Profiles in Psychology

What the hell is going on with Vince Young? He's gone from AWOL to suicide threat to potential early retiree in the span of 72 hours...all over a bum knee and getting booed at home? Not to mention that his mom is currently playing PR-guy, which is never a good thing (cf. Vince Carter). This is the type of behavior one might expect at mid-season under the pressure of building a rep in the NFL and turning his playoff-caliber squad into a truly elite team, but after one game? I'm lost.

There are certain parallels with Vince's story and the Culpepper tragedy. Two unconventional athletes, brimming with pride, often "going it alone" and never having been truly embraced by their home fans (despite giving the fans every reason for full embrace). In a way, it's the only "f*ck you" these two guys have got left--to deprive us of their tremendous athleticism as if to say, "You all put the pressure on me. You've knocked my personal life. I've taken the knife to my body multiple times for you + a thousand hits to my torso by various linebackers. Now you still aren't thankful? Then fine, I quit." (Oddly, I suppose suicide is the extreme version of this sentiment).

The threat of retirement/self-questioning of whether one is "built" for this ("this" = the NFL, life as an athlete/celebrity/etc) is a brilliant strategy, with one caveat: It humanizes Vince to the point where we feel discomfort. I think ultimately we don't want our athletes to be flawed/human. Sure, it's funny to see Matt Leinart beer-bonging it up with ASU girls, but it was otherworldly to see him almost lead the Cardinals to victory over the Bears in the "They are who we thought they were" game. I've spun this song and dance many times before: The dunk contest was the highlight of last NBA season, because Dwight Howard was--in no uncertain terms--doing things that I could never in my life do. Same goes for Michael Jordan. Same goes for watching a flubby guy like Charles Barkley outrebound guys who had seven inches on him. Same goes for the Warriors beating the Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs...

Humanization--the reminder that these guys actually have moms and didn't fall off of some magical tree--is bad for athletes. It's bad for sports. It kills our suspension of disbelief that is the joy of watching contests of seemingly supernatural ability (indulge me). Yet we keep asking for more and more access to these people, 25-hour news coverage, up to the minute internet reports, the whereabouts of Vince F'ing Young after he goes missing for just a few hours. And in the end, the whole business of making these guys human by pulling them down to our level is a no-win.

This is a topic I've become very interested in this election season, ever since Hilary was slanging shots of Whiskey in Deer Hunter country: Since when did we want our presidents to be "just like us?" I'm a tad too young to remember the buzz that surrounded the photo of Bill Clinton jogging into a McDonald's, but I'm told that this was a real "starter" for him, a glimpse into his psyche that gave him a real folksy appeal and made people think, "Hey, this guy gets the munchies just like me!" After Clinton, of course, we get 8 years of KING FOLK--the human hayseed who is SO MUCH LIKE US THAT HE CANT TIE HIS SHOES. And in the 2008 election, "just like us-ness" has become an issue on par with Iraq and the economy. Who is a hockey mom? Who can shotgun a beer? Who likes arugula? Who has too many homes? Who is bitter? Who likes guns? Who is a single mom? Who had a single mom? Who is from Scranton? I have literally heard a Palin supporter state that she likes Palin because she gives her the feeling that "anybody can become president." What? How is this a good thing?

Meanwhile, "Elitist" has become the new "Nazi" and this backwards-ass thinking is driving us into four more years of stupidity. Why the hell wouldn't you want someone who is BETTER than you more than someone who is exactly like you? Of course the common response is: "We need someone like us so they can understand OUR problems." That's a nice sentiment, but it's also a lie. It's a lie that Bill Maher far too unobjectively delved into a few days ago, but a lie nonetheless: Americans want someone exactly like them because they are arrogant. They don't like people to be above them. Many Americans like W. because they don't feel like they're being made to feel inferior when he governs. Apparently, Sarah Palin gives people the same feeling.

I have no solution to this issue, but I can point to at least one part of the cause. If you know me well, I've probably referenced to you this article by Thomas De Zengotita:

Take how athletes now celebrate themselves after nearly every play. And by extension,
the way fans celebrate not just the team or the victory but themselves.
There's that same element, that same quality, to be found in the
way those exhilarated men position themselves, beefy faces alight with a
peculiar blend of exultation and hostility, tendons hulging in their necks,
fists pounding the air, bodies thrust forward as if to bulldoze past all compromise,
apparently frenzied, apparently berserk, bellowing in tones suggestive
of profound vindication, bellowing "Yeaauh! Yeaauh! Yeaauh!"
And each "Yeaauh" lilts above the preceding one, as if to reinforce it but
also to comment on it, even to parody it, and suddenly you realize that
this is also a performance, and a contest, a folk art—and oh-so-self-conscious
after all.

And, by further extension, all the high-fiving and hissed-yes-pointing
and thumbs-upping in the culture as a whole, in commercials, in our lives,
in the continuous play of expressions and gestures that signify degrees
of—what shall we call it.'—triumphal intensity. The alchemy at work
across this spectrum is, at bottom, the same. It precipitates a fusion of the
real and represented, a culture of performance that ultimately constitutes
a quality of being, a type of person—the mediated person. And, as we
shall see, this type of person doesn't have heroes.

