On the bruising of tongues
I am so sick of linking to the posts I wrote last fall on Ron Artest. Not because I'm wrong; more that, considering how much ink I've expended on this single quizzical figure, it's amazing I can ever think of anything new to say about basketball. Most of all, I thought I'd made my peace with Artest. He's an absolutely phenomenal talent who should be a perennial MVP candidate, and also happens to be one of the most unromanticizable figures in the whole Association. He does his, and doesn't offer up all that much for the FreeDarko scavenger. All that crazy stuff, as I've said on so many other occasions, is a byproduct of the intense athlete part. I suppose that makes him misunderstood—in the same way human dysfunction is by people running serial killer fansites.
So when PCA asked me if I'd seen Artest's latest appearance on Quite Frankly,, I was only so deflated that I hadn't. If you remember, I never quite recovered from the epic letdown of their Round One. That was the exact moment at which I began advocating for Artest the Professional, or Artest the Profound Mechanic, and left all dreams of the Civil Rights Artest in the dust. Artest was like a piece of live cardboard, even in the hands of Dr. Soul himself, Steven A. Smith; to expect him to somehow stake out a position in the socio-cultural bog he'd created was, to say the least, completely fucking unreasonable.
Then, tonight as I was busy wasting the end of my Friday on YouTube (watch this, and behold the crater it deposited me in), a new chapter revealed itself. For sport, I decided to watch the footage from Ron Ron's infamous communtiy service stint; instead, I ended up with something that was yet unseen to me.
No dancing around the point here: Artest may not be a political reformer, but he's certainly not lacking in personality as I'd earlier thought. Almost every other interview he's ever done, you could see the glaze dripping down from his eyelids. Apparently even SAS, no matter how much he's fashioned himself as the Players' Journalist, still elicits the same response in him. Even this gem finds him semi-robotic, in what should be the most comically informal setting imaginable. Though I read the unhinged quotes like everyone else, I'd imagined them delivered with that same far-off, patchy fervor. I honestly never believed that Artest had any kind of fluid, coherent swagger, which is partly why it's been so easy to to re-interpret him so many times over.
Here, though, with the man who once called a FreeDarko OG "INTERN," Artest is real. No, he's not particularly intelligent, astute, or deep, but he's certainly not a shell with bad manners. Ron Ron is no enigma; he's someone completely lost and ill at ease unless allowed to, well, be himself. And if that happens to result in a slightly touchy statement about racialized identity as its brewn in a place like Artest's beloved Queensbridge, so be it. Okay, the Barber is not technically Afro-American, and that schmo in the other clip is at least an eager participant in the hip-hop culture that would seem to tie Garcia and Artest together. You and I know, though, that the phrase "racialized identity" can mean what it says without resorting to essentialism.
Iverson, who's every bit the shock to the mainstream that this Artest is, is capable of repping himself proper with any gaze on him. His misunderstood because his perspective still makes no sense to millions of Americans, though it should be said that he had off far worse when he started out, and has made it so this should be easier for Artest. Factor in Bubba Chuck's candor and intelligence and, yeah, you do get a cross-cultural pioneer who's misunderstood in the fullest sense of the term. What Artest seems to lack is that ability to crossover without completely disappearing in the process, despite coming off with Bobbito as no one all that exceptional—just someone really fucking black.
The Souls of Mischief thing remains amazing, and I hadn't heard the QB-pride interpretation of "93." But hearing him say them to Bobbito—a sympathetic listener on his same wavelength, speaking his language, whatever—they're more cute eccentricities than evidence of an unquiet mind. I'd prefer to stop short of giving some nurture-based explanation for these small "weirdnesses," so go on how utterly forgettable they end up being in the context of that interaction as a whole.
The short and tall of this is that I misjudged Artest, just as the nation did before me. If they were guilty of reading too much race, class, and culture into his basketball activity, I can be charged thinking too little about the way in which that might have affected his way with the media. Why should we be surprised that this almost autistic talent from the wrong side of hell's gate is rarely himself in visible public? Or that, as much as FreeDarko loves to fuse basketball identity, cultural background, and the individual's unique psychology, in cases this subtlety is misplaced, if not counterproductive.