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Lucy Perkins

Oedipus Rush


I need to preface what I have to say with a couple of statements about Rush Limbaugh's recently publicized medical condition. (In case you're oblivious, Limbaugh has a very rare and very weird type of deafness that has set in quickly and for unknown reasons.) One, I actually have listened to Limbaugh's radio program, so I'm not one of those people who just makes claims about him without knowing what he really stands for. I hear this defense against Limbaugh detractors all the time: "you don't even know what his show's about!" Yes, I do. I'm a crazy person who would rather listen to talk radio than bubblegum music, even if the talk show host gives me high blood pressure.

And two, I have not even once laughed about or made light of Limbaugh's misfortune. I know that many ultra-liberals out there have been rolling in the aisles over what they see as a case of karma coming back to bite someone on the butt, but that is definitely not me at all. Frankly, my knowledge of karma implies that laughing at someone's bad luck is one surefire way to get yourself some bad luck, i.e., you could be reincarnated as a slug. I find slugs to be completely unappealing and would be unable to mate with a fellow slug if I was reincarnated as one, and for that reason I don't laugh at other people's misfortunes.

So this analysis of Limbaugh's situation implies no ill will whatsoever. But that doesn't mean that I can't learn something from his situation or draw an instructive literary parallel.

For those of you unfamiliar with either the ancient Greek story of Oedipus or Sophocles' play about that story, Oedipus Rex, let me give you the big picture. Oedipus was a poor sucker the gods were just out to get from the beginning. When he was born, it was foretold that he would one day kill his father and marry his mother. His parents decided that sounded like a lot of hassle, so they had him killed (this was in the pre-Child Protective Services era of human development). But, of course, he wasn't really killed, and he wound up being adopted by some nice people a few acropoli over.

Well, Oedipus grew up and heard from another fortuneteller that he would kill his father and marry his mother, and, being a decent kind of guy, he left town just to make sure he didn't do anything to his parents. All the while, he was unaware that they were his adoptive parents and that his real parents lived not too far away. So anyway, one day he got in a brawl with a guy while he was traveling, and he killed the guy, who just happened to be his dad (unbeknown to him). And he headed on into town, met a nice, emotionally vulnerable, older woman, had a May-December romance and married her (that was his mom, of course). Ba-da-boom. The prophecy was fulfilled.

The whole story of Sophocles' play revolves around the mystery of who killed the old fart (Oedipus' dad), who just happened to be an important old fart. Clues piled up and Oedipus began to realize the truth, but he shielded himself from it until the very end, culminating in a lot of irony, which the ancient Greeks apparently thought was even cooler than tits and explosions. One great irony of the play is that at the climax, Oedipus blinded himself physically, which seems to symbolize his figurative blindness all along in regard to the truth.

This really does relate to Rush Limbaugh; I'm not bullshitting you around. OK, I was bullshitting around a little bit with that whole, long incest story, but secretly you were titillated (which explains why Freud came up with the Oedipal complex) so let's leave it at that.

Think of the irony of Limbaugh's story. For years he's done this very conservative talk show, through which he has talked up the Republican Party line on a daily basis. For some reason, "ditto-heads" (a pet name for Rush followers) will argue this point to the death, but I've yet to hear an example of a time when Limbaugh has not agreed with the Republican Party on any topic that the party has a definite stance on, except for the occasional individual politician he has lambasted. (I know he's not a big fan of John McCain and his campaign finance reform agenda, for example, but the party isn't unified on that issue, either.)

Because of his allegiance to the party, Limbaugh has been deaf to the voices of many groups of people in America. Women and racial minorities are obvious examples of people whose perspectives are virtually ignored by the Republican and thence Limbaughan philosophy. Not to mention homosexuals, economically disadvantaged people, and youth. These are all voices traditionally ignored by the white male constituency of the Republican Party, and Limbaugh has made a career of sticking his fingers in his ears and humming aloud whenever one of these deviant voices has spoken.

Now he's going deaf. After years of feigning deafness to so many people, his deafness is real. It seems particularly fitting that his deafness isn't due to any specific physical cause. It may even be psychological; of course, if that's true, then Limbaugh would definitely parallel dear Oedipus' tale of tragedy, since Oedipus' physical blinding was self-inflicted.

There's one major difference between these two characters, however. The story of Oedipus teaches us something depressing and tragic about not being able to escape one's own fate, but Oedipus himself, aside from his bad temper and refusal to recognize a harsh truth, isn't really responsible for his own fate. He is in many ways an innocent being tested by the gods.

Alternately, Limbaugh has purposefully chosen to remain deaf throughout his radio career. I repeat, I'm really not smirking at Mr. Limbaugh. But, man, does karma have sharp teeth when it finally gets around to biting your ass. *

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