Trash-Talking, Sports Poetics, and Rex Ryan

Rex Ryan

Normally, the Jets' and Rex Ryan's arrogant behavior would bug me. Not last Sunday...

Here’s a rule to remember when it comes to the level of amusement/annoyance that one might feel when it comes to the emotional responses elicited by sports fans in relation to a certain team or athlete’s level of braggadocio (ornate word, yeah, but I feel like it fits here):

A spectator’s enjoyment of trash-talking/rivalry/insults on the part of a professional athlete/coach/sports team that is elevated to pervasive media spectacle is indirectly proportional to that spectator’s relative understanding/devotion/appreciation of the game that the aforementioned entity plays.*

I enjoyed last Sunday’s playoff game between the New York Jets and the New England Patriots a lot more than I should have. My enjoyment wasn’t specifically a product of the asinine and somewhat forced rivalry that the media seemed to manufacture between these two teams, but it was thoroughly enhanced by the way that Rex Ryan leveraged that media machine to bolster his team. Deadspin’s Nate Jackson wrote a great piece about Rex Ryan’s Trash-Talking that explains the coach’s motivations very well, but I still have to understand why I personally enjoyed it so much. Frankly, any situation that produces a scenario in which a professional athlete is compelled to use a press conference as an extended metaphor for foot fetishism on the part of an opposing coach seems like a hilariously refreshing change from the requisitely meaningless sports banter and godawful pre-game nonsense that seems to define most NFL Sundays. I laughed out loud when it was announced that Welker was benched for his “innuendo-filled” press conference. Suddenly, a game I didn’t give a damn about was made exponentially more exciting because of all this subtext, imagined or real. I actually thought that the Jets’ victory was a canny display of getting inside the other team’s head, coupled with an attitude and swagger that’s only displayed with the utmost confidence of teams that feel like they have something to prove.

Then, when I tried to express my joy to more stalwart NFL fans, I was met with the same basic response: “Damn, I hate the Jets and Rex Ryan. They’re a bunch of assholes.” Was I rooting for the bad guys this whole time? To see where my friends were coming from, I had to re-frame the situation: how would I have felt if I had rooted for a bragging, trash-talking NCAA men’s basketball team? Would I value the same variables and principles in the sport that I love and, more importantly, respect the most?

Hell, no. I watch college basketball without an affiliation to any team (other than possibly the SDSU Aztecs or my beloved, tortilla-flinging UCSB Gauchos) in order specifically to root for the underdogs and appreciate the mechanics of a well-played game of basketball with as little prejudice toward any program or player as possible. My enjoyment is determined by my love for the game played at its highest and most fundamental level, not for the various gossip and bad blood between the teams. Those variables might enter into my opinions of the teams themselves, but I take the most pride and pleasure in what happens on the court, and I would be loathe to root for anyone that talked as much shit as either the Patriots or the Jets did last week.

So, I guess what it comes down to is this: the less someone knows or cares about sport, the more outside factors and human drama they need to fill that sport with the same amount of passion and emotion that a true fan feels. I still don’t really care about football, but you can bet that I’ll be watching football at 3:30 PM this coming Sunday, praying for Rex Ryan to use “braggadocio” in a sentence.

*Of course, this whole rule is sort of negated if the spectator in question is a die-hard fan of a team playing their particular sport. Even as a lukewarm Chargers fan, I’m still convinced that Oakland Raiders fans watch football only for the opportunity to trash-talk and act like assholes. The whole football part is kind of irrelevant. Some of them are probably nice, though.

“Boys Town” and A Shooting in Tucson

What hasn’t been said already about Mr. Loughner and his (still alleged) consummate act of misguided violence against the world? It would be a waste of space to try to sum up any of the socio-political ramifications/causes of the shooting, or even to try to assert how irrelevant those might have been in regard to the act itself.

One thing that most people seem to recognize is that Loughner was deeply troubled in some way, and people that interacted with him had known this for some time. Rather than add more speculation, it might be interesting to point out James Shepard’s recent New Yorker short story “Boys’ Town“. Its protagonist is a veteran who people might describe as having “fallen on hard times”, but one of the more apparent themes of the story is that people, like Mr. Loughner, defined by an extreme loneliness and isolation from society rarely ever “fall” on hard times. They’ve always been on the ground struggling to get up. Anyone interested in what it might actually feel like to be a person stuck in this situation who ends up enacting a dark destiny they’ve moved toward their whole life.

