#31: a quick rant about stupid sports journalism

I really don’t like Gregg Easterbrook, the guy who writes the Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN.com and author of some books, apparently [he really enjoys making sure those of who read his column know about his books. The amount of self-reference borders on parody, if parody were intended to pimp one’s sales]. He’s pompous, he makes contradictory statements within the same paragraph, and his tiresome edict that undrafted / low draft pick players are superior because of their ‘desire to prove themselves’ makes me wonder if he has ever actually watched Peyton Manning play football.

His moral judgement of football’s lack of care for its players, its failure to initially acknowledge and now take on concussions, and the overt way owners hold cities ransom for public funding even though they are all billionaires making billions from these very people already, are things I do agree with. However, this guy also runs a ‘Cheerbabe of the Week’ every column that always makes sure to include a picture of the lady’s boobs in motion. Chauvinism! Football! Tits! Old Rich White Guy trifecta. His definition of football morality extends only to criticize the people in power–it’s really no different than some horny high school dweeb drawing anarchy signs all over the place while trying to look at porn on his high school computer. Gregg’s not actually making a critical analysis of football based on equality; he’s making one based on his own desire to showcase what he considers Manliness Virtues, which, apparently includes oggling underpaid, overworked, not-even-represented, women cheering on the sidelines.

He’s constantly conflating the idea of ‘traditional’ offenses with manliness, lamenting the spread offense and disparaging teams who don’t run the ball when he thinks they should. His entire view of football is that of the 1930s: players should all be Moral, Undrafted Men playing the game for the Sake of Integrity and Grit or some happy bullshit. But then he turns around and talks about how the spread offense isn’t new (which is a fact. Google Mouse Davis) as though this somehow then makes it justifiable for teams he appreciates (the Patriots) to run spread concepts. He will not shut up about Michael Crabtree, the apparent reason San Francisco has not won a Super Bowl since he was drafted. They hadn’t won a Super Bowl for a long time prior to drafting him, and, actually, they were terrible for a while, but don’t let anything like that stop you, Gregg. You keep rolling.

There’s nothing manly about running the football. Plowing ahead for six yards does not prove your penis is enormous, Gregg. Football, despite almost every talking head’s opinion, is not a manly sport. It is a sport of skill, strength, and observational ability. That combination has nothing to do with sex or gender; it has everything to do with being an Athlete, a term, mind you, that is sexless. The idea that football somehow goes beyond Athlete to Manthlete only showcases the ineptitude of football, in general: the placement of a stereotype above the placement of actual success.

[This leads to a second (sub)rant, especially close to me because I cheer for two teams who say this all the damn time: I’m very tired of hearing Michigan people talk about the need to hire a Michigan Man for a coach who will operate a Michigan Football offense / the Steelers owner firing Bruce Arians as coordinator because he called too many pass plays and Pittsburgh needed to get back to running a ‘blue collar’ offense. What the fuck does that even mean? I don’t give a shit if my coach/team ‘identifies’ with the so-called nature of the school/city it plays in. Pittsburgh isn’t even a goddamn blue collar town; it may have been when the steel factories were in full bloom, but it has remade itself into a hipster, white collar, and medical-focused city. What has happened since we fired that goddamn pass happy motherfucker? Well, he took th O.C. job for the Colts, stepped up to interim head coach when Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, led them to the playoffs, then took over the Arizona Cardinals, went 10-6 last year in the toughest division in football, and has them with a winning record again this year despite injuries to major defensive players. The Steelers, with their tough blue collar offense? Oh, 8-8, and constant bitching about how terrible Todd Haley is as an offensive coordinator. Thank God we’ve proven we’re tough motherfuckers with our ground-and-pound game because otherwise we’d have to look at how poorly we play and actually deal with it. As for Michigan, well, I’d say Brady Hoke is a disaster. He may be a nice guy or whatever, but his best season was his first, when he had RichRod’s players (and pretty much his offense because that’s what Denard Robinson knew how to run and was damn good at it, too) and since then it has been all downhill with one of the most miserable offenses to behold in the last couple of years. RichRod on the other hand went to Arizona, has put up huge offensive numbers, and has Arizona undefeated and about to play a major game against Oregon. I mean, I know he wasn’t a Michigan Man and he plays that sissy spread game that isn’t Michigan Football and heaven forbid the offense isn’t boring (also, RichRod’s offense is mostly designed to RUN THE BALL, YOU ASSHOLES). Did somebody need to yell at RichRod that he needed to fire his defensive coordinator no matter how close of friends they were and that he needed to recruit defensive players or hire someone who could successfully bring quality defensive players to Michigan? Yes, they certainly did. But this bullshit about how he wasn’t a Michigan Man and that being an outsider made him an inferior coach has led us directly to this moment in Michigan football. Guess what? People don’t want this job. You might think people do, but they don’t. The Big 10 is down, Michigan is down, and nobody wants to inherit this mess. Thank god y’all have showed everyone that you have a penis by sticking to your football ideals because who needs wins when you can flash your balls?]

