I am equal parts fascinated and repulsed by human behavior. Looking back on it, this guy may have been better served pursuing a degree in psychology, as opposed to journalism.
There exists an intangible, and often irrational, tendril implanted in every single human decision, and my own thought processes are hardly excluded. All too often, our well-furbished facades and fortified insecurities are precisely what land us in intellectual quagmire, where rationality has long departed from the breakfast menu.
Buzz Bissinger, a superb writer by any measure, apparently stepped into a phone booth before appearing on an HBO Special examining American Journalism, transforming from Pulitzer Prize winner to indignant minister, preaching a fiery sermon denouncing blogs. As Bissinger ranted and raved at Deadspin founder Will Leitch, a co-chair on a round table fronted by Bob Costas and inexplicably featuring Browns Wide Receiver Braylon Edwards, his self-righteous charade began resembling desperation. What, exactly, was Bissinger fighting for? How could such an intelligent individual convince himself that blogs represented a legitimate threat to the overall intelligence of America in the future, as ridiculously proposed at the apex of his warlike declaration?
Bissinger shouldn’t be excused for his entirely unprovoked potshots at Leitch, whose calm exterior may have belied something smoldering beneath the surface, but his twisted philosophy doesn’t necessarily need perpetuate. Indeed, it is only through understanding the Buzz Theory that reconciliation can be attained, between bloggers and mainstream writers, their relationship far more symbiotic than presently realized.
Buzz Bissinger is perhaps best known for his book “Friday Night Lights”, a work so transcendent that it remained relevant in our A.D.D. addled society years after initial publication, spawning a critically successful film and television show. “Friday Night Lights” wasn’t just a book about a high school football team in Odessa, Texas, but a meditation on the entire meaning of the sports, the heroes it so ably provides, and the simplified script it so regrettably must adhere to. Years before an epic David Simon creation called “The Wire” introduced the societal chessboard theory, “Friday Night Lights” memorably, and rather beautifully, pondered the bitter fate of disposable heroes. Just as “The Wire” set out to prove “the king stays the king”, changing faces purely incidental, the principal epiphany defining “Friday Night Lights” was that the running back stays the running back, accorded small town fame and adulation no matter name or future. The Permian Panthers were caretakers of a dreamland.
People love playing this game. Simplification. Is there a part of us that somehow enjoys playing a role we never conceived? There’s a wonderful aside in “Friday Night Lights”, political commentary provided by Bissinger, where he incredulously notes an eager horde practically genuflecting at the feet of George Bush, as he reached the crescendo of a speech centered on American values. Whatever the hell American Values actually meant, nobody knew, but Bissinger couldn’t help noticing how dearly the people wanted to believe.
It’s genuine belief that paves the path of the self-righteous, opening the door to hypocrisy, breeding ESPN styled arguments, two sides digging a trench steeped in stupidity. Bissinger versus Leitch was a confrontation between two individuals, who, under different circumstances, may have gotten along just fine. A pity there was more at stake, in this case wildly divergent philosophies regarding the very merit of journalism. Should sports be seen simply as entertainment, coverage colored in this perception? This is Leitch’s appraisal.
But is there anything more? Should there be? Is Bissinger right to opine for W.C. Heinz [RIP], should opinions regarding sports be qualified? And if so, what exactly are the qualifications? It may disgust Bissinger to realize, but this train of thought shares tracks with those mysterious American values. But don’t judge. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to believe. Wanting to believe a journalism degree is evidence of talent and insight, of sound reasoning and selflessness. Wanting to believe in boundaries, balance, access, that the system works and bloggers hate that it does… not that it doesn’t.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to believe in a system validating art.
Upon initial visitation to Deadspin.com, my emotional response was predictable. We’re always a bit unsure when wading into unfamiliar waters, far too quick in assessing on our surroundings, an assuaging mechanism. I thought Deadspin was amusing, though overly apathetic. Here was a place openly advertising disdain for the mechanism of hero worship, a rattrap ensnaring many a sport fan, programming them how to feel. But I soon adjusted, recalibrating my reading in deference to Deadspin’s lifeblood, a constant wail of irreverence, no matter what subject being lampooned. Deadspin was able to thrive because its environment required an antithesis. Will Leitch was intelligent enough to realize the silent majority represented an untapped resource, those disillusioned by the maddening hypocrisy all too often provided by the local newspaper. This is why the site is self-sustaining, despite it’s flaws. A new generation had grown weary of columnists drowning their coverage in a black ink pool of vindictive. Far too often, opinions could be immediately rendered irrelevant by vapid, unconcealed personal bias, the friends and enemies obvious, work stilted and obnoxious. Just as Michael Lewis argued in “Moneyball” that the nonsense ruling baseball analysis had basically created and maintained Billy Beane’s vision of the Oakland A’s, Deadspin was a twisted mirror which sought to reveal sports journalism’s cracked and disfigured face, all the while providing entertaining content on a consistent basis. There never was a bold proclamation that the future had arrived. But to people like Buzz Bissinger, this fact was simply understood. And how terrible it was.