The gist of the article is that we have become a performative culture, with access to Garage Band and Pro Tools, and 1000 TV channels, and more bandwidth than we could ever imagine. Thus, we don't have heroes or celebrities anymore because we ARE the heroes/celebrities. We are constantly on stage, or at least we know what it's like to be on stage at all times. The brilliance of this article is that it predates the YouTube/Reality TV explosion but perfectly describes the major affect of media on our generation:

Has it ever struck you, watching interviews with people in clips from the 1940s and 1950s, say, or even just looking at them in photographs, how stiff and unnatural they seem? Even prominent people, but especially regular folk, the way they lean into the mike and glance awkwardly around as they say whatever they have to say in semi-formal tones, almost as if reciting; and the way they raise their voices, as if they can't quite trust the technology to reach an absent audience.

But nowadays? Every man on the street, every girl on the suhway platform, interviewed ahout
the snowstorm or the transit strike—they are total pros, laughing in the right places, looking directly at the interviewer or into the camera, fluid, colloquial, comments and mannerisms pitched just right for the occasion, completely at ease.

Method actors all.

So, I believe there's some insight there--most people are now so used to being at least partial celebrities/important figures that they don't like relinquishing that status to others. I, on the other hand, accept my plebeian status. I like my quarterbacks unshakeable and I like my presidents to be superhuman Hawaiian-Kenyan-Kansan hybrids who went to Columbia and Harvard and inspire Stevie Wonder to make songs about them.

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At 9/10/2008 3:13 PM, Blogger Crabbie said...

Wonderful, if seriously confused about Vince Young as both football player and person. At the beginning.

But anyway, Monta Ellis?

At 9/10/2008 3:26 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

I always use Vince Carter as the perfect example of someone built for, and yet not built for, superstardom. But what makes Young such another case altogether is that, while Carter's heart only really showed up in those Olympics and when he and AI got in a scorer's duel, Vince Young IS heart. The championship at UT, the rookie season run with the Titans, those are everything you could possibly ask of an athlete in terms of not only standing up to pressure, but floating above it like it didn't exist. This despite--and here's where I don't see the Culpepper comparison working so perfectly--some notable limitations as a "traditional" QB.

So what does this leave us with? Someone who, like Vince Carter, seems destined by genetics to do great things on a football field, and who also possesses the leadership skills, charisma, and psychological make-up to make the most of those natural gifts. And yet, apparently, at the same time, he doesn't. I don't want to jump to conclusions here, but it seems to me like this is an issue of Young being by turns invincible and wholly vulnerable.

At 9/10/2008 5:30 PM, Blogger Christopher said...

I'm glad you are a football fan Shoals. I had begun to wonder if the funny shaped ball had a place in the realm of FD. The whole Vince thing is abit disconcerting. I was a student at UT while Vince was there and I will forever feel a special bond to his performances there and to him as an athelete, and, in some hardly justified way, as a person. That Rose Bowl was one of the greatest moments of my own collegiate experience, which ties in to the De Zengotita piece. I remember VY talking about the prospect of 'retirement' after his rookie year. No matter what, its all love for VY in Austin, TX and it always will be.

At 9/10/2008 6:22 PM, Blogger enoogs said...

Just wanted to add a thought I have always had about this thesis; that Warholian idea of 'everyone gets their 15 minutes' has morphed into everyone believing they deserve it and many are sitting around preparing for it (method actors). How much of our culture is caught in a feedback loop where art (here: entertainment) imitates life imitates art to the point that many people of my (our) generation can't communicate except through a series of movie/tv quotes and other cultural inside jokes.

Slightly off-point, but related, I think. Might have to think a bit more about how this fits in with the idea that the People want someone who is like them, rather than a Great Man.

At 9/10/2008 6:31 PM, Blogger lundym said...

I like the Vince Carter comparison. The only difference I see is in their respective sports and whether said sports are conducive or not towards coasting on talent. Carter, with no drive, had enough talent to put up the stats, grab some highlights, and garner some all-star nods. You can't pull that in football, or at least to the same extent.

On the political front, the "just like me" was pushed to a whole new level with Bush. When it was between Bush and Kerry I thought it boiled down to "Who would be a better guest at a barbecue?" And Bush would trump Kerry at a backyard cook-off. Bush would tell some jokes, take a look at the host's truck, watch the sausage links while said host tended to other matters. Kerry was a depressing-ass dude. Nobody wants to hear about international relations at a barbecue.

At 9/10/2008 7:14 PM, Blogger Dr. Lawyer IndianChief said...

plus, "windsurfing is bourgeoisie"

At 9/10/2008 7:39 PM, OpenID tredecimal said...

I am worried by the fact that no one responded to Snow White's hair initiative. Even though I am at the same time relieved. But it suggests that Americans will not, or cannot see themselves as princely.
Even Paul, that most princely of our contemporaries, did not respond appropriately. Of course it may be that princely is not a good thing to be. And of course there is our long democratic tradition which is anti-aristocratic. Egalitarianism precludes princeliness. And yet our people are not equal in any sense. They are either... The poorest of them are slaves as surely as if they were chained to gigantic wooden oars.
The richest of them have the faces of cold effete homosexuals. And those in the middle are wonderfully confused.

At 9/10/2008 7:47 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

VC I feel is an incomplete compariosn to VY, if only that the issue with Carter wasn't dealing with the pressure so much as just not having the 'heart' to make a day-in day-out impact so to speak. In this way he's always reminded me a lot more of (pre-NE) Randy Moss. Otherwordly talent, amazing stats, but ultimately someone who you feel your team is better without.

VY isnt like that, i feel. The Rose Bowl performance against SC is still the best individual sporting effort I've ever witnessed, and his rookie season just showed he had more of