Gregg’s favorite talking point has to do with where people are picked in the draft. He constantly harps on players drafted high who don’t ‘prove’ enough. He loves to cherry pick late draft picks [Tom Brady!] while ignoring the fact that most late draft picks don’t make it. I’m not trying to trash late draft picks; I think it’s great when a player proves people wrong, but it’s ridiculous to act like this is standard operating procedure for the NFL, as though every sixth-round QB is superior to any first-round one because a first round pick who fails is a bust and a sixth rounder is merely doing what sixth rounders are supposed to do: fail. Peyton Manning went number one overall; I don’t believe he lacks a work ethic or that if he had been drafted in the 4th round that he would somehow miraculously be even better because he’d have more ‘drive’ to prove himself. It’s such a straw man argument, one that can constantly be ‘verified’ by highlighting whoever fits your argument, regardless of overall numbers. What Gregg is really saying, once again, is that he thinks players should revere the NFL with unfailing celebration, that the ‘real’ NFL players are the ones who Man Up and Make It All Mean Something–and somehow high draft picks can’t do this because they are spoiled by being high draft picks. It’s an undeniably American view/stereotype: the praise of those who ‘raised themselves up by their bootstraps,’ showing us real ‘Murrican fans what a real ‘Murrican hero looks like.

Here’s Gregg in action with his most recent column, talking about how making major trades at the draft don’t work out for the people who trade picks for moving up to get a player; please, pay close attention to how he contradicts himself in the middle of the paragraph in the span of only a couple of sentences:

In 2012, Washington gave up three first-rounders, plus a second-round selection, for Griffin, who briefly injected excitement but mostly has been a letdown, with a 13-18 record as a starter. The team’s roster is depleted as a result of the deal — add three first-rounders and a second-round selection to the Washington depth chart, and the Persons might not be in the cellar. The Rams, who received the king’s ransom for RG3, hardly are tearing up the league. Since the Griffin mega-trade, Washington is 14-23 and St. Louis is 15-19-1.

If you’re following along at home, if Washington hadn’t traded those picks for RGIII, then maybe they wouldn’t currently be terrible; but those picks that the Rams got that Washington would have used have netted them a losing record. So, why the fuck would Washington not be in last place with those picks when the Rams are? There is no supporting evidence to say Washington is better at drafting players [because there isn’t any. They’re terrible. Dan Snyder is the worst.], nor is there any way to say draft picks equal all the wins. Gregg loves to point out the Patriots as the team who owns this mentality, as they hoard picks every damn draft, but they’ve won exactly as many Super Bowls as Washington in the past 10 years: zero. You know what makes teams good: appropriate personnel combined with quality coaching combined with quality schematics. You know what else? Luck. RGIII was dynamic his rookie season–it’s injuries that have destroyed him and his ability to win games, not fucking draft picks.

The entire premise of Gregg’s football argument boils down to this: we should value and praise those who most resemble the archaic ideals of 1950s manhood. And, yes, I realise this is not something Gregg alone supports; football constantly folds into itself over and over trying to prove how much of a Man sport it is. I expect that from former players, etc. But the idea that Easterbrook is a sportswriter paid to spew asinine, unsubstantiated opinions using cherry-picked data confuses me. Sports journalism can / should be nuanced, developed, and thought-out. I don’t give a damn if his column is an ‘opinion’ piece about football; the fact that he gives credence to the very base idea of Football is for Men renders his column inexcusable for ESPN to run, and having an opinion doesn’t mean you’re allowed to just fit outside data however you want to make your opinion look better.

Oh, and here’s another great one from this week:
Lots of people are climbing onto the anti-R*dsk*ns bandwagon now, and welcome aboard. I’ve been there for 15 years. I wrote a piece for NFL.com in 2004 protesting the R*dsk*ns name, before this became a fashionable cause.

