Saturday, May 03, 2008
Outside the Aviary: Can't Knock the Hustle
Last night, I read poetry in front of an audience with like-minded individuals and it was good. Really good. All of us read well-- inexperienced voices warbling from time to time, hands shaking, timidity peeking through-- and kept the audience interested.
In fact, it was so good that we were all smiles afterward. There was no need to critique or ask for more work-- everyone handed around their poems or stories and made promises to revive the series sometime soon. It was the kind of night that made you want to stick with writing as a non-lucrative form. Worth it, you know?
I can't help but find myself stuck on the Bissinger-Leitch wretchedness after a night like last night. Unapologetically, I find myself on the side of the bloggers. There are, however numerous good points to be made on the side of the old-school sportswriters as well. To use the crutch of humanizing sports is not correct. To use the crutch of profane bashing of athletes and then pretend it only happens on the internet (or internet-crutching as I call it) is wrong. In fact, the whole debate is wrong.
Fellow writers, this isn't about old-school theory versus new-school aptitude or Ring Lardner rolling in his grave or even John Feinstein's relevance to college-age students. It is about lining the metaphorical pockets of writers. That's it. Leitch does what he does and I like it. I could care less about the Leinart photos. I don't like the blogs he most idolizes. Bissinger does what he does and I have no complaints. I don't like his smarmy demenaor in real-life or his idea of writing in general. At the end of the day, however, the relevance of blogs and newspapers have convoluted the actual argument. I am surprised to have to write it down.
The internet is the only hope we have at a society of voices. The internet is Emma Goldman's dream. The internet is the structural counterbalance to a society of control. Bissinger and Costas are scared, but not because they are less relevant. They are scared because SPORTS are less relevant. Seeing pictures of our sports stars as drunk, half-naked womanizers or car-crashing alcoholics destroys the idea of relevance en total. It's not humanization that strikes fear into the major markets, it's dehumanization. Sportswriters have spent years kneeling at the alter of idolatry. Writers in general have been over-hyping everything under the sun. I'm guilty. I'll do anything to be noticed (I read a poem about tacos last night, for Christ's sake).
If we actually saw the tapes of Ty Cobb's cleats purposefully tearing into flesh, if we actually saw a piece on Babe Ruth drunk driving and spitting at cops, if we actually saw Adolph Rupp laugh at the black applicants to Kentucky-- we would have to start writing about the games again. It's all circular, and at the center of the "blog versus the world" argument is not the dumbing down of America but the education of the unheard voice-- the untrained eye. At the center of the argument is the same principle that drives businesses from multi-national corporations to the corner stores: the greed of attention.
This is writer versus writer-- a battle of contrition for attention. This is the idea of how brilliance and talent are displayed. The argument is whether or not sports matter at all. Blogs (at least the ones being singled out) are pointing out the frivolity of life-- the meatheads run the asylum, but we can still laugh at them behind curtains or foment the inevitable jealousy with a quip or picture of their non-perfect form. The vanity project that is idolatry is dying, not newswriting. Buzz Bissinger isn't mad at foul language or trashy pseudo-journalism. He's mad that the ideas of his father and generations of old white folks are irrelevant. Leitch isn't mad that he's considered a lesser writer by the generation before him. He's mad that sports have become so passionate that being dispassionate is not allowed. Bissinger's not irrelevant and neither is Leitch. They argue their mutual visceral contempt because the readers won't come otherwise.
The readers: the marginalized continue to traverse the divide between fact and fiction. Braylon Edwards isn't a hero, but he catches a ball really well. Buzz Bissinger isn't a hero, but he aggrandizes an otherwise unimportant occurrence well. Will Leitch isn't a hero (though he played one on TV), but he trivializes the already trivial well. All three of them are important, but, quite possibly, they don't know why they are. We do.
Meanwhile, the writers and athletes argue and tear down the rehashed ideas. The hero worship continues. The righteous suffer and etc., etc., etc. Meanwhile, I was there and I participated when four writers defended the faith and co-existed despite the possibility of petty jealousy or spiteful thoughts. We put our pieces out there and left the idealizing and aggrandizing to the small crowd of interested parties-- the readers. That's what our job was and we did it together and, my word, it was beautiful.
Tear down what you will. Argue what you must, but the foundation is shaking and we're all a little afraid of what that might mean. It may never crumble-- their will still be heroes and altars after all. Pretending it is not shaking or trumping up it's eventual destruction will do nothing but exasperate the readers. It will drive to give more voices and less education. Writers are destroying their own foundation. Bissinger v. Leitch will not go down as the critical mass, but it shows the shrinking separation that exists in the minds of the masses; the all-too-important readers.