Basketball Culture Wars, Part 2
In the coming weeks, you will get so many basketball/politics analogies streaming from my throat that you, and I, might well collapse from annoyance. But they come to me, they work, and I am not trying to be cute. I honestly think these parallel structures both bring us comfort and illuminate dark corners, which is to so say, one serious deserves another. And I need an excuse to keep writing about the election, which has overrun my brain and will destroy us all, or at least keep this site tethered to that which attracts our modest pool of readers (Coming soon: Tags! And then, the deluge!).
I have been riding the Palin Express since I woke up yesterday, reveling in the steady amount of jack-assery that's been turned up on the woman, marveling at what a perfectly vexing political decision that McCain camp made, hoping and praying that this ball of confusion resolves into truth and justice. I've also been haunted by the idea that her selection is not unlike one of those draft picks so bold, and yet so inane, that it causes cancer on the spot for all those who spend their spring projecting the draft instead of watching the playoffs. For some reason, the ones that most readily come to mind are two from the pre-Colangelo Raptors: Villanueva in 2005 or Rafael Araujo the year before. Both were surprises, and in their own way, bold gambles. Villanueva's talent was undeniable, Araujo was tall when that still mattered. That's also the ending I'm looking for here: Araujo failed immediately, never quite realizing that only summer league games have no foul limits, while Villanueva was soon traded but still has some hope of eeking out a productive career. He just needs minutes.
These are what I anticipate being the two possible outcomes for Palin. This choice has thrown her career into overdrive; at the same time, it's an obvious choice of too much, too soon (Note: That Rob Babcock is about on the McCain campaign's level of sophisitication should be noted, but not dwelled upon.) Palin could very well have ended up mattering on the national stage, but now, thrown to the wolves before she's the slighest bit ready, with regard to either issues or sheer political poise, a disaster should be inevitable. I'd be fine with her fading out like Araujo, maybe ending up in the House one day; isn't Hoffa on some team's roster now? Or, the Villanueva version of things, where she gets exposure from this, takes some advantage of it, and is able to salvage a little something from what's bound to be a high-profile failure. In this case, she'd need one 50-point game before the Dan Quayle charges, or cries of exploitation, really start to stick.
For now, it's a fun, perverse, and slightly treacherous ride. I just hope it resolves into something sensible before too long.
Also, while the Recluse launched his take on this election's Duke/Carolina culture wars, I wanted to take on the broader topic of basketball culture wars. I'm not saying that has happened yet, but this Palin crap is so clearly positioned to fuck with the "Obama, basketball president" monolith. She's white, tough, scrappy, rural, so devoid of physical gifts that she didn't even play in college. Now that's real. Barry, on the other, was a lean, fluid gunner as a teen, before evolving into a guy who did a little of everything but wouldn't hesitate to cross you over. Palin's version of the game is near-extinct grain under siege, one that exists only in the monastic lair of large-town Alaska. Obama, on the other hand, has taken his game to Occidental, to Harvard law pick-up games, to Chicago city courts, to informal play against our troops. Now, we may look at Obama's relationship with the game, and self expressed through it, and find the same co-mingling of supposed opposites that makes him such a fascinating figure. Yes, I know I said this last week.
But how easy would it be to spin Palin as pure Hoosiers, and Obama as a tall black dude who prefers the blacktop and can hack it because of his cocky attitude? The former "Barry O'Bomber", who for all his pretenses of analyzing action on the fly, remains at heart a me-first egoist out to prove his badness. Hell, why else would he get out there with today's Heels? PURELY TO SHOW HE CAN HANG. Palin, she'd prefer to nod approvingly while some young men or women, unspolit by even the corrupting influences of college ball, exhibit the kind of behavior that will help them later in life. For her, it was a valuable learning experience and proof of valor, but as a lifestyle-marker, was discarded in favor of hockey (like the NFL down here).
I don't really anticipate basketball becoming a wedge issue here. However, it's an important part of both Obama and Palin's bios. So even if we don't see them fielding questions about ball in their respective debates, it is part of a larger cluster of signs and symbols that the Right's going to lean on in the coming months. Palin's experience helps bolster this "Barrack is Other" meme, making his basketball, and thus him, blacker and therefore less American.