Good for you, Gregg! You’re a fucking superstar! All the way back in 2004! I mean, my junior year in high school was 1997-98 and my history teacher asked the class if
Washington should be forced to change its name, and my guess is my middle-of-nowhere high school wasn’t exactly on the cutting edge of political movements.
Maybe instead of acting like you’re some kind of Movement Crusader, you could write about how important it is that this is gaining traction; maybe instead of patting yourself on the back, you could ask why an obvious racist epithet is taking so long to change; maybe instead of declaring yourself so fucking awesome, you could talk about the cultural impact of using that name and why our culture has, for so long, embraced / allowed its use so openly. No? Well, thank god you’re here, Gregg.

#30: a quick rant about the NFL

In some ways, it’s nearly impossible to know where to start with this mess. So, let’s just start rambling. A lot of response to the latest development in the Ray Rice debacle focuses on whether or not the NFL saw the video from inside the elevator and if the NFL has covered up this fact. This concern is, frankly, not relevant.

The sole reason finding out if the NFL viewed the video prior to determining Rice’s initial suspension is to decide if the NFL is lying to us now. But, again, that’s actually irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because there isn’t anybody who didn’t already know that Ray Rice slapped his wife and knocked her out because that’s what the police report said; that’s why the changed the initial charge to aggravated assault–a felony. The NFL elected, for whatever reason, to suspend a guy for 2 games after seeing–at the very least–visual proof of a knocked out woman being dragged out of an elevator by the man who was charged with knocking her out. The inside-the-elevator video does nothing but confirm what we already knew, what the Ravens and the NFL already knew, and they chose to do jack shit up until the moment the rest of the general public knew. It’s not a cover-up, it’s not ignorance, it’s not a lack of moral fiber; it is a complete failure by the NFL to understand that domestic violence needs to be addressed, and because they did not understand this, because they did not care enough to understand this until the public started to rage against their decision-making, they created a cover-up and showcased ignorance and a lack of moral fiber.

Of course Roger Goodell should lose his job; any argument against it is not a defense for due process–it’s a defense for allowing a person who failed to perform the role his position requires: to uphold the NFL to a specific standard of conduct. He should be fired not just for his failure in the Ray Rice event, but because the NFL has done nothing regarding Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald, two players charged with domestic violence this fucking offseason during which the Ray Rice shit went down. BOTH OF THEM PLAYED THIS PAST WEEK AND WILL PLAY THIS WEEK AND WILL CONTINUE TO DO SO FOR THE FORESEABLE FUTURE.

The NFL does not care; it will not care. The only way for the NFL to address this issue is to force them to reconsider what the NFL is: remove the anti-trust protection that Congress has bestowed on them; take away the public financing; and do not allow owners to take cities hostage in order to get taxpayers to fund their stadiums; and fire Goodell. The NFL will never care about this; they will only ever care about how it makes them appear. They want–they need–angry, over-muscled, over-stressed, players who must conform to a Manliness Culture, in order for their league to continue to bring in billions of [untaxed] dollars in profit. ‘Protect the Shield’ doesn’t say ‘protect the players and the people involved with the players.’ It says protect the money. The NFL is a mafia, and any one who thinks otherwise is a fool.

And there’s nothing worse than seeing all this and still realizing how much I like to watch football. I’m exactly what the NFL wants.

#29: zen and the art of discovering you have way too much anger

It is a disquieting moment, the realisation that one’s anger has reached an uncomfortable level. Mine occurred when I tackled our dog, Dude, a Great Dane who had elected to lose his mind when he saw people and a dog walk by our window. I have lately been frustrated with his continual downward spiral into a dog-aggressive pet, and, when the chance to take out these frustrations happened, I, sadly, was far too brusque with him in my attempt to subdue him. The thing we don’t want to admit about dogs as our pets is that they are a reflection of how we have trained them; yes, they have personalities, and yes, they will see what they can get away with, but, in the end, Dude losing his mind at other dogs is because I’ve failed him in some way, and that failure is a bitch to admit to.

I have long clung to the notion that I am a chill dude, a misplaced beach bum or something along those lines. I’ve worked at developing such a personality, honing it over the past 15+ years, and placing far too much emphasis on the belief that acting like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo is a worthwhile endeavour. The idea, I think, was that limited reactions to the stimuli around me meant I was in control, but I didn’t want to be a control freak, so the best of both worlds equals surfer stoner or something. Clearly, the entire premise of this paragraph is to set-up the following sentence: it’s pretty much all a farce. The problem, if one sees it as such–and clearly I do–is that the enduring belief in chillness coincides with a major problem of mine: an inability to emotionally relate to pretty much any emotional moment. Algebraically, the equation would go something like this: Inability to React to Human Emotions + Anger is a Bad Emotion = Don’t Express Anything.

