The Super Bowl As A Cultural Marker

football on the field at the Los Angeles stadiumWhen I was a journalism/communications student at then Point Park College, now Point Park University, one of my professors had a saying about sports and its impact on American culture: “Sports can be news but news can’t be sports.”

The point is, events in sports both on and off the field can seep into the world outside of sports. From Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the barrier blocking Black players from participating in Major League Baseball to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling to protest police brutality, sports often reflects the culture in real and interesting ways. One of the reasons why I like the “intellectual approach” to sportswriting, the style of George Plimpton, Frank DeFord, Christine Brennan, and Charles Pierce, who understand how sports influences culture and vice versa.

Last night’s Super Bowl was a pretty good example of sports as a cultural marker in several interesting and at times, disconcerting ways. First off, the part of the Big Show that always seems to get the armchair critics rushing to social media with their Hot Takes: the halftime show.

Last night’s spectacle was fitting for the location of the venue: A salute to hip-hop, a recognition of sorts of its impact on our culture, and one that was heavy West Coast/Los Angeles-focused. Full disclosure: having grown up in York, Pennsylvania, the hip-hop part of my music fandom was mainly falling on the East Coast/Native Tongues side, so my favorite part of it was New Yorker Mary J. Blige, and less L.A. denizens Snoop Dogg/Dr. Dre.

Such a full-on embrace of hip-hop at the Super Bowl probably was a long-time coming, given how long hip-hop has been an American cultural force. After all, we are about 45 years out from the birth of it. Caught up in racial controversies recently, the NFL probably was looking to look good by showcasing Black American music. From truly canceling Kaepernick over his kneeling protests (funny how the Cancel Culture Warriors remained quiet about an actual canceling, isn’t it?) to most recently, a lawsuit that brought a ton of scrutiny on the NFL’s coach hiring practices, recently the league has not really looked too good.

So, they offered up a slate of mainly classic hip-hop, since outside of Kendrick Lamar, the performers’ ages range from the mid-40s to the mid-50s. In my opinion, they put on quite a show.

Of course, given the propensity for white conservatives to treat Black music not as something that isn’t their cup of tea but instead, The Greatest Threat to Our Way of Life, the right-wing is having a moment. Semi-Sentient Pile of Pig Poo Charlie Kirk, who is apparently the World’s Oldest 28-year-old, went on the Twitter thing to shake his cane at the heathens. Yes, despite the National Narrative that it is those darn mean progressives who want to cancel everything, here’s Chuck stating that the halftime show shouldn’t be allowed on television.

In addition, Bush-Hiding Chump Sean Spicer leaped in to DEMAND WHAT THE MESSAGE IS. I guess Eminem kneeling was a trigger moment because someone paying tribute to a Black athlete who sacrificed his career to speak out about police killing Black people was too much for them. I guess you have to be white and whining that people want you to do something that would help others for it to be a legitimate protest.

Along with the halftime show, the commercials are always a subject of attention, as people talk about which ones they love and which ones they hate. This year, just how many were focused on money itself has been a subject of discussion. Lots of crypto-focused commercials, which depending on how you feel about cryptocurrency are either going to be remembered similarly to commercials by failed Internet companies in the late 1990s or a sign of great things to come. Continue reading “The Super Bowl As A Cultural Marker”

Excess and Access

National Baseball Hall Of Fame, Cooperstown New York
National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY

.A warning before we start. This is going to be a sports essay. If you are not into sports, hang on till the end, I promise I’ll bring this around to current affairs.

You may have heard the gnashing of teeth and grinding of axes over the non-induction of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens to the baseball Hall of Fame. This was their tenth year of eligibility and I don’t have the time or desire to explain the ins and outs of HOF voting but suffice it to say the two most dominant players of their era were told by the voters “so sad, too bad, you juice you lose”.

The Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) are the folks who vote for or against induction into the Hall. Enough of them have taken the stand that anyone who used performance enhancing drugs is a cheater and should thus be banned from induction. So far major names from the steroid era, Bonds, Clemens, Sosa, McGwire, A-Rod, et al have failed to win election and either have or will soon fall from the ballot without induction.

Except for the guys they really liked and who, in the voters minds, might have used PEDs, might not, we’re not sure so we’re gonna just take a pass and pass them into the Hall or in other words, give them a hall pass. Like the one player who did get elected this year, David Ortiz. He was only tangentially mentioned in the Mitchell Report, MLB’s investigation into PED use that was released in 2007.

