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.


At 9/16/2006 7:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Quite Frankly interview was hard to watch. However, even if Artest isn't the most intelligent person in the "L", nobody can deny the man's talent and skill. I still don't know about that Finals promise though.

At 9/16/2006 9:02 PM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

"I'm a different kind of hood."

I know we're all trying to lay off the ball ≈ jazz discussion, but I just can't ignore that dude had to go to Europe to find a company willing to market him.

At 9/16/2006 9:11 PM, Anonymous torgo said...

I've been trying to figure out Artest since he was a rookie, and I think the word you tossed out there, "autistic" might have clarified things a bit. Not that, y'know, he's actually autistic, but the idea that his focus on doing a thing (winning, promoting crappy music, standing up for himself in a threatening situation) is so intense, so powerful, that he loses all concept of proportion.

Think about it, wanting to take time off to promote his band, in the middle of his "real" job. It was that important to him that he lost the grip of the dominant perspective, which was that he is a ballplayer first, and needs to focus on that. I honestly think producing had caught his eye, and, not that he stopped wanting to play ball, he just became totally focused on that.

Or, the story that surfaced after the Bulls traded him, that at half-time of a blowout loss, he stood in the middle of the locker room, bouncing full force chest passes off the wall, inches above the heads of his teammates, saying absolutely nothing. Totally silent locker room, everyone else is terrified that Artest is going to kill them. I imagine Artest's focus on winning was such that he couldn't comprehend the idea that, like some of his teammates who'd given up, it was okay to lose a game.

Other examples: the punching out of a team picture after a loss, getting the job at Best Buy (Circuit City?) to be the provider for friends and family he thought he was supposed to be (but couldn't be on a 2nd round salary). Just a loss of perspective, of focusing too intently, of trying, no matter what, to accomplish the thing set in front of him.

At 9/16/2006 9:13 PM, Anonymous Pichi Campana Aguanta said...

Could James Carr be Terry Porter's biological father? On that low angle shot I was convinced it was him.

At 9/16/2006 9:19 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

torgo--let it be me that gently reminds you: artest was the 16th overall pick.

a lot of what you've described might also easily be described as obsessive, or impulsive. my understanding of "autistic" was that it implied someone whose social and communiaction skills were ragged, but who could absolutely excel at a certain activity. artest previously seemed like a basketball savant (fuck the "psycho" read) who was at a loss when it came to most everything else.

--six, fine, go ahead, drop a name if you want. i know you've got one in mind. expect the recluse or myself to follow suit.

At 9/17/2006 1:40 AM, Anonymous torgo said...

Shoals, thanks. Got confused, second pick by the Bulls that year, second round... my bad.

What I've heard about autism is that it has to do with focus, and an inability to prioritize. That the thing or subject which an autistic person (not to say a savant) is an all-consuming focus.

Not trying to say, in any way, that he's actually autistic, but that his behavior smacks of someone who gets obsessively into something and loses the ability to prioritize. I wish the Bulls had kept him, but he was, in the early years, freakishly out of control. He seems to be doing better now, and I hope he can keep his shit together in Sacramento. If not for all of the baggage, people would be talking about him as a top 10 player, and if he'd work on his shot selection just a touch.

At 9/17/2006 11:27 AM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

There's a consensus of uncertainty here about autism, so I'll throw in this sidebar. I'm not a psychiatrist, but I have studied a fair amount of neurology.


They are two very different conditions that people often conflate, not due to their own prejudice, but a lack of information available to the lay person.

A significant element of autism is the abnormal processing of sensory information. It's not just a thinking problem; it's also a seeing, hearing, touching problem. Sometimes this manifests as difficulty paying attention because the autistic may not be able to ignore things in the environment that healthy people don't even see. However, the effects can be as weird as having painful sensations where your clothes touch you. (One fairly common thing for parents with autistic toddlers is having trouble getting them to keep their clothes on.)

The communication part of it mostly stems from the autistic's difficulty or inability to have the feeling of what's going on in someone else's head, or even that anything is going on in other people's heads at all. They don't necessarily lack emotion, although they can't respond to it the same as we can.

None of this is meant to condescend; I just feel strongly that our society puts way too little stock in the public's understanding of serious things (illness being one of many), and my training puts me in a position to speak up.

At 9/17/2006 11:33 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

it's always both heartening and frightening when i discover that FD regulars have "studied a fair amount of neurology."

i know a decent amount about mental problems, so feel some need to make it clear that i wasn't completely off-base in my initial comments. it's the lack of empathy and real-world, i don't know, "presence" that's key to autism, and this was kind of the thrust of my discussion of artest. to me, trying to understand him through the lens of more traditionally chaotic, berserk, etc. diseases only feeds the myth of artest, jungle madman of the NBA (albeit in a more constructive, and thoughtful, way than is usually the case)

At 9/17/2006 11:34 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

and maybe bringing in asperger's might've been more prudent from the get-go

At 9/17/2006 1:50 PM, Blogger T. said...

