When worlds collide on the low/high side of things
I find it hard to believe that none of us have yet had anything to say about King Kaufman, who if anything seems more subject to criticism and more worth scrutinizing than Page 3 since he gets published somewhere reputable.
Most of the time, he's harmless and a little likeable. Finding him in Salon every day helps me feel better about myself; I may have completey slacked off in the politics and policy dept., but being a compulsive sports consumer still leaves a place for me in this most, um, present of journalistic sites. Kaufman is also willing to make a learned ass of himself, if nothing else to prove that, as Salon's sports columnist, he's caught between two worlds and having an indefensible blast (highly relevant non-Kaufman quote: "fuck the world, stick my dick in the dirt"). This is from his "the Oscars are like sports" piece from today (no link; my password's stolen, and I don't think I can watch the twenty-second vodka ad for you):
"The Motorcycle Diaries" was yet another sports biopic, this one about Jay Williams, the erstwhile Chicago Bulls player who's now recording "The Basement Tapes" with the Band.
At first I thought this was worse than anything Page 3's ever written, mostly because the sports/culture connection don't even attempt to be witty, or make more than passing sense. Unless you find the following witty:
"Phoenix's lack of depth is really going to hurt them in the playoffs, since people get tired. Not the way people get tired when watching Empire; more like the feeling you get if you'd been at one of Herc's block parties. Do these guys really want to come off of the floor? Can you stop the flow?"
(Bonus points for the ambiguous reference to Empire, which works as either the Warhol milestone or Joey Crack's finest moment yet on screen.)
Kaufman, or in this case, my caricature of him, proves that he can effectively riff on sports and culture alike, but to such a degree that they're left in separate worlds. The only way to bridge them is by tricking us into fitting them into the same thought, like a strange man with pointy ears and the legs of a creature. And I really think that this is Kaufman's m.o. about half of the time. He's smarter than most sports people, but still a sports guy writing for Salon. The gift and the curse. The self divided. Either he feels the sting of rejection on all sides, or turns it into an instrument of showy suspension.
Page 3 wouldn't namecheck Dylan's Woodstock period. They probably wouldn't even make a joke about The Motorcycle Diaries. It's absolutely unthinkable that they would grant us the sublime gift of Jay Williams=Robert Zimmerman, even if Kaufman did so only to try and pass off desperate resemblance as exchange. I would expect Page 3 to say something like "Chris Rock wins the Gary Payton Award" or "Beyonce's performances were the Dallas Mavericks of Oscar night." Everything neatly on its side, staring at each other, us staring down from above at both.
The lesson here: the more you know about anything, the less convincingly you can make a joke about anything but that. Try getting a dinosaur-hunter to use his accumulated knowledge to liven up a night of "NBA Nation." Impossible. Now make him an avid basketball fan—impossible, but unstoppable in the lank and shivers department. It would be worth all the prizes in the world, even if not a word of it succeeded in gut-level comedy. And that, my friends, is why I read King Kaufman: to see a man who hunts all monsters at once forced to live among the peaceful, making his way in fits and starts, with thoughts of upending us all.