Access represents a significant line of demarcation in the debate. The access is evidence. While a blogger’s writing acumen could be equally sharp, he could never trump the reporter’s most valued card: connections. As any freshmen could attest, success in journalism isn’t nearly entirely dependent on clever turns of phrase or proper syntax. The major players use this to their advantage, playing this fickle game to the extreme. If a big-time story is breaking, the battle doesn’t lie in precise reporting, but racing to establish unsubstantiated rumor as undeniable fact. Networks and newspapers, often falling under the same corporate umbrella, crave instant results within the process, perpetuating an endless cycle where Gore has definitely won Florida, and there’s more than one gunmen on the St. John’s campus.
Sadly enough, the public has become desensitized to this disinformation. Sure, there’s the occasional uproar, but, perhaps knowing our complaints will fall on deaf ears, never an incorrigible call to clean up the system. Those doling out the big time dollars to Rick Reilly and Dan Shaughnessy to write and report are most certainly going to protect their investment. They must be vigilant in maintaining the interest of mainstream readers, convincing them that their contemporaries in the blog universe possess opinions that simply don’t matter.
The journalist can provide reinforcement by making the conscious decision to shill for those cutting the checks [understandable], as Reilly and Shaughnessy have done on multiple occasions, bashing blogs and those who write them with dismissive, immature insults. I personally refuse to accept that Reilly and Shaughnessy actually believe their blanket statements regarding blogs. It’s all about discrediting the competition, a practice that will no doubt stretch beyond this specific instance.
Blogs aren’t the only entities which have their credibility called into question by mainstream news sources. Just recently, JohnnyJungle.com broke the Phil Wait story and didn’t receive any credit whatsoever. As with most things in life, the access factor is connected to cash, plain and simple, frustrating as always.
Are sports and meaning interconnected when endeavoring to write about a game? Do words have the power to elevate an event? Can a simple slip of phrase nullify the impact of a moment? People like Bissinger, word artists, want to believe this, they need to believe this. They want to believe a great writer describing greatness makes the idea real. A great writer masquerades as a magician, in that respect. He attempts bleeding meaning out of a blank page. This can breed an attitude that all the work, every single word of every single article, must mean something, lest the craft be sullied.
Bissinger was right in his critique of the people at the Bush rally, but were they wrong to believe in something, no matter how flimsy and frivolous when placed in the unforgiving context of reality? Bissinger believes his craft has the power to elevate and inspire. To him, Deadspin isn’t righteously indignant, but a sham glorying in degradation, widely read to the point of being dangerous. Perch is everything, frame of mind.
But Leitch is right. The incessant hero worshipping, which always, always leads to hero teardown [now let’s act shocked!], the nonsensical narratives featuring millionaires falling from an artificial state of grace, the downright diabolical, subliminal agendas carried out by self-promoting reporters and networks, this is all garbage that should be exposed as such. Deadspin is far from perfect. Leitch could never even consider censoring his commenting section, but those involved certainly cross the line at times, with a little too much glee for many to stomach.
The unfortunate thing is, Leitch had no beef with Bissinger, and they’d probably share the same disgust at the phoniness poisoning sports reporting. But perch… perch is everything.
The two were simply miles apart.
At least Leitch had the decency not to scream across the canyon.
Everyone is right, for reasons exclusively their own. This is why, as Bob Dylan once said, everybody must get stoned. So long this terrible climate continues to boil, the process is inevitable.
Why so personal? Why is a great author straining his credibility, making blanket statements he probably immediately regretted? [In fact, Bissinger later admitted to enjoying a few blogs]
What drives us to this edge?
Ah, human behavior.
We should put down the rocks sometime. Have a discussion. Stop chasing the ghosts in our mind’s eye.
The future will be safe for prose. People will read Roger Angell, be entertained by Deadspin.
Even more won’t even give a damn about sports, or those of us writing about it.