Skip has a mild form of asperger's.

At 9/17/2006 5:53 PM, Blogger salt_bagel said...

Shoals: I wasn't confronting the idea, just feeling like people might be putting a presupposition at the core of the idea.

Absolutely some of Ron's behaviours smell of autism. Although he'd have to be pretty much the highest-functioning autistic of all time. (How's that for a New Excellence?) Regarding how he should be viewed: I totally agree that crazy berserker is not only a bad way to frame him, but also says something about the frames most people possess.

T: are you talking about Skip Bayless?

At 9/17/2006 5:59 PM, Blogger El Dave said...

I'm sorry, but yall are missing the big picture of this. Ricky Powell stole this interview the second he came on screen.

"Ain't no farts going on around here."

At 9/17/2006 9:11 PM, Anonymous faux_rillz said...

An anecdote that might add depth to the discussion:

Several months ago, the Friday morning before Hot 97's Summer Jam concert, Ebro--that stations' program director, and annoying MTV2 personality--prank-called Artest on-air. The gist of the call was that Artest had apparently been scheduled to perform on some sort of second stage at Summer Jam, but Ebro was now telling him that if he did not agree to perform a rhyme written by Ebro, his appearance would be cut from the schedule. Specifically, the rhyme would include several references to the brawl in Detroit and feature the "Whup that Trick"-inspired chorus of:


Then, as the chorus was being delivered, five "whiteboys" would run onstage, douse Artest with beer, and then submit to "being slapped up, just to show how raw you are," in Ebro's words.

After first weakly protesting--"C'mon man, naw, I can't do that"--Artest was worn down by Ebro within all of two minutes, ultimately agreeing unenthusiastically to do it. He clearly realized that the stunt could have some consequences for him and, beyond that, it didn't seem to strike him as at all funny. Is it that his rap career--which mostly exists within his own head--is his Achilles heel and that upon seeing the opportunity to promote himself as a rapper slipping away, his judgement departed? Or is it that he is in some ways genuinely and generally childlike, unable to fully weigh the pros and cons of certain courses of action? Or some combination of the two?

Whatever the case, the call left left me feeling overwhelmingly sad, thinking that Artest is probably much more susceptible than most to the wiles of all the people that want to take advantage of the money and fame of a young man that happens to play in the NBA.

At 9/17/2006 9:57 PM, Blogger there is no you or me without Suomi said...

Salt: Seeing as how he's the other Rocket man around here, I'm guessing that T. might be talking about Rafer "Skip-to-my-Lou" Alston.

anyone else wonder how Stephen A. Smith ended up on a CNN panel about the Middle East?

wv: ginefuh- I can't believe someone hasn't named their kid this yet.

At 9/18/2006 4:42 PM, Anonymous ronnie_dvs said...

Just like how all those Yinka Dare fight mixes open up with the shot of Yinka's head, all videos on you tube should now end with the ominous black and white shot of ron ron.

At 9/19/2006 2:49 PM, Anonymous J.E. Skeets said...

Look, can we start calling Ron Artest, Raymond Babbitt or not?

“97X, bam! The future of rock 'n' roll. … 97X, bam! The future of rock 'n' roll. … 97X, bam! The future of rock 'n' roll.”

At 9/20/2006 2:26 AM, Anonymous Mr. Six said...

A few days to think about it, and it turns out I don't have anyone in mind, actually. I'm not sure that there is a jazz equivalent for Ron-Ron. Which has me wondering whether he's actually unprecedented ... which is a hell of thing to start thinking about while washing dishes.

This may truly be the end for me of the jazz-hoop linkage. (Though I'd welcome Shoals and the Recluse dropping those names to get me off of the scary train on which I'm now traveling because ...)

The possibility that he is unprecedented has my mind going in odd directions, including thinking more about the implications of a German shoe company sponsoring Mr. Ron Artest. And that same company, most likely marketing primarily to European shoe buyers, choosing to use as the iconic image of the marketing campaign RON ARTEST IN A DEFENSIVE POSE.

What if Ron-Ron becomes the godfather for the next generation of young Euros? What if Ron Artest is the death of the Old Euro and the midwife to the New? If the Artest shoe : Air Jordans :: Euro : America, what nascent monsters may be born on those foreign shores?

At 9/20/2006 3:27 AM, Blogger T. said...

Just yesterday, Ron-Ron was on the local (I'm currently/temporairly in Sacramento) hip-hop radio station talking about how sometimes when he's on the court, he's thinking about making rhymes.

That, if nothing else, is FreeDarko in a nutshell.

WV: dxatrd - non-PC insult of the future.

At 9/21/2006 2:22 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

all right, fuck it, ron artest is george adams.


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