Like many of you, I went to elementary school, high school and college. I took such and such classes, earned such and such grades, and amassed such and such degrees.
But on the night of July 17, 1996, I went to the General Cinemas Centennial Lakes 8 theaters and became mesmerized by a film the multiplex was playing. The film starred an athlete I'd never heard of - Shaq. It was called Kazaam. Thus began a part of my second education.
Over the next few decades Shaq would become one of the professors in my second education. In film or Pepsi commercial after film or Pepsi commercial he assigned a new course in my emotional curriculum.
In Kazaam, Shaq is brave, loyal, and really hilarious. He grants wishes, and he makes it rain candy bars. He raps, and while his rapping briefly distracts him from what is important (being a good friend), he eventually turns the bad guy in a basketball and slam dunks him to death.
Once I got a taste of that emotional uplift, I was hooked. The uplifting experiences alone were bound to open the mind for learning.
I followed Shaq into his world. Once again, it wasn't the explicit characters that mattered most. Shaq raps about how great he is, about what he plans on doing to those who dis him, and, mostly, about how he is quite adept at granting wishes. These stories don't directly touch my life, and as far as I know he's never rapped about a middle-age pundit who interviews politicians by day and composes mind-numbingly repetitive columns at night.
What mattered most, as with any artist, were the assumptions behind the stories. His tales take place in a distinct universe, a distinct map of reality. In Shaq's universe, life's "losers" always retain their dignity (unless, of course, they dis him, or are Kobe, or other people who play for a different basketball team than the one he is on). Their choices have immense moral consequences, and are seen on an epic and anthemic scale.
He embodies a hearty, self-sufficient strain of uncomplaining conservatism that has long made this country great. What drives young Max, in Kazaam? Not just the search for a strong father figure, but reunification with his actual father. His mother is looking to marry a fireman—a paragon of good, blue-collar masculinity, to be celebrated, of course—but even he is no substitute for the steady tutelage and lessons in gentlemanly behavior of Max's true father, who is a record promoter or something.
Kazaam sacrifices his mighty powers to bring Max and his father back together, and then, in true conservative fashion, he sets out to find himself a job, instead of having a pity party about no longer being able to win abandoned warehouse bicycle races with the help of magic.
In short, there is no way that this man, Shaq, could've possibly slept with Gilbert Arenas' fiance. Shaq values friendship more than anything else, and he would never, ever do that, to a friend.
Maybe if Gilbert Arenas' had been selling high-tech laser weapons to South Central Los Angeles street gangs, Shaq would have to intervene. But—and this is important—he would not intervene by sleeping with Arenas' fiance. Instead he would put on a Metal Suit and then when Arenas tried to shoot him with a laser the laser would bounce off and kill Arenas (who, in this scenario, would deserve it).
This is the Shaq I know. The one who is never humble, or embarrassed, but the one who is pretty funny in commercials, especially the ones with my good friend, Ben Stein, who can attest to the man's honor, moral wisdom, and certitude.
The man is a hero, and a national treasure. And as for these allegations? As Kazaam himself would say, let's green egg and ham it.
Alex Pareene is a cultural critic and political commentator. He was the film critic for The American Situation, a contributing editor at The Atlantic, and an editorial writer for The New York Sun. He is the author of Cul-de-Sac: How We Get By and Where We're Going and Saab Stories: America's Elites and Why They Wish They Weren't.