Heroes and Villains 2 - Joe Biden vs Oscar Pistorius
I'm with Leslie Knope on this one. Biden is kinda great. And while to anyone outside the US, his rambling endorsement of shotguns earlier this week may have seemed at best unhinged, at worst downright violent, given the overwhelming influence of America's gun culture this was as close to calling for full-scale disarmament as it's going to get. Currently being deployed aggressively by the Obama administration to try and cow skittish legislators into doing something, anything to reduce the nation's horrific gun violence – giving more people guns notwithstanding – I think right now we're witnessing Biden's moment. Largely relegated to ceremonial duties during Obama's first term (he's America's Prince Phillip!), Biden became an ever more potent attack dog in the lead-up to last year's election (remember his gay marriage moment? Straight-up huggable) and now in gun control he's found the one intractable topic of the American political scene that he might be able to enshrine his legacy with. And hey, as far as political figures go, in America's button-down, puritanical system, it's nice to have a guy around who says things in a way that hasn't been scripted by a focus group and who, perhaps even more importantly, still uses the word "malarkey".
The Sidekick – the Russian asteroid
Having exploded with the force of 30 Hiroshimas, I think this guy deserves his position merely from his having chosen not to have killed anyone. The biggest asteroid impact since 1908's Tunguska event – also in Russia: they get all the fun – this encounter was different primarily in that it occurred in an age where people could film the event as it unfolded:
In the wake of the strike, Russia has announced its plans to build an asteroid defence system replete with orbiting telescopes and thermonuclear warheads. Although if James Bond has taught me anything, this is just a pretext for the Commies to TAKE OVER THE WORLD. Yes. Anyway, while I normally wouldn't put a natural disaster on this list, especially one whose larger cousins would be quite capable of wiping out all life on Earth, it's an explosive reminder of our place within a broader Universe, a reminder that we're merely ants on a rock within an unfeeling cosmic void. The insignificant speck of dust in Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. Also, man it looked cool.
The Villain – Oscar Pistorius
As the classic song goes, "If you're having girl problems I feel bad for you son, I just shot mine four times and problem over". Even by the fashionable modern standard of sporting falls from grace, little matches up to Oscar Pistorius – the most fabled Paralympian and potentially disabled person of our age – shooting and killing his girlfriend on Valentine's Day. I mean, he was basically the contemporary definition of inspirational. He overcame having no legs to compete against the fastest people with legs in the world in the actual people with legs competition. The guy was the shiny picture you pointed to when you mouthed platitudes like "anything is possible" or "never is a dish best served cold". Or something. No leg left to stand on jokes notwithstanding, his claim that he merely thought she was an intruder and thus worth being shot multiple times feels incidental at best. Mainly because even if that largely implausible story is true, he still killed her well good. It will be interesting to see how the South African justice system stands up under the pressure (and would you look at that, the chief prosecutor is facing his own charges of attempted homicide), however with a history of domestic assaults behind him and an emerging image that seems to be all fast cars, fast women, lots of guns and the occasional punch, it looks as if Pistorius is headed straight to the lofty heights/depths of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods. Maybe they should form a club. The Cheater, The Cheater #2 and The Guy Who Killed His Girlfriend. It's like a sporting X-Men!
The Henchman - Silvio Berlusconi
There's the old cliché of the political zombie, the candidate whose career was well and truly destroyed yet who returns to power without anyone really knowing how. For most, it's simply a one-off, a small break in an otherwise upwardly ascending arc, fuelled by some low-grade scandal or another. For Silvio Berlusconi, 76, decrepit, an unearthly shade of orange, and on Sunday making his fourth, fourth, tilt at the Italian Prime Ministership, reanimation is less a handy metaphor than it is a guiding life principle. It makes you wonder: outside of actual death, what could possibly kill this man's political career? Every single one of his stints in charge has ended in the sort of scandal stroganoff that would be enough to take down entire governments in any other corner of the democratic world. But not Berlusconi. He's faced it all and come back, well, if not stronger, at least more resilient. I mean, when you hold on to power despite having a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old Moroccan prostitute, you do pretty much reset the threshold of acceptable conduct. As of the last printed polls yesterday, Berlsuconi's new party – a reactionary, anti-immigrant, anti-EU wad of populist drivel designed with the singular aim of getting the guy back into power – was five points behind and gaining fast. I don't know what you call a zombie when it's in its fourth phase of reanimation, but that old cliché might need some redrafting.