I’ve always wanted to understand athletes as humans. Even if only superficially, or symbolically, they’ve been at their most compelling to me when they reflected something basic about being human.
Playing sports isn’t life, it’s bits and pieces of life reassembled in heightened form. Your league is not exempt from the human condition. And yes, it’s possible to have a fiction, or a smokescreen, that still speaks to what athletes really mean to us—why they have resonance, why we stop and pay attention no matter what the score. Why we watch press conferences, for Christ’s sake.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s a view of things that dabbles in hagiography, delusion, and self-serving invention, while at the same time pouncing on shards of candor as if they were the key to an entire forbidden city. Above all else, though, there’s no time for heroes. Heroics, sure, and the strain of exceptional circumstances. A priori heroism is both a burden and object of fascination, but never cause for a parade. Acts and actions, gestures on and off the court. These are the bits and pieces I’ve always relied on in understanding sports. Aura is either terrifyingly earned or gleefully shallow.
All of which is a long way of saying that Great Athlete Narratives have never meant shit to me. Redemption is personal, never political, and sports should be no exception. Look no further than KG, who saved his legacy only to morph into a psychotic jerk for all the world to see. Recovery from injury, or the split-second Willis Reed references, are less about easy templates and more the lasting power they have for us down the line. Twitter’s instant judgment, while endlessly amusing, could not be further from fixing memories in place. You did it! Now what happens? That’s how stories should start, not end.
However, Royce White’s tumultuous pro career, young as it is, has already made me realize one major rupture in all I’ve laid out above. While sports are always somewhat alien to me and thus endlessly easy to twist to my own needs, there are certain subjects—mental illness among them—that I don’t have that luxury with. You can guess my diagnosis if you want, but suffice it to say that I take a ton of meds and have problems conducting myself in an orderly fashion, especially in any remotely professional setting. I sulk a lot and also am given to extremely irrational outbursts. Case closed.
When it comes to mental illness and possibly drugs, I turn into the worst kind of Sports Shouting (or drab Romantic) fan. White has only ever been so interesting to me. I’ve been eager to see him to succeed, one damaged brain to another, but compared to Delonte West or Ricky Williams, White, his situation, and his diagnosis are—at the risk of sounding like the worst person on Earth—a little too familiar, too relatable. If we want athletes to provide us with something to look up to or scoff at from above, then White, whose workplace drama and solid skill-set are a far cry from Williams walking away from football because he felt like it; West, a versatile and charismatic guard, riding around on a Rascal with a submachine gun like he saw on Storage Wars; or even the chronic outbursts of Sheed or DeMarcus Cousins.
White is no anthem or metaphor. Nor does readily lend himself to mythology, however dark. He’s a dude trying to do his job with a condition that makes it hard for him. Courageously, he has decided to push back instead of knuckling under and causing himself untold amounts of psychic hassle. It’s activism for the mentally ill in sports, a template for persons more ordinary, a throwback to liberation movements of the days when such things really worked, and perhaps a preview of what the inevitable First Gay Athlete will look like.
What Royce White isn’t, though, is a caricature, an exception, or the kind of singularly self-destructive being whose rise and fall we talk about for years. He succeeds or fails on remarkably practical terms. It’s unlikely White will ever achieve on-court immortality. And for now, his struggle is being pitched very much like a stand against the system, not someone already driven to extremes by its proscriptions.
But still, I can’t help but fixate on those other athletes, the ones who make my life seem bigger and more unpredictable as opposed to White, one whose life serves as some reflection of my own. That’s the problem with nearly all sports-watching, and the escapist/happy tribalism excuse only ever answers so much. At bottom, we should watch because we find ourselves, or the world as we know it. If sports belongs only to knights and robots, we are that much closer to a video game universe and entertainment (or community ritual) becomes that much more dehumanizing—for audience and participant alike.
The problem is, there’s a gulf between what it feels like to watch sports, unencumbered, and all the baggage we bring to it. It should be ourselves. Instead, it’s the pregame and the nonsense cant of jock wisdom. In those terms, White is a nuisance, not a character. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with characters. Only that, when there’s something very real on the line, we would do well to remember that sports belong to the world, not the other way around. I would do well to remind myself of that. That’s what I meant to say.