G. likes to joke that I’m a sociopath, including sending me online quizzes testing my psychopathy. These are all in good fun, but are also because we have had fights created because I completely failed to understand the emotional gravitas of a situation, and, therefore, have basically railroaded right over her emotional upheaval. It’s embarrassing because objectively I’m aware of how a person is supposed to react, but I have no idea how to actually do it. To each other, we call it my emotional retardation. To the outside world, they’d probably call it ‘being an asshole.’

It’s weird to hear people say anger is a ‘human’ trait, because it’s almost exclusively a masculine description. Angry women are never just angry–they’re ‘crazy.’ Anger exists as an expression of one’s manliness. Of course we question when anger becomes overblown, too violent or out-of-control, but that is often seen less as a negative and more of a man who has been ‘driven too far,’ once again finding a way to create blame on someone or something other than the man expressing the destructive anger. We find ways to celebrate ‘controlled’ anger–just look at the glorification of football players. And then we act shocked when they do something like punch the shit out of their girlfriend in an elevator. It was shocking in the terms of an unbelievable thing to witness, but not actually shocking. These are men who have been taught, over and over, to use their anger as a motivating tool, to harness it in an effort to prove themselves better than the rest on the field; in what way is it surprising that a response to a non-football situation would be one of typical football violence? I don’t even react when I watch football players swing at each other (aside from wondering how daft you have to be to swing at a dude wearing a helmet); this is the sport where Albert Haynesworth stepped on a dude’s face because, well, he was pissed, I guess. But, if you can’t handle it, it’s not because anger is bad, it’s because you are not a Man.

When the NFL suspended Ray Rice for only two games after knocking out his girlfriend [now wife], plenty of idiots defended the decision. Stephen A. Smith, ESPN blowhard, managed to suggest that women shouldn’t provoke attacks in order to prevent such situations from occurring, a typical male response that fits right with the ‘don’t do things that might make a guy want to rape you’ mentality. In the simplest terms, a man is incapable of controlling himself, which actually means that a man can never have out-of-control anger because he is apparently incapable of controlling himself in general. And, yet, a man also expresses no emotions, but we don’t actually mean that; what we mean is, a man doesn’t express feminine emotions–does not showcase fear or vulnerability or neediness. Except, of course, a man has needs and therefore there is inherent neediness, but those needs are ‘rights,’ and therefore, it’s not the same. The absurdity of all this, despite the benefits afforded me by my race and sex, makes it difficult to navigate the terrain of daily manhood.

What we actually want is to confine anger/manhood/emotions to specific regions. The Angry ‘Murrican is not the Angry Black Male. The Angry Teenager is not The Angry Adult. The Angry Woman is not the Angry Man. We create definitions that work for us because that way our emotional reactions can be defended. It’s wildly unfair, hypocritical, and makes life far more difficult than it has any need to be. Douchebag extraordinaire Sean Hannity spent quite a while defending the hell out of Angry ‘Murrican Cliven Bundy who threatened federal agents with violence and guns over land rights; then Hannity defended the cops after they shot a teenager in Ferguson, MO, while also saying the protestors were out of control. Angry white guy with guns desiring violence against the government = okay. Angry non-white people desiring an explanation for, and change in, violence against their community = threat. The way we justify anger often highlights how we actually see the world. And, clearly, Sean Hannity is a racist dickbag.

The problem with anger, especially in light of finding ways to justify it, is its cathartic nature; in underdog movies when the bullied person explodes in a fit of rage and ends his torment, it’s a celebratory moment. When G. and I fight, I waver between feeling ashamed of my anger and feeling righteous in it. When I yell at Dude or video games or Michigan football, I can’t help but feel like I’m ridiculous and that I’m powerful. But things that are important where being angry might actually be justified in some fashion? That’s when I bail. It’s a bullying mentality–yell at only those things which I am confident cannot come back at me, and it’s fucking pathetic. Dude needs trained, not yelled at. Video games can’t hear me, and Brady Hoke isn’t going to hire me to run a better offence [even though he should]. G. doesn’t need me stomping around a room showing her my frustration with whatever fight we’re having; she needs me to communicate. And all of that seems simple to follow through on, up until the point where it happens again.

