Saturday, January 9, 2010

More On Football.

My last post started a great conversation, most of which migrated to facebook. My friend M, whose status update during the Texas game the other night spurred me to write my original post, posted a note, an essay, on facebook about her relationship with football fandom. (I think if you're not M's facebook friend, you won't be able to read it.)

This is terribly oversimplifying what was a long, thoughtful rumination, but M's main point is that the joy of being a football fan is that it's fun (and maybe therapeutic?) to be a part of a big crowd all enjoying the same thing. She also made the point -- and this was new to me and illuminating -- that a big part of the fun of being a fan is enjoying one's own performance. It's fun to scream at the TV, to celebrate or commiserate with co-workers the day after a big game, etc. It's a thrill to work yourself up into hysterics, to scream and cry. I get that. It's like fainting at an Elvis concert.

My friend C says she loves football for all the theater that goes on around the game, and she sent me these amazing clips. I love this stuff -- and you don't need any specialized knowledge to get what's going on here. I would've been much more into football if they'd had stuff like this at my high school, but I would probably have left after halftime:

So what is football? It's not just theater, not just spectacle, entertainment. American Idol is hugely popular but still doesn't inspire the fervor that football does. It's not an athletic contest. The Olympics is an athletic contest, and, though people get passionate about it for a week every year, there's not the kind of communal frothing at the mouth you see at a football game. People get passionate for sure about some Olympic events and athletes, but it doesn't even come close to the mass scale of the craziness of football fans.

The only thing I can think of that sets football apart, or above, is the risk of injury, the physical abuse that is tolerated (encouraged? expected? demanded?) by the spectators. As M points out:
Training your body to run really hard into another human being has no athletic benefit whatsover. Players get really hurt and except for the small percentage of them who can make a career out of it (and even those guys, but that involves a longer explanation) are totally exploited (even if they do so willingly and are convinced, at the time, that they are having the greatest time of their lives). Athletic departments, TV networks, and advertisers make billions of dollars off the backs (and shoulders and knees and legs)of teenagers who, if you were to really tally it up, receive very little compensation.
It will take a much more knowledgeable scholar of theater and sports to follow the threads from gladiator games to American football, but it seems to me that the human sacrifice element of the game is essential. Without it, nobody would be interested, right?

Friday, January 8, 2010


My friend M last night in her facebook status update wrote something like "I can't believe this is happening," and I knew right away that it had something to do with football. This time of year in Texas (like during the World Series in New York) I just sort of bear down and wait for people to stop talking about it. (I don't care if they won or lost, just please let it be over.)

From what I understand there was a game last night and Texas lost. People are sad. Other people, obviously, are happy. My first response is something along the lines of "Oh, please, how old are you?" Sports bring out my ungenerous side. I just do not want to hear about it. I can totally channel my mother at the dinner table when I was a little kid railing about how much time and money is spent in schools on sports compared to academics and the arts. And now that I live in a town dominated by a huge university and most of my friends are somehow connected with academia, and I live in a state obsessed with college football, I hear those conversations again. A lot. (The UT football coach makes $5 million a year. Justify that.)

We could trace my negative attitude back to scenes of schoolyard humiliation, gender anxiety, it's all very interesting stuff, but as I've gotten older I've actually made a lot of progress in cultivating a more open and curious attitude toward the sports thing. It's so fucking important to so many people, it has to be interesting in some way. I want to know what it's about. It's like video games and comic books and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Such a big deal for so many people that I think to be more versed in them would deepen my understanding of the world in some way, so I try to find out, read, ask questions, observe. I try. But it doesn't take long before I'm so lost and bored I think my eyes are going to explode. (The fact that all of the subcultures I mentioned above are traditionally male is not lost on me.)

So. Today everyone is going to be talking about what it was that happened last night. I think, okay I'm going to look it up and at least find out what it was that happened. Not that I have any desire to really engage in a conversation about the game but I at least want to have some very basic context for all the remarks I will overhear. Give me the broad strokes. I go to the New York Times sports section and read the story. Texas lost, that's the gist. And I should have stopped reading there because by the second paragraph I'm totally lost:
"On Texas’ fifth snap of the Bowl Championship Series title game Thursday night, Alabama defensive lineman Marcell Dareus leveled Texas quarterback Colt McCoy with a punishing hit on an option play."
What the hell are they talking about? I'm right back in fifth grade gym class. We're playing flag football; there was never any discussion of the rules, yet I'm expected to know them. It doesn't get any better: "In an era in which spread offenses have come to dominate college football, Alabama’s claim to a 13th national title comes with a game won squarely between the tackles." I get the same feeling reading Foucault. There's nothing unusual or difficult about the sentences grammatically, and the words are familiar. But its meaning is completely opaque to me.

So I'm wondering this: Is there any other field besides sports that is covered in the mainstream media using such arcane jargon? It seems to me that a person who knew very little about, say, food, or politics, or theatre, could read a story about them in the Times and maybe he or she would have to look up a word or two but would be able to follow the story in a general way. Am I right? Since I know a bit about food, politics, and the arts, it's hard for me to judge, but after glancing at a few stories this morning it looks like subjects other than sports are written about in plain language aimed at a general reader, not a specialist. If that it true, then why?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Ray's Candy Store.

Last time I was in the East Village I noticed that this place was still there and I was I have to admit amazed because pretty much nothing in the East Village is still there. I wondered how it was possible, and I decided the guy must own the building because otherwise how could this little newstand/candy store survive the cultural nuclear bomb they call gentrification in New York? I can't even imagine how high the rent must be for a storefront on Avenue A. Turns out he doesn't own the building, and he's in trouble, and I can't express how sad this story makes me.

J and I met in late May of 1992. We both lived on East 10th St, around the corner and a few short blocks from Ray's. He lived between 1st and 2nd, in the studio apartment that we would eventually share for 6 years. I lived between 1st and A, two doors west of the Russian baths. That first summer, our routine was that we would have sex, then walk to Ray's and get chocolate milkshakes.

(I gained 40 pounds -- let's just say we had a lot of milkshakes -- I grew out of my costume, and I went on Slim-Fast (for real) to lose the weight, but then every sweet romantic story has a dark side, doesn't it?)

We would walk back to my place and sit on the stoop and drink our shakes. We made up the first Y'all songs during those bliss and sugar-fueled evenings on the stoop watching the East Village go by. Boy, that was a long time ago.