There are two things I think that are important to remember about the Steroid Era ™. The first is that it indeed was an era. It lasted from the late 1980’s or thereabouts until 2003 or thereabouts. In 1991 Major League Baseball banned the use of any PEDs, but they had no testing for it until 2003. Think about that for a moment. For twelve years players could use PEDs pretty much without fear of retribution because without testing there was no way to prove players were using. It was during that period that the record for most home runs in a season was broken twice and the Mark McGwire vs. Sammy Sosa “Long Gone Summer” took place.

While I think it’s absurd to think every major leaguer was using, I don’t think it’s absurd to think most major leaguers were using. In fact I think there were so many who were using that the level playing field moralists are always arguing steroids upended was actually level. If enough players were using then they were all back on even ground. Should they have been using? It’s easy now to say they shouldn’t have, but back in an age when there was no mechanism to see who was and who wasn’t, the pressure to use must have been acute. I’m not talking about pressure from teammates alone. I think the pressure to use came in subtle forms from managers, coaches, and even owners.

“Gee, we’re really looking for a shortstop who can give us 25-30 dingers a year and you’re only popping 10-15. What do you think you can do to get those numbers up? If you can’t, we’re gonna have to look elsewhere and we don’t want to do that since we’re gonna offer you a new multi-year, multi-million dollar contract”.

Money talks, the “pure” ballplayer walks on four pitches to first, down the foul line,  and out the bullpen gate.

Bottom of the ninth, two outs, bases loaded, click below for more

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Chinese Checkers

Beijing Winter Olympics 2002 Logo

In two weeks the Winter Olympic Games ™ will begin in China.

I won’t be watching.

I will be boycotting these games. My physical attendance was never going to happen, so my boycott will be of the television kind. And I strongly urge you to join with me on this boycott journey.

First of all let’s face it, nobody really cares about winter sports unless they or a family member are playing them. Strapping boards on your feet and sliding down a mountain trying to be one tenth of a second faster than the other guy is not compelling sports viewing. Really, it is like auto racing, we’re just waiting for the crash. Don’t get me started on ice skating, a “sport” tailored to be a cesspool of corruption. Ice hockey? I have the NHL for that, if I really need it. Luge, bobsled, cross country skiing? Fine things to do, but a bore to watch. Now curling, that’s something I could get into, but until they let the curlers (don’t call them athletes) play it in their natural habitats, ie, with a beer can in their hands, I’ll pass.

But all that’s just my distaste for winter sports. That’s not the real reason I’ll be boycotting.

Did I mention these games are taking place in China? You remember China. The land that censorship loves so much it bought a timeshare there. The land of suppression and repression. Where surveilling leads to jailing. Where human rights are thrown into the back seat of a police car never to be heard from again. Yeah, that China.

China, or to be more correct the city of Beijing, was selected to host these Olympics through some pretty dubious means. Back in 2014 when the selection election was held, Oslo Norway was the leading candidate. That made perfect sense since, well, Oslo is well known for it’s winters, i.e., they have plenty of naturally occurring snow and ice. But at the last minute the International Olympic Committee (IOC) threw in demands such as:

“Diva-like demands for luxury treatment” for the IOC members themselves, such as special lanes on all roads only to be used by IOC members and cocktail reception at the Royal Palace with drinks paid for by the royal family. IOC also “demanded control over all advertising space throughout Oslo” to be used exclusively by IOC’s sponsors, something that is not possible in Norway because Norway is a liberal democracy where the government doesn’t own or control “all advertising space throughout Oslo” much of which is privately owned and has no authority to give a foreign private organization exclusive use of an entire city and private property within it.

Now the IOC is pretty well known for being a little footloose and fancy free when it comes to demanding things from potential host cities, but that was ridiculous. It actually sounds to me like the IOC made these requirements with the idea of gaming the election so that ONLY Beijing would be able to win. As it stands the only competitor for these games after Oslo pulled out was Almaty Kazakhstan, another Asian country with dubious credentials when it comes to human rights (but notably better than the Chinese).

So Beijing becomes the first city to ever host both a summer and a winter Olympics and they will have done both in the span of 14 years, far quicker than any other two time host city ever has. Then again, while once upon a time cities fought tooth and nail to get an Olympics now they mostly have an ambivalence about them, especially the winter games. Let’s face it, as a ski destination you only have a few months to make money and if those months have to be given over to preparing for and then hosting an event you don’t make money on, well thanks but no thanks.

But having the IOC game the system for them is the least of my problems with China hosting these games. Let’s talk about what they are requiring of those attending the games, both participants and partisans.

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Saturday Odds & Sods: When Push Comes To Shove

Grand Jazz Band, New Orleans by Jean Dubuffet.

My insomnia is back so I’ll keep it short and snappy. We’re still experiencing Winter Weather Whiplash and I’m still dubious about Carnival 2021. If it happens, I may turn into a Carnival Scrooge for this year. Bah humbug.