While this is a rather weak defense, it is the only one I have: a lot of this derives from my inability to emotionally connect with people. Anger, even unjustified anger, is an ‘acceptable’ emotion for me to express. It’s also a very easy one. Combined with a constant cynical view of life and a total dependence on sarcasm for dealing with emotional moments, it creates a personality that is aloof at best, caustic at worst. I’m not and probably never will be a chill dude. The problem is, the general consensus of leading a happy life is to ’embrace who you are.’ But if who you are is a difficult person, should you really embrace that? I’m a lazy perfectionist, a guy who wants chores done a specific way, but who also doesn’t want to do chores, wants them to, like, magically be accomplished. It’s unfair to and difficult, especially to G. I want to be a chill dude because it seems like that makes life easier, but I’m not. I’m a guy who has difficulty with hugs with anyone other than G. and my mother. I’m a guy who just called a Fox News pundit a racist dickbag. I’m a guy who goes on weekly rants to G. about the unfairness of corporate political influence, but I’ve never actually voted. Maybe the easiest way to not be angry is to admit to the things that make you angry and then work on fixing them. But, seriously, fuck Sean Hannity.

#26: let’s rant about crappy movies: the Only God Forgives edition

Many keyboards have been wounded discussing Hollywood and its apparent desire to remake / redo / sequelise and prequelise pretty much anything and everything, leading to a derth in originality and quality. What this ignores, however, is that Hollywood [for the most part] makes their decisions based upon optimal return-on-investment factors. They keep releasing Fast and Furious movies because people keep paying to watch them. They aren’t releasing your brother-in-law’s ethereal portrait of the human condition which is, of course, super brilliant and deep, because people are not going to pay to watch it. There are times when such R-O-I decisions backfire–The Lone Ranger, say–and people take particular glee in seeing such movies fail, but, in truth, the glee derives from the cemented notion that most of these movies actually succeed. Hollywood, the bully, wins more than it loses.

The fallacy of the serious-minded-cinema-viewer is the assumption that Hollywood, the behemoth, wants to produce both critically and financially successful movies; Hollywood wants to make money, quality be damned. It’s the same reason we no longer just have the ‘summer blockbuster;’ all major movies are now pushed like blockbusters because blockbusters have the greatest chance to draw in consumers. Movie consumption has little to do, then, with your serious-mindedness, and has mostly to do with what will make you remove your credit card from your wallet and hand it to the person in the ticket booth. And, for most of America, that means Vin Diesel in fast cars and superheroes causing trillions of dollars in property damage.

I don’t know what makes a good movie; I think, in general, that is really the blame for all of this. I don’t think Fast and Furious movies are worth watching, but I’ve seen every Friday the 13th movie. What does that mean? I think it means I have a particular bias when it comes to watching awful films. Horror, yes. Fast cars, no. But, what does it mean when people tell you the Fast and Furious series is good, that they find the movies compelling, entertaining, and–aghast–quality filmmaking? What do you say if a person were to claim the series contained his favourite movies of all time? Do you direct him to Gone in 60 Seconds and see if this cures him, or do you just nod and wonder how many times he has been hit in the head? And what do you say when this person asks you to tell him why the movies aren’t good. There’s the standard tropes: lack of originality, the ridiculous plots, the over-the-top emphasis on being a rebel = being right, etc., etc., etc., but when you break down your own favourite movies, how many of them fall into the same tropes, but in a way you feel confident in defending? I love horror movies because of the inherent simplicity in most of them, an almost calming certainty to how each will play out–sins committed, deaths to follow, escape for our main protagonist(s), possible-sequel-ending. They are a drumbeat to which I can detach myself from my ‘real’ life and allow to comfort me in its predictability. Everything in that list of certainties exists in the Fast and Furious series. There are also tons of horror movies that I can’t stand, mostly ones involving Rob Zombie, not because the drumbeat disappears, but because I don’t find them entertaining. So why would I give room for horror movies to fail that I will not to some other dreck?

The answer is simple: being entertained = a good movie. Now, we may enact some critical faculties, announce that a movie we liked isn’t actually ‘good,’ in the critical sense, but, in the end, the critical sense means absolutely nothing when it comes to entertainment. We, of course, want it to because otherwise what’s the point of having an opinion, but at its most base, entertained and good are the exact same thing. If you have enjoyed watching a movie, it means it was good. The critical assessment only exists later, once you have looked back on it, compared it to the canon, if you will. Did the entertainment also consist of enlightenment, did it force you to question the world in some way, did its entertainment reach a higher level beyond just enjoyment. But none of that actually matters when you are actively watching a movie.