A Love Foretold

HTC Evo

Evo, can't you see? We were meant to be.

Over two years ago, as a recent college graduate, I wrote a short blog about cell phones for a site called Media News and Reviews. Looking back on it last night, during a period of blogging torpor, I was surprised to find that I both a) somewhat predicted the fact that I’d eventually get an Android-powered phone that I really liked and b) I actually kind of enjoyed the blog post itself. Writing felt a bit more natural and easy in that summer period. Sometimes, it helps to look back to seemingly insignificant blips of personal history to bolster yourself in the present. A good reminder, now, after my first blissful Christmas with Anna Android.

Huckleberry Finn and Censorship

Huck Finn No N-Word

Will another version of "Huckleberry Finn" be released to redress instances of animal cruelty? Only time will tell.

A relatively eminent Mark Twain scholar named Alan Gribben (Auburn University) caused a vigorous uproar on the internet today by championing a new version of Twain’s classic novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” that replaced every instance of the word “nigger” with the word “slave” in the text. Of course, pundits and bloggers expressed a good deal of outrage at what could be considered a cowardly, reverse-PC censorship of a novel designed to indict the sort of close-minded bigotry and hatred suggested by the very word that was to be omitted. Most of these bloggers, however, failed to look back at the history of re-printing classic novels, or else they would have realized that this sort of word substitution and, shall we say, “conceptual re-adjustment” is pretty common practice. Here are a few other examples of politically correct re-prints that went by practically unnoticed in times before the internet controversy machine:

  • 1968 – Animal Rights groups successfully remove all mentions of whaling from Moby Dick, replacing the leviathan with an evil, pearl-white Communist submarine.
  • 1985 – Fourth re-printing of Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow features no scenes of explicit sex or drug use due to Conservative pressure; book subsequently goes from 750 pages to a more manageable 125.
  • 1992 – Neo-Conservative groups successfully lobby to eliminate any record of the writings, essays, and any actual proof of the existence of the Marquis de Sade. (You don’t know who he is, do you? Don’t bother Googling him.)

Were any of these changes protested as vehemently as the new “Huckleberry Finn” printing? Of course not, because they’re fake and patently ridiculous, just as the new “Huckleberry Finn” printing will be. For a succinct, sane take on the issue, please read Elon James‘ argument in his well-written Salon essay.

Blogs Of My Brother

Roomba Cat

A visual representation of the lofty standard of achievement that we can all aspire to in the New Year.

My brother very recently graduated from USC film school and has started a blog called In Which I Do Things I Don’t Like. As is so often the case in our creative lives, his effort is already more aesthetically pleasing and effortlessly more humorous than the three dour posts I’ve thrown up on this blog so far. I really need to change this blog’s name. Not even Malone and/or Stockton would name their blog something so asinine.

In the spirit of change, I also hope to change my blogging habits as well, gathering inspiration from my bro’s internet resolve. I put in a feeble writing effort just before the end of last year by participating in my first NaNoWriMo; still, the process did afford a few momentary brain spasms that lead to some pretty joyous writing. More of those moments need to come to fruition, so I am going to write each day, too. In this new expectation, I am resolute. All of this will be lost in the Google cache ether eventually, anyway, so I think I can get over the fear that besets all “two posts in six months” bloggers, namely that most of my posts will be soul-crushingly inane and only succeed in proving the meaninglessness of my opinions and thoughts. If I’ve learned one thing in my two years of working in blogging and internet video, it’s that all of one’s efforts should be conceived with great ambition and viewed with even greater humility. Chances are pretty good that, no matter how brilliant your musings may be, they will never attract as much praise as some cat riding a goddamn Roomba.

I may write about my efforts and/opinions in SEO (fans of the blog may remember that’s my job now), college basketball and other sports ephemera, and the dark, frighteningly absurd or absurdly frightening attic corners of the internet. Or, you know, whatever’s hot on Google Trends.

