Sunday, January 16, 2011

the enemies are all too familiar

1. Collision on Roth on Reilly on Cutler
Today We Mourn a Stooge
(Not a Porno)

The Rick Reilly hit piece on Jay Cutler has been bugging me for a couple days now. And now that David Roth, who I'll read anything by, has given his blessing, I want to vent a little bit about how and why I'm bugged.

I mean, Roth's right: the column's a decent read. Reilly may be a hack--in fact, I'm fairly sure that he is--but he's been putting together facile musings for a living longer than I've been alive1 and he knows his way around a one-liner for the sure.

It's a tie as to which he enjoys more -- smirking or shrugging.

(Rick Reilly, shown here, mind aglow with whirling, transient nodes of thought careening through a cosmic vapor of invention.)

But I think Roth's wrong when he claims Jay Cutler is "this ripe for a ripping", or at least wrong that this article demonstrates that ripeness. Reilly's entire piece is just the visible chunk of a media-veteran's iceberg of entitlement, the tantrum-stench product of being repeatedly stiff-armed by a guy who comes off like a petulant toad whose right arm is his sole redeeming characteristic. Reilly has been wronged, he has been given the high hat, and this is not a spurning he has to take, at least not anymore, because Reilly no longer has to cover him.

(Rick Reilly talking about Jay Cutler on PTI.)

Cutler gives shitty interviews, is surly with strangers, and has an affect+in-game habits best summed up by Matt Taibbi as

I can't wait for the inevitable @jaycutler tweet tossed off on the way to taking the snap in the fourth quarter of a tight game: "Sup everyone about to throw back-breaking pick into triple coverage LOL."2

All of which are, fine, whatever, fair game for a sports writer to wax agonizedly over. And like I said, Reilly's rage over being spurned by Cutler results in some fair scorn-prose. Stuff like this is fun to read, once.

"He's an arrogant little punk," former Broncos radio color man, Scott Hastings, once said on a national show. "He's a little bitch."

But, even leaving aside the gutless I-didn't-say-that-but-nodded-approvingly-while-my-attack-dog-did horseshit Fox News move of quoting Hastings, and ignoring for the moment the moral acuity employed by Pundit of the Suburbs Reilly--"little bitch"? really?--we need to think about the contortions Reilly has to do to make Cutler look like a prick. In Reilly's moral universe, Cutler is shown to be a complete bastard by:

  • a guy giving unrequested advice, being ignored, and slapping Cutler's phone out of his hands, breaking it
  • getting thrown into a swimming pool by Duly Anointed Payton Manning--and two of his linemen
  • ignoring "always polite" John Elway at a lunch and on other occasions
  • many trespasses against the fourth estate, including inadequte gaze-meeting

Cutler's probably not a lovely man, diabetes and charity work aside. He doesn't get to get pitied for being surrounded by insane bullies, out of their minds on eight kinds of testosterone and four of amphetamine--I didn't tell the fucker to move to Chicago--but if your character assassination rests on personal judgments like "doughy face", "won't look me in the eyes", "makes my job as a reporter harder" and anecdotes about sociopaths committing misdemeanor assault? You might want to aim your sights non-violently reach for fruit that's hanging just a little bit lower next time.

(Metaphor shown killing people with guns.)

2. Collision on history, with constant reference to Roth

I blush to confess that I loathe football as a game, and that I can't often bring myself to inflict it on myself, even to bring myself up to speed on the way our civilization is currently hurling itself toward annihilation (and bringing as many darkies as possible along with). Football's metaphoric power is a little too obvious: territory and agonistes, money and math, ponderous beaurocracies organized solely to commit efficient atrocities, heirarchy, aggression, banal corruption, and a peculiarly defensive kind of monomaniacal capitalism, in which at some point in the last decade or so it became literally against the rules for coaches to wear anything other than the specific brands of team-emblazoned casual wear endorsed by the league.3

One does not need to be a Gibbon to communicate the nuances: this is a nationally addicting spectacle in which one of the primary rivalies is, in a gloriously geography-annihilating headscratcher, between the "Redskins" and the "Cowboys" and the Cowboys are America's team! This stuff is really just not subtle at all. I get it, and I don't need to watch much of it any more than I need to watch NASCAR to know that the nation has a desperate need to consume and a productive impulse that's mostly canalized into the transformation of dead dinosaurs into ear-shattering decibel levels.

That said, the past couple months I've been reading as much of Roth on football as he'll provide. His latest joint dovetails interestingly with the historical thinking I've been doing lately and I want to think out loud for a minute about history.