That being said, Only God Forgives is a horrendous movie. I haven’t looked at any actual reviews of it, but I’m guessing its defenders will claim its deliberate pace showcases a deep, underlying message that cannot be articulated, or that its over-emphasis on hands has symbolic meaning that coincides with the slow movements of everyone involved, that somehow that hands are ‘hands of time’ ready to be severed as the world around us continues to move. My guess is there will be defenders of the limited dialogue, that the space between words hangs heavy with meaning, that all of these things coalesce as a buffer to the violence, a way of atmosphere melting into blood and death, a way to describe how, no matter how slow, our ends are always pre-determined: you will die. Your choices will still be the choices you made. Movement forward is inescapable. You cannot hold time. Etc., etc., etc. These people are wrong.

Only God Forgives is painfully slow to behold, its grating color schemes and over-reliance on contrasting noise with lack of movement not just an annoying quirk, but a serious flaw. Ryan Gosling’s brooding seems less psychopath-ready-to-deliver and more mentally retarded. The police detective is a sociopath, plain and simple. He chops of people’s hands, derives pleasure from torturing a suspect, including blinding him with needles then finishing the guy off by sticking another needle into his brain via his ear. All the moodiness of the movie is supposed to give way to great bouts of violent explosion, but, sadly, the violent explosions have not been earned by said moodiness; instead, the violence becomes the only parts of the movie worth watching simply because at least something is happening. The detective literally shuffles everywhere; at one point I thought my Netflix was lagging. This does not scream art to me; it screams I-wish-to-be-art.

The ponderous pace does, however, cover the fact that the movie really could be about 30 minutes long. There is nothing here when it comes to the plot: it’s kind of a revenge movie, but even the revenge is stupid. Gosling’s older brother butchers an underage prostitute. In retaliation he is killed. In retaliation to that, Gosling’s overbearing druglord mother demands revenge. As a viewer, are we supposed to want that? Are we rooting for revenge for a butcher of a young woman? There are inklings that Gosling is some kind of violence-savant, having fled to Taiwan or wherever the hell this movie takes place, after killing his father (at his mother’s request). In turn, his mother tries to weasel out of police punishment in Taiwan by declaring Ryan a psychopath. Revenge begets murder begets turncoat begets death by sword. The world of Only God Forgives is one of contrasts–silence/non-motion v. karaoke/violence, but those contrasts do not create tension, they create boredom. The heavy-handed symbolism reaches its epic point when Gosling comes upon the dead body of his mother, proceeds to stab it a couple of times, then nearly reaches his hand into her stomach. Of course his character wishes to reach into his mother’s uterus; of course he wishes he had never been born; of course his life is one born of violence and silence: he was never meant to exist. His mother had said so earlier, that she had been told to abort but didn’t. We are all but flashes of rage pondering our existence. Or something.

From what I understand, artistic movies ask big questions, but what I also understand is big questions do not have to be boring. Sadly, Only God Forgives fails on all accounts, conflating violence with meaning, silence with depth, and, worst of all, symbolism with emotional development. If I’m going to watch a pschyo shuffle annoyingly slow and torment people, I’d prefer he was wearing a white mask and answered to the name Michael.

#25: a quick rant about Harry Potter

Despite being an adult, at least according to age, I enjoy reading Harry Potter. I also know there’s no real reason to act defensive about that because millions of adults have read Harry Potter. Not all of them can be total nerds. Or, perhaps, I’ve superceded their nerdom because G. and I elected to order all the Potters in hardcover in the original British editions. So, okay, we’re nerds. And as such, it makes me wonder if Draco Malfoy / Slytherins get a bad rap.

Consider: While the 4 houses all have their rivalries, Slytherin at no point has allies outside of itself. Such isolation has to make them defensive. Draco Malfoy expects to be in Slytherin because it’s his family’s legacy; however, how much of the legacy is derived from a stereotype that feel they must live up to? According to the books, all (ALL!) evil wizards and witches in the greater British area come out of Slytherin. I find this to be incredibly difficult to believe. It implies that only a specific type of person has the possibility to commit evil and overlooks the inherent intricacies of humans. Let’s say you are a Muggle-born first year, and just like Harry, you’ve never heard of / known about / had any inkling about the wizarding world, but unlike Harry you receive no information on the train to Hogwarts by others to indicate that Slytherin is the ‘evil’ house; the Sorting Hat elects to put you there because, when sat upon your head, it picked up a drive for power–a drive powered not by a desire to be ‘evil,’ but a desire to prove yourself in the wizarding world. This hypothetical person would then be cast as ‘evil’ by the rest of the houses, despite having absolutely no allegiance or standing inside of Slytherin, simply because of the stereotype of the house. This first year is then immediately put on the defensive, making him/her not only overwhelmed beginning his/her wizarding schooling, but also overwhelmed by the stance against him/her through no fault of his/her own. S/he merely showed up at the school, sat upon a chair, and waited for the hat to declare his/her fate, as it were. Slytherin, the snake house, consumes itself in a vicious circle of stereotypes and defensiveness.

