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posted: 9/12/2013 5:00 AM

Syria, sports and a haunting case of life imitating art

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This week's front pages put me hauntingly in mind of a play that opened in Washington, D.C., this spring and is running in New York this month. "Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play" builds on a trendy literary topic whose even more trendy name I'd never heard before a year or so ago. Dystopia, presumably the opposite of utopia, generally occurring after the breakdown of the current social order.

"Mr. Burns" chronicles the progression of a set of theater actors and actresses who reprise a specific episode of the TV series "The Simpsons" at three different periods following a global holocaust -- immediately after, some seven years after and many decades after the horrific event. One of its themes, playwright Anne Washburn told a National Public Radio interviewer recently, was to demonstrate how even at their lowest point, humans have an innate yearning to entertain and to be entertained.

It's in that spirit that I reconcile the somewhat disconcerting competition for our attention between the high stakes amusement of the Bears opening games or the BMW golf championship in Lake Forest and the potential for global disaster in Syria.

It may be a little far-fetched to foresee the end of the world in the Syria mess, but only a little. After all, who would have predicted in 1914 that the assassination of a Serbian archduke as part of an internal conflict over control of that small country would lead to four years of bloody warfare involving all the great powers on the planet. It takes very little imagination to see how the dry tinder of fanaticism and factionalism in the Middle East could burst into worldwide conflict. In that context, we as a newspaper and all of us as citizens have a somber duty to learn and share the many developments in the debate over how to deal with Syria's use of chemical weapons.

But at the same time, life goes on.

It may seem frivolous to debate the fine points of Marc Trestman's coaching or Tiger Woods' backswing when the world is on the brink of annihilation, but the fact is, life is more than just the resolution of our crises. It is also the nourishment of our spirits.

We can't ignore the former, of course. but its coexistence alongside the latter is inevitable.

It is an indication of the seriousness of the Syrian crisis and the weight we give it in the suburbs that the story has played so prominently in the Daily Herald.

A civil war on the other side of the globe is hardly a suburban story in and of itself. But the potential impact of the Syrian resolution on every family and resident in the suburbs is so profound and so obvious that the story has appropriately dominated our front pages.

Meanwhile, the national focus that the BMW Championship brings to the suburbs and the intense interest so many suburbanites shower on the Bears also merit strong attention in a local newspaper.

Such a juxtaposition of the ominously consequential and the passionately frivolous probably occurs to some degree nearly every day on the front page. But, in the context of Washburn's popular play, the juxtaposition of sports fervor and the talk of war provides an intriguing case of life imitating art.

Let's hope that we'll all have the good sense to keep the comparison as purely an intellectual exercise and the dystopian visions purely a matter of trendy conjecture.

• Jim Slusher, jslusher@dailyherald, is an assistant managing editor for the Daily Herald. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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