduciary (as they say) obligation to put that entity's well-being ahead of any other consideration.
To boil that down: Profits come first!
That's the rule of the corporate game, and Mr. Romero needs to play by the rules if he wants to keep his job and remain the good husband, father and provider that he is.
That doesn't make him a full-fledged villain, but it means that he needs to play a villainous role as required.
Consider, if you will, that in "The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show," the real Snidely Whiplash (if the word "real" has any meaning in this context) may well have answered to the board and shareholders of Whiplash Industries Inc. And he may well have had a loyal wife and three charming children at home. If he didn't tie Tess Trueheart to the tracks, it was curtains for Snidely.
Cartoons (and my columns) rarely go into that kind of depth. As noted, we don't have time, and it spoils the gags.
But just because we all may be helpless cogs in the monstrous, corporate machinery that now masquerades as real life, that does not mean we cannot protest as those cogs crush the people and the communities we treasure.
And the men in their corporate uniforms — whether that uniform is a suit and tie or simply a fierce, fixed smile — are very properly the target of our protests even if they too are victims in their own way, although the higher on the corporate pyramid one rises, the less victimization one is subjected to.
OK. I seem to have backed both Mr. Romero and myself into a corner. If I say he's an honorable man who is a helpless dupe, I'm hardly doing him a favor. But if I drop either of those two terms, things get ugly. If he's not honorable, he's just a dupe — pathetic or evil, take your pick. And if I drop dupe, then when he's destroying a good and popular business, he can't be honorable.
And that's the corner that we are almost all backed into.
We all (mostly) want to be honorable, decent people. But when the corporate hand yanks the chain connected to our choke collar, all concerns for humanity and community seem to disappear.
And so two smaller companies — Clark's and the Village Market — beat each other savagely to see who will be the bug and who will be the windshield this time around, as the much-larger corporation sits back and decides who will live and who will perish.
So life becomes an endless chain of smaller fish being swallowed by bigger fish, who are then swallowed in turn by the yet bigger fish lurking just behind.
Just as Aspen was built by rugged miners who were (as Tony Vagneur explained in his column last week) forced to sell out to those with the money to exploit the miners' discoveries, so the rugged individuals who created Snowmass, where Mr. Romero toils, were forced to give way to the much-larger American Cement Co. (And that corporation's profit-driven decisions led to some of the terrible mistakes that the redevelopment of Snowmass was supposed to solve.)
Well, just as I was limited by space last week, now I find that I have almost skidded past the (semi) good example of the original Aspen Skiing Corp., a relatively small operation that created the Aspen skiing we now know, and then fell into the hands of a major corporation (20th Century Fox) with disastrous results and was then recaptured by a single family (the Crowns) whose wealth comes from a major corporation but who run Skico with some actual care and concern despite being responsible to a large extent for the ugliness at Highlands and the muddy mess in Snowmass.
It just never ends.
(Damn. I wonder if either of the Romeros will be any happier with this week's column.)
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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