While I understand the need for a (mostly) children’s book series to create ‘blocks’ of people in order to establish the Good v. Bad, I also think Rowling spends a lot of time working to the greater psychological understanding of her main characters. Even Draco in the last book gets some introspection–via other character’s looking at / hearing about him–as he grapples with his task of taking out Dumbledore. The struggle Malfoy goes through, both personally and physically, only highlights the cost of being in Slytherin: the expectation to perform evil because you are told that being in Slytherin means you have to live up to some kind of Higher Evil Purpose. Unlike Gryffindor, the House of Slytherin not only contends with other houses, it contends with the legacy of itself. Any teenagery acts–pranks, rebellion, combustible emotional outbursts, all things others do in the rest of the houses–are seen through a lens of horror; ‘THEY COULD BE DEATHEATERS, AHHHHHHHHHHHH,’ essentially. The most impressive character arc in the entire series is how Draco, after seven years of having to look at himself as a pre-destined monster, actually struggles with that destiny and eventually crumbles in front of it. We all want to glorify the resurrection of Harry because of his parents’ and other’s love, but Draco must deal with being an assumed evil wizard for seven straight years. How hard would it be to look at yourself with any real analysis when the rest of the school looks at you through that lens of assumed horror? He is throughout most of the series a caricature of his father, and, yet, by the end, he overcomes that. Of course he’s an annoying, snobbish git–he’s been handed a silver spoon, something that most people will always hold against him; the assumption is he doesn’t need upward mobility because he’s already reached the upper tier, the 1% if you will; yet what Draco most needs is the upward mobility of socialisation, a wide circle of friends who expose him to the world outside of the Slytherin stereotype, something that everyone else blocks him from achieving because of the stereotype. And, unlike any of the other main characters, he is not allowed to make mistakes; such mistakes become glaring announcements of his perceived evil.

Imagine living your teen years knowing you were supposed to become a specific type of person. In movies, the audience is often set up to feel empathy for the character who doesn’t want to become the lawyer, the doctor, the ‘serious profession’ that his parents want / demand him to become; in Dead Poet’s Society this point gets hammered home by the kid who wants to be an actor shooting himself in the head when his father pulls him from school, demanding the son pursue the serious profession the father wants for him. We are to feel sadness for the son and shame for the father. In this case, we hold it against Draco that he wants to become his parents; yet, in general, is that not realistic? Don’t most of us want to impress our parents? Of course we go through rebellious phases, but that doesn’t mean we abjectly desire to disappoint them. When Draco confronts this dilemma in the final book, he loses weight, he loses sleep, and he confides his fears to Moaning Myrtle. His social circle is so incomplete that he actually has to find comfort with a ghost in a girl’s bathroom. Imagine, again, that you have no one to actually talk to; imagine your psyche as you grapple with who you are at 17 and are convinced the world, on all sides, is against you–from Slytherin, the assumption that he is too weak to perform his assigned task and live up to his destiny; from everyone else, the assumption that he is a Dark Wizard looking to wreak havoc on all of them. The world for Draco is such a cold place, he finds comfort in a person killed by the very embodiment of his house, a basilisk. In not holding it against Draco that the Serpent of Slytherin killed her, Myrtle is the only person who shows him compassion. That has to be psychologically damaging to realise almost no one out there shows a willingness to just listen to him. And, lost in all this, is the immense pressure he’s under with his task to kill Dumbledore–not because, you know, Dumbledore, but because the fate of his life and his family is to be determined by his success or failure. It is an actual life or death situation for him. And nobody shows any care.