I have been worried since it was announced this movie was actually going to happen that Steven Spielberg’s Lincolnis going to be another exhibit of hero worship that so often accompanies these larger-than-life characters from mainstream American history. You know how it goes: The United States is in need of a hero, and there’s one man willing and capable of taking on the challenge. And through some great intelligence, oratory mastery and fierce leadership, he pulls the nation out of a rut. Serious Batman shit.
There’s no doubt most of America would be perfectly fine with this. Heroes are great for a country’s morale, and few are more universally celebrated in this country. This can largely be attributed to a rather lackluster historical education we receive. Unless you took an AP US History course, your Civil War knowledge is likely confined to what happened from Fort Sumter to Appomattox. In this context, Lincoln was the Union’s great leader for a side devoid of any other during the first half of the war. Through his strength, the North was able to outlast the South, win the war and free the slaves.
But if you expand the time frame of the war to decades before, and delve deep into the politics behind different sides, you’ll find that pure uncompromising abolitionists were really a small group of extremists whose political clout Southerners tried to exaggerate in order to intensify resentment from the people in that region. Lincoln was not a part of those extremists. He ran on a platform that would have restricted the spread of slavery in newly acquired territory, but would have allowed slavery to continue where it already existed. In other words, if the South had just relaxed and not started a war that would devastate parts of it right up to the present day, slavery would have remained legal well past Lincoln’s presidency. Add to that his massive abuse of power during the course of the war, and the portrait of Abraham Lincoln begins to become much less divine.
And now the development of this portrait is being inherited by Steven Spielberg. I’ve seen all but one of his feature films (what in the world isAlways?), and they all fit into two camps: the emotionally manipulative (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark) and the relentlessly brutal (The Color Purple,Munich). Both camps can produce amazing films most of the time. And even the former can produce honest historical analysis (if not always accurate), as seen byAmistad, which took a previously unfairly mocked president in John Quincy Adams and emphasized his commitment to that era’s version of civil rights.
Lincolnlooks like it’s going to take on the same feel ofAmistad, a talk-heavy film dealing with the internal struggle between political and moral obligations. And while this might allow for some excess in romanticism to be instilled in the film, and the exclusion of the more repugnant aspect of the administration such as the suspension of habeas corpus, at least this debate is happening. From the looks of it, it seems pretty clear that Lincoln will not initially possess the ambition to eliminate slavery, but instead will be talked into it as the war progresses. This gives me a good deal of hope that people will begin to see just how complex Lincoln’s political life actually was. His was not the life of a saint, but one with a legacy vastly improved by the reckless actions of the South. It cannot be denied that slavery was abolished much sooner because Lincoln was elected, and the fact that he did eventually end it deserves some degree of credit. But much more credit needs to be given to the abolitionists surrounding him, and my hopes are still alive that they get their due.
The other initially awesome aspect of this trailer is Daniel Day-Lewis unconventional portrayal of the 16th president. An article in Slate shows how historically accurate the voice and posture are. I would add that it takes a good deal of bravery to do this as well. Traditionally, Lincoln and others like him have been portrayed as strong, upright men with booming voices, more like generals than politicians. Those portrayals leave no confusion over why an entire nation would follow him to whatever end. This Lincoln is … not that. This Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was probably heard by like two people. This Lincoln’s legendary height would probably be cut off a few inches because of all that slouchin’. There is nothing God-like about him. There is nothing (outside of a magnificent beard) that separates him from everyone else. It’s exactly the type of normalization that is necessary for faith in an honest film to remain in tact.
(Lincolndoesn’t come out until Oscar season. In the mean time, if you want a little taste of what you might expect, I’d recommend Amazing Grace, which looks remarkably similar, just with more British-ness. It also doesn’t have Sally Field, which is a good thing, or Adam Driver, which is a bad thing. It’s a good, though sometimes cheesy, film, which is probably what we’ll be seeing in a few months.
In 2008, there was as big a phenomenon as politics has ever seen (and after the buzzkill of the past four years, likely will ever see). A Democratic party that was coming off two yawn-inducing presidential campaigns needed a jolt of energy. It got about a thousand when Barack Obama improbably defeated Hillary Clinton in the primaries. Suddenly the party had an identity again, one built on hope and change. Congressional and local candidates were able to jump aboard this bandwagon, to unquestionable success. This was especially true in House races, where unknown candidates can ride the coattails of a movement to Washington D.C.