The piece under consideration is too good to excerpt well, but its money observation is the golden-era assumptions sports fans bring to their fandom, what he calls "fictive nostalgia". The NFL in particular

was smaller and marginally and quaintly more disreputable
once, and (thus and maybe to that extent) easier to like. I think so too, but--and this is supposed to be the punchline, but is actually the spinal assumption of what's to come--I think we're probably wrong.

Sure, there was probably something less inherently inhuman(e) and repellent about NFL owners who weren't always and only corporate entities, but even if 70s team owners were just middling-rich by our seriously-on-the-precipice standards, they were still the same kind of robber baron, patronizing-on-every-level, plantation-mentality fuckers we've always known, always suffered.5

And I think a lot of my affection for the era derives from my past enjoyment of North Dallas Forty and Semi-Tough--with more than a few particles of The Longest Yard blended in. Seriously: I think when I--and I'm explicitly claiming we--think about the NFL of the 70s, I'm imagining Burt Reynolds, Nick Nolte, the young Brian Dennehy, all engaging in basically light-R hijinx while learning a little bit about life, love, and the relative value of (destroying bodies & lives for) sport. Which isn't a shock: my access to things that happened pre-my-life is (necessarily) exclusively through media imaginings of one or another sort.

To let this imagining determine my interpretation, though, I think is corrosive to accuracy. As Roth limns it

And if players were reckless, egomaniacal goofs...well, they were. And I think it's the recklessness that I'm saddest of all to have missed.
That's, I think, a reading too suffused with Dennehy and his inexorable likeability as just-clownin'-around fart machine T.J. Lambert. More likely, whoever Lambert was based on was less family-sized fun purveyor than garden-variety petty tyrant who'd like to remind you that power, real power, comes from the end of a savagely cracked towel. Which is to say that T.J. Lambert=Bill Romanowski, who tragically attained both fame and fortune while missing his true calling as a rape-happy prison guard somewhere in Texas. Lambert comes off better because he's getting shoved through a writerly membrane, not on the radio calling modern players faggots for balking at the owning class' demands for an 18-game season.

Even that soft-focus likeability doesn't suffuse everything for me--a recent bookstore browse through Semi-Tough left me with not much more than my usual unease about people who like high school sports and a genuine dislike for the spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to address the fact the word "nigger" appears in every paragraph not devoted to sex. It's not offset by the genuine pleasure I take in the phrase "young Scotch".

None of this is news: I get that. It takes a very strange kind of socialization to create a human who can survive in the peculiar institution that is organized football. (And late capitalism is a motherfucker too.)

Times now are probably worse than times then. Sure, it is at least heartening that novelists and sportswriters don't wallow in "nigger" in print and do get yelled at on the Internet when they assume out loud that women are primarily providers of cleavage shots and receivers of semen, the working principles of Jenkins' oeuvre.6

However, we seem to have lost the ability to ask whether maybe capitalism should have any fetters whatsoever, our society has embraced a perverse, humorless misunderstanding of "efficiency" as that great good which walks hand in glove with profit, and violence isn't even an eyebrow raiser anymore. I guess it's no wonder we look back and slather heartening half-truths on our social metaphors. Just a bunch of big, fun-loving boys, before fucking on coke turned into daterape and horrifying consequences for poor Colombians, when gunplay only killed mailboxes, before limping and punchdrunk guys getting cortisone shots turned into brain trauma and 23-year-old-men shooting themselves in the head before being completely forgotten by everyone 120 days later.

It's pretty to think so. I guess.

-Collision, bumming himself the fuck out4

1Note: I didn't check this. I'm 36.
2Silver-medal Taibbi Cutler dis:

The Jay Cutler experiment in Chicago goes full mushroom cloud when he grows a mustache and throws four 110-mph interceptions into triple coverage, completing long-fated Jeff George metamorphosis.
3One of my kneejerk conservative tendencies is a certain craving for authority figures to dress the fucking part, already, probably due to overexposure to Dan Reeves' sub-Landry button-down routine during my formative years.
4Where once we had dustups and donnybrooks, now we have wife-beating and 'roid rage. Drunk drivers used to just drive into ditches, I could go on All Day.
5Roth's piece on the Redskins does all this much, much better than I do or can.
6Ahem. And I can't not cite these.
middle-aged sportswriter Jack Brannon is sick of writing about Tiger Woods and the boring testosterone-charged PGA tour. So the swaggering Texan decides to check out the ladies of the LPGA, specifically hot teen sensation and fellow Texan, Ginger Clayton. She's a fiery eighteen-year-old blonde
When even your reviews read like second-rate Penthouse Letters? Sheesh. The next review includes "rollicking broadside" and "politically incorrect", the bog-standard term of art for "complete asshole".

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