Okay, his mother does, but we have no insight into the family dynamic, in terms of how much weight his father and mother each have in leading Draco; the assumption, though, has to lean towards his father having the power because of how much Draco solely references him in previous books. Second, I realise Snape constantly asks Draco to let him help, but we also find out that Snape is a double agent whose true mission is to continue his guise until he can release Draco from his task by performing it himself, as determined by Dumbledore and him in prior meetings. Essentially, Dumbledore allows Snape to make Draco think that his task has been completed, further scarring Draco even as Draco has elected to not death-curse Dumbledore; Draco believes he alone is responsible for killing Dumbledore and that Snape did so just to ‘help’ him. Again, imagine the psychological cost of believing you’re responsible for the death of the ‘greatest wizard in the world,’ when you weren’t even sure by the end that you wanted to follow through on the task [Also, how do we know Dumbledore is the greatest wizard in the world? There is much to be said about the blatant exceptionalism expressed, something that I’m sure could align with the former British Empire notion of self / colonialism and current Unites States assumption of superiority. Hogwart’s basically stands at the center of the wizarding world according to this, with no indication of the (I guess, possible) globalisation of it. We get a Tri-Wizard tournament, but that only includes two other schools, both from European neighbours].

In the real world, there is a cultural and political battle over how to handle poverty / crime. While approaches to solving the dilemma differ, the goal remains the same [sorry, I have to insert here: would there be a way to make a documentary about this using Led Zeppelin music, as in The Goal Remains the Same / The Song Remains the Same?]: to create upward mobility–to move people into better schools, better jobs, better environments. The fight people have, however, has to do with stereotypes: that poor people are lazy; that some groups are somehow ‘more prone’ to crime; that people believe they are entitled to free handouts rather than working their way up the social spectrum. Such stereotyping ignores reality because the stereotypes are often self-fulfilling prophesies: the stereotype prevents a person from serious consideration when that person attempts to better himself. Schools lack funding, educational divides become gulfs, better jobs get harder and harder to obtain, environments continue to wither as the jobs and schools get worse–destiny, if you will, becomes a version of survival, not mobilisation. And, while Draco obviously has the benefit of being part of the 1%, and while he relentlessly takes pleasure in announcing it, his personal character has no social spectrum to move in. As he grapples with his supposed destiny, his only friend is a dead person. Imagine.

#24: a quick rant against stupid political articles

For those of you who care what I read, I spend a lot of time on Salon. Too much time, I’m sure. It has, obviously, much to do with my leftist leanings. In general, I think they do a decent job. However, sometimes the choice to run an article makes me question if the editors periodically elect to hand their jobs over to a group of monkeys, possibly during a breakfast or lunch break. Case in point: this.

It’s from a staff writer at Salon, Andrew Leonard. I understand the function of “headlines” is to create page hits; however, the following article borders on gross misleading or just plain stupidity. A Silicon Valley head honcho changes his twitter pic or whatever, and suddenly this means all of Silicon Valley’s libertarians are suddenly backpedaling into some version of left-wing thinking. Not only does the article fail to actually address the headline, it uses a picture change as an excuse to bring up the divide between two different lines of political thought. In doing so, it only highlights the degree to which “journalists” will go in order to create controversy. Political journalism’s controversy should develop from actual reporting–of facts, of grounded opinions, of articulated thesis; instead, with this shoddy attempt at discrediting a libertarian view (which, mind you, I disagree with most libertarian stances, except for the end to the drug war and the reduction of our military presence), we get, at best, a sad overreach at interpretation, and, at worst, just a desire to get site clicks. Included in this is the author’s assumption that the change of pic from Ayn Rand to Alexander Hamilton is because the head honcho ‘has discovered that disrupting the existing taxi monopolies in the world’s great cities is easier said than done. Safety and health regulations, insurance issues — there are all kinds of nasty hoops to jump through if you want to make a big business of transporting citizens around urban metropolises. Like it or not, Silicon Valley’s most ambitious start-ups will be forced to work with government, instead of blowing it up.’

I don’t disagree with the sentiment; I wildly disagree with the starting point that then manifests itself into this sentiment. It’s poor analysis–a way to drum up interest in one’s personal opinions without actually announcing its one’s personal opinion. If you want to write about why Alexander Hamilton’s thoughts on governance are superior to Ayn Rand’s, then just own it. If you want to bash the inherent fallacies of the libertarian approach, then write an article about it, feel free to use A. Hamilton and A. Rand all you want in it, go bonkers, mr. journalist. But don’t try to create an overarching description of an entire subgroup of political participants; it’s the same type of shoddy journalism that Salon constantly tries to debunk coming out of Fox News. It’s shameful and contributes nothing to the political discourse we so greatly need to improve.