Fast forward four years: The change never really happened in a substantial way. The hope in politicians is gone once again. And the voters’ faith in Democrats evaporated as they gave the House back to the Republicans. After Obama took no big steps to reduce military spending, Democrats could no longer claim to be the anti-war party. After he stayed out of Congress’s policy-making process, systematic reformation was no longer feasible. After refusing for three years to take a hard stand on marriage equality, the party even lost a moral edge.
But then the party received another boost, albeit this one very different. The tea party wing of the Republican party decided, without any particular reason at all, that it was going to bring social issues to the forefront. What followed has been two years of hilariously offensive remarks and incredibly regressive policies that managed to invigorate a certain section of the Republican base, while alienating the rest of the country. Women began feeling more threatened than they had in decades. Gays and minorities wondered if they mattered to these politicians at all. And worst of all for the GOP, this wing began to influence the establishment to the point that the party platform has been re-shaped to fit in these extremist views.
This ideological shift created an opportunity for the Democrats, and for once they pounced on it. For once, they responded with aggression. They became a party that was committed to fighting on behalf of women, gays and minorities. The John Kerrys and Ted Kennedys lost their influence. The Sandra Flukes and Elizabeth Warrens took their place. This was the party you saw the past three days at their convention. The young and the oppressed were featured heavily, and party leaders did not force them to mince their words. What you saw was a party unified against intolerance, and frankly, against stupidity. I admit to not having seen many, but this was by far the best convention I’ve ever watched.
And at the end of it was Barack Obama, the man who has been so far behind this movement. He did eventually come out in support of gay marriage, but in a completely passive way and only after other party leaders had forced his hand. He makes statements condemning the offensive remarks coming from the other side, but has not really done anything to push back. And then he gives a speech at the end of a week filled with amazing speeches that was safe and unremarkable. He heavily touted his foreign policy successes, not mentioning that just the day before one of his drones had killed multiple civilians. It built on silly ideas of faux-patriotism and American dreams, and not on the issues that actually threaten the people of this country. Equality was mentioned, but in passing, not in a way that would offend anyone. It was a speech remarkably similar to his first term: wary and disingenuous.
So now we have a Democratic party as ready for a major campaign as it has ever been, with a leader that does not know how he fits in. This has to make you wonder whether the roles are reversed. Will it be Obama who is now relying on a re-energized base excited for what a party, and not an individual, has to offer? Political logic shows that both benefit when one succeeds. It’s just amazing after what we saw four years ago that it is now the greatest orator in modern American politics who needs a little help.
The usual opinion is that Christian pop music is the most derivative genre because the industry wants to bring in young people, so they just appeal to what they think young people think is cool. But I contend that American Idol records are more derivative than that, because it’s a company that is solely concerned with making songs that will rank high in the charts, so they are gonna combine everything they think can make money into one composition. Hence a song that sounds exactly like Mumford & Sons.
For the two of you wondering why I just don’t use The Dark City Times, my old website, as my blog, I decided that I’m just gonna leave that as a product of college students experiencing their college lives. So unless somebody else decides that they want to continue running the site, I’m afraid that there will be no new posts there. I thought about writing a farewell post, but then realized that the last post up there is my favorite thing I’ve written, and actually concludes what I thought what the mission of the site really was: providing an alternative, critical view of Northern Arizona University.
The site obviously wasn’t what I originally wanted it to be, which was a full-fledge website involving a good many people, but I still enjoyed the hell out of it, and am glad I did it. I’m proud of a lot of it (not all of it, especially the lack of any consistency with the volume of updates), and I hope you liked at least one thing from it. It will stay up for memory’s and career’s sake. But if anyone wants to keep it going, let me know and I’ll be happy to let you.
By far the worst part of anything I write, whether it be an essay or an article or a column, is the beginning. It doesn’t matter how developed the rest of the piece is in my head, I just never know how to start. People tell me that I should just start writing the body without the introduction. This is madness to me. How does that happen? As I write, I am constantly thinking about how each word flows into the next. So I can’t write backwards.
So here I was staring at this blank Tumblr page the same way I stare at a blank Word document, realizing that once things get kicked off, content will flow out. I guess the problem is that I never know what I want the piece to feel like until I’ve truly fleshed out my thoughts, so I just feel uncomfortable with every idea. I didn’t want a typical introduction, because that’s boring. I didn’t want a mission statement, because this blog isn’t that important (and I would have to come up with a mission statement). I didn’t want to start off with something heavy. I was lost.
Then I remembered this is the Internet, so who cares?
There. Now I’m ready to go.