Three years ago on this site, I begged the heavens to spit the fresh corpse of millionaire pretend-adventurer Steve Fossett back to earth. It was meant as a humorous article and I never expected that this human being would actually die while at play. Now that he has, I feel mirthful. My only regret on this front is that I have not picked him in the dead pool we run on the forum.
I haven’t bothered to read up on the specific nature of the stunt Fossett was pulling this time. All I know is that he was in the air above the Nevada desert piloting some sort of contraption — be it a wish-powered blimp or a hand glider framed with the bones of Joseph Merrick — and now whatever parts of him the scavengers didn’t want are strewn about the Nevada dessert. I’m the type of person who generally avoids rotten.com, but the idea of a coyote and a vulture pulling on opposite ends of Fossett’s intestines is genuinely funny to me. It’s not a case of celebrating the death of a hated villain, like Jerry Falwell. My feeling is more akin to amusement at the predictable death of a cartoon character. I wish The Simpsons still had the brains or balls to base an episode of Itchy and Scratchy on Fossett.
American newsmen will surely mourn this death: “Steve Fossett, we hardly blew thee.” Fossett was one of the kings of the “slow news day.” We have corruption morphing into theft in our own wish-powered Iraq adventure, a prison population exceeding China’s, personal and public debt looming disasters and so forth, but none of that is fit to print. Something, then, must fill the gaps between opportunities to feel superior to celebrities and solicitations of illicit gay sex on Capitol Hill. Fossett, perhaps benefiting from political connections of his own, seemed to know just when these spaces would open. Note that he probably would have touched down this time just between Sen. Craig’s outing and resignation. Usually he would attempt to be the first man to circumvent the globe in a long-obsolete mode of transportation. Each endeavor would receive days of news coverage, although it is difficult to pin down exactly why. At any given time, some imbecile is attempting to ride a Segway up Mount Fuji or break the world watching-300-without-laughing-derisively record. So Fossett’s projects were not at all unique. And Fossett was racing into the record books against no one. Few, if any, had an interest in competing for the preposterous titles he invented and accumulated and so, luckily for him, there was no qualitative measure of his achievements. The man was no Joey Chestnut.
Fossett’s stunts and the media attention they received did, however, effectively lampoon the values favored by the mainstream of power. Here was a very rich man who chose to invest his wealth and energy in acting out diluted versions of boyhood fantasies. He is on record as having done nothing in the way of charity toward the less fortunate. His contraptions, although he could easily afford them, were underwritten by sponsors so that the hype could draw attention to beer manufacturers rather than, say, medical research. Few have ever done so little with so much so actively, yet Fossett was celebrated as a man of courage. He brings to mind Rex Rexroth, from the Coens‘ most underrated film, Intolerable Cruelty. A bloated “silly man” whose wealth fueled his passion for model choo–choos; the biggest clown in a farce. Now, the time has finally come to openly laugh at Rexroth’s real-life counterpart. The selfish millionaire has at last contributed at least a joke.