I’ll leave the Things That I Don’t Like Doing to Spence. Happy New Year.

Use Your Mind to Fight Evil

This week, I began working on what I like to think of as my graduate degree in internet studies: I started working as a full-time SEO specialist. Though I was confident about my new role when I explained what “SEO” stood for to my mom, I realize now that I have a long way to go in understanding the rigors and complexities of making one line of your content appear slightly higher on a Google search page.

Naturally, all things search-related have been the most relevant results in my brain as of late, and a Buzzfeed post brought me to the amusing, and absolutely necessary, world of SEOLOL. It chronicles many of the more unlikely searches that people have entered into the ubiquitous search engine, part schadenfreude-aggregator and part “psychological voyeurism”, as the site’s own FAQ puts it.

I think that it’s that psychological, and secretly social, aspect of SEO that excites me about my new job. It’s the study (and, yeah, exploitation a bit as well) of trends in human thought and interest and focus, tracking and recording its endless possibilities and creations. And, yeah, sometimes that’s going to involve poring over utterly disgusting, irrelevant, and ridiculous content from grainy celebrity sex tapes to (quoting SEOLOL) “Magic Spell[s] To Shut Someone Up.” But, I think that, over time, I’ll learn to love queries like Using Your Brain to Fight Evil, another blog entry that it’s forthright and sincere, something I never would’ve seen that resonates and ignites new search possibilities and meanings in my own mind.

I’m passing over into the business of trying to predict what the minds of millions of people hope to experience; during that process, I’ll do my best not to use my own mind for evil. I promise.

Library of Babble

“The Library is unlimited and cyclical. If an eternal traveler were to cross it in any direction, after centuries he would see that the same volumes were repeated in the same disorder (which, thus repeated, would be an order: the Order). My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.”

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel”, 1941

Yesterday, the Library of Congress announced (ironically, on their own Twitter stream) that they had acquired all public tweets since 2006 and would add said tweets to their national archives. It was easy to ridicule the Library’s decision initially, considering how inane, personal, and forgettable most Twitter streams seem to be (except for the dry, sardonic commentary of celebrities like Courtney Love, of course). But, if you really think about it, the decision seems like a refresingly progressive one  on the part of the Library, very shrewd and savvy Research 2.0. In its mission statement, the Library states that one of its main functions and goals is to act as a “repository of a universal collection of human knowledge and the creative work of the American people”. So, to be truly universal, of course the Library would have to collect even the most minor acts of creation, from a random American’s reaction to Iranian unrest to a bit of blue wisdom from Shit My Dad Says. The Library must assume that writing something on Twitter is equivalent to an act of creation, an addition to a larger and fledgling dialog of American life in the 21st century. Plus, it makes every Tweeter a pseudo-published author, which is a nice bonus!

Jorge Luis Borges was a brilliant Argentinian writer who spent the majority of his life in libraries. His adoration and fascination of libraries, as well as the dizzying collections of thoughts and feelings and fears they represented for him, was memorialized in his short story “The Library of Babel.” In a not-so-strange way, I see a real connection between the LOC’s Twitter acquisition and some of the ideas that Borges tried to express in his story. The story takes place inside a library, one so enormous that the people who traverse it consider it the universe; the people who inhabit it spend their whole lives searching for the tract that explains the universe and some go mad in the pursuit.

Borges was fascinated by ideas of infinity and repetition, patterns emerging out of humanity’s quest for a finite and complete understanding of knowledge and its impossibility in an infinite universe. Twitter is by no means transcendent, but it is also a huge database of a collective and codified American consciousness. It’s even time-stamped…we have had no record of creative, daily thought like this before. I think Borges would’ve been fascinated by the ramifications of a consciousness codebook like Twitter, especially as it expands.

If we continue to catalog social media and our most minute, day-to-day ramblings, will something meaningful eventually emerge? Are we all monkeys typing gibberish that eventually becomes Shakespeare? Or, as Borges tried to explain it in a rather elegant metaphor, are we creating one book that has an infinite amount of pages–one tome that contains The Order (big O)? Keep typing and I guess we’ll find out.