The possibility of perfection


IS IT just me or does anyone else get tired of people telling us they are not perfect? Bishop Brendan Comiskey has been showing the way of late. He is far from perfect, he told his congregation in Enniscorthy the other night. Now either they knew this already, and he wished to remind them, or they didn't, and he wanted to enlighten them - or he thought they might think he thought he was perfect, which would obviously make him imperfect, or he just wanted to reassure them, or possibly himself. But why bother?

Really, being imperfect is nothing to boast about. Personally I keep quiet about my imperfections and I wish other people would do the same (about theirs as well as mine).

"Perfect people don't need me," said Bishop Comiskey in Enniscorthy, "and I don't need them."

Well, I do. I badly want to see a few characters assert their claim to be top moral dogs, to see the odd spiritual Jimmy Cagney ("Made it, ma, top of the world!"), to see some major professional good people who out perform everyone else in the perfection stakes.

I am not at all reassured when people tell me they are not perfect. The statement usually prefaces a venomous personal attack and it is a sort of pre emptive strike - let those of us with sin cast the first stone - which makes me even more nervous than I normally am.

But the whole notion of "striving for perfection" as some sort of spiritual quest without a destination is fundamentally flawed. There really is little point in seeking perfection if we are led to believe, as we always are, that it is not possible.

Only a fool would attempt to scale Everest in the belief he couldn't possibly get to the top. Somebody has to win Wimbledon and the All Ireland football final and the Booker Prize and the Turner Prize and Olympic gold and all the Feis Ceoil cups and medals and they rarely do so by concentrating on their imperfections, and certainly not by announcing character flaws to the public.

The inordinate fear of being called a hypocrite lies behind it all.

All right. Now. Let us consider the notion of a plain girl. I mean a fine, upstanding, moral girl with a sound outlook on life, a reasonable range of talents, a good sense of humour, a reputable family background barring maybe the one black sheep, a healthy appetite and perhaps even a job as a consultant brain surgeon - but still a plain girl. Now if someone asked this girl how she would like to be remembered, do you think it likely she would say: "For my looks"?

No. I very much doubt it. Why then does the current Miss Ireland, who is probably most of the above, but notoriously unplain, wish to be remembered, as she announced recently, "for my achievements"?

It is a mystery involving wrong headed notions about permanence and evanescence and imperfectibility and what is worth valuing and what isn't, all propped up by timeworm inadequate cliche's like beauty being only skindeep.

There is nothing at all wrong in someone being remembered for outstanding beauty instead of for a fairly good brown bread recipe. I myself would be just as happy to be remembered for the former as for the latter.

Meanwhile the actress Sharon Stone, when recently attending a press conference to advertise her new movie Casino, was described as "a sex goddess who is signalling in her clothes - a tasteful ensemble of greys and silvers - that she is no longer playing the role".

But why not? Why her implicit denigration of the sex goddess role? The whole notion of a sex god/goddess role being incompatible with serious acting is a hypocritical and puritanical modern idea.

Marilyn Monroe and James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando and Jean Harlow and Humphrey Bogart and many more were always happy to combine the roles, and it didn't hurt them artistically or in any other way.

There are quite enough actors suited to the wearing of tasteful ensembles of greys and silvers without adding to their numbers and diminishing the small group who can look and act to kill, or at least stun, on the screen. {CORRECTION} 96022100031