This week’s theme song was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter for the Dead’s 1987 album, In The Dark. It’s my favorite Dead studio album and I’ve studiously listened to them all.

We have two versions of When Push Comes To Shove for your listening pleasure: the studio original and a live version from NYE 1987. Jerry was not in good voice that night, but Brent Mydland makes up for it with some pianistic perfection. The guitar player is pretty good too.

It’s time for a trip to Disambiguation City with a Van Halen tune with the same title.

Go ahead and jump to the break.

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Gotta Support The Team

Indian and Pakistani Cricket Players

Imagine this. You’re sitting at home watching a sporting event and chatting via text with a few of your friends. Let’s say you’re living in Dallas and the Cowboys are playing the San Francisco 49ers, but even though you live in Texas you and your buds are fans of the 49ers. The Niners win the game and the congratulatory texts go back and forth.

Then the Dallas police show up at your doors and arrest all of you for being prejudicial to the national interest of Texas. And when you try to get a lawyer to help you out of this mess you find out all the lawyers in Texas won’t defend you, not because you can’t pay, but because they don’t want to be seen defending you.

As Kafkaesque as this situation sounds, it is the reality for eight people currently in Indian jails because they posted texts of support for the Pakistan national cricket team in it’s match against India on WhatsApp. They have been in jail for over two months. Some have lost their jobs, some have been expelled from their schools. All have had their lives and the lives of their loved ones threatened.

All of them have been told in no uncertain terms that there are no lawyers in a country of 1.4 billion people who will defend them.

All this over a fucking cricket match.

In case you aren’t aware, India and Pakistan have a long and tortured history dating back to the 1947 partition that created the two states. Actually it goes back even further because this is a religious issue, Hindu India versus Muslim Pakistan that goes as far back as the founding of those two religions. Once again, it’s a situation of my version of Sky Daddy is better than your version of Sky Daddy.

So for an Indian teacher or student to put into writing their admiration for the way the Pakistan team played the game or for the way they handled their victory or even to say you liked the look of their uniforms is not a matter of personal opinion but rather a matter of treason. At least to the Indian authorities. And thus our group of Pakistan fans have all been arrested for “promoting enmity and disrupting religious harmony”.

Sporting events are supposed to help countries to come together and find common ground in the language of athletic achievement. At least that’s what NBC always says at the beginning of every Olympics. Instead, the ancient and modern animus that exists between Indians and Pakistanis has a new chapter to add to their epic novel of hatred.

The notion of an Indian state that Gandhi and Nehru envisioned was that of a multicultural, multi-religious, sectarian state. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, etc. all living and working together in peace and harmony. But the British, who held power in the area, decided that Hindus and Muslims couldn’t play nice together and divided the nation into a majority Hindu area (what is now India) and two majority Muslim areas (what is now Pakistan to the west and what is now Bangladesh to the east). This caused a refugee crisis as Muslims left India for Pakistan and Hindus left Pakistan for India. In the chaos that ensued it is estimated that 14.5 million people left their homes to live in whichever religious majority country they were affiliated with. The peaceful transition hoped for never materialized with estimates of anywhere from several hundred thousands to a number in the low millions being killed. To this day the tensions between the two countries run high and are enhanced by the fact they both have nuclear weapons.

Click the link to continue with this surreal tale.

Continue reading “Gotta Support The Team”

Saturday Odds & Sods: Bluebird

Toucan by Henri Rousseau.

It’s cold enough in New Orleans that I broke down and turned on the central heat. We’ve been making do with space heaters and extra blankets. I hate the burning dust smell when the unit is first switched on. It usually gives me a headache and it happened again. Oh well, what the hell.

Sunday is a Saints home game against the arch-rival Atlanta Falcons. A friend gave us his tickets so I’m going. It’s the first real crowd I’ve been in since the Cursed Carnival of 2020. I’m nervous but vaccines or negative COVID tests are required. The mask mandate has been lifted here but I plan to mask up like Zorro. I’ll leave the saber at home for obvious reasons. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

This week’s featured image is a Toucan by French primitive artist Henri Rousseau. This week’s theme song is about a different bird altogether. Bluebird was written in 1967 by Stephen Stills as a follow-up single to Buffalo Springfield’s monster hit, For What It’s Worth. It was an Odds & Sods theme song last year, FWIW.

There are many swell versions of Bluebird out there. We’re showcasing four: the Buffalo Springfield original, the James Gang with Joe Walsh, Bonnie Raitt, and Los Lobos.

Now that we’ve been mesmerized by the depth of her eyes, let’s join hands and jump to the break.

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