I was so incredibly depressed and disgusted by Ripley's alcoholic bent, womanizing tendencies, and his manipulation of so many people and cultures for his profit, fame, and curiosity that I couldn’t bring myself to finish reading the entire book.
Author Neal Thompson's writing is actually quite beautiful, interesting, and smooth. The style of the writing and layout of the book are both perfectly fitting for a biography about such an unusual character. The photos included are very telling. The problem I had with the book came in the subject he wrote about in such minute detail. The moral depravity of the man in question is what shocked me more than any of the peculiar people or practices he wrote about or drew during his extensive jaunts around the globe.
I had planned on reading A Curious Man: Robert “Believe it Or Not!” Ripley and joining a Cursillo friend who’s a librarian for the book club discussion he was leading last month. A series of unfortunate events that took place during the beginning of that week led me to spend most of my time reading spiritual, religious, and hope-filled books instead of forcing myself to make it through the one about Robert Ripley.
The wildly popular cartoonist and world traveler's manipulative manner in his personal and professional relationships showed a complete disregard for the value of human life. From what I did read it seemed he wasn’t able to recognize or muster an ounce of respect for human dignity. He’d exploit anyone and anything to satisfy his curiosities, placate his self-centeredness, and indulge in whatever pleasures and distractions fit his fancy at that moment in time.
Believe it or not, Ripley’s ego was bigger than any of his dwelling places. He was without a moral compass of any sort. He lived his life like the consummate frat boy: drinking all the time, using people, shirking responsibility, dodging the truth, sleeping with all the women he could get. He led the unexamined life of a spoiled but intriguing celebrity with very eclectic obsessions and far-reaching influence.
I found it quite disheartening to read about the mess he made of things because of his flippant treatment of women and total irreverence for other cultures. He tainted newspapers and radio with his unconventional fetishes and raging materialism. His belief that the only higher power greater than himself was a sultry mix of money and fame underlined his desire to remain in a prominent, lucrative, and highly influential place in society no matter what the cost.
At the end of the day and his life, I wondered if he ever really inspired or gave hope to another human being by the way he lived or what he did. A whole lot of people over a long period of time were fascinated by his reporting, his exotic collections, and skewed view of things, but did he ultimately cause more corruption and scandal, influence greater greed, degrade women, and present a derogatory perspective of other ethnicities and cultures? It’s hard to know for sure. Each person’s life is so deeply entwined with those of other people. I don’t suppose the answers to the following questions would cast him in too favorable a light: how will most remember him? who and what was most important to him? for what purpose did he use his time, talents, and resources?
That having been said I realize people can’t really be contained in or fully explained by anything they produce. Each project is only a glimpse inside, a part of the mystery, a fraction of the wholeness God created. Our essence isn’t something others can grasp entirely, nor is it something they can take from us. It is clear to the Lord alone who we really are, who He made us to be. No one else gets to determine that or define us, though they may try to.
There are some inspiring books I’ve read and a great short film I've seen which treat subjects that would have fascinated Ripley in ways that illustrate these individuals are human beings with inherent value and dignity. I highly recommend the following two books as ones that are heartfelt, faith-filled, and inspirational by a man who was born with no arms or legs: Nick Vujicic.
Nick has done music videos, public speaking, and also is in a great short film called The Butterfly Circus. The story's about people with special talents and abilities being exploited in a freak show setting and how they are rescued, become a family of sorts who join together to entertains others, but without dehumanizing themselves or anyone else.
It occurred to me when reading this book that we have so many opportunities to use our talents to glorify the Lord or instead to cater to our own self-centered desires for pleasure, renown, and success. The choices we make not only affect those we come into direct contact with but thousands of others who are influenced by the decisions we make for good or evil. If Robert Ripley had a bucket list, he probably crossed off a number of things on it before he died. He became famous, got to travel the world, draw cartoons, write, influence many people...But what I’m left to wonder is what was on God’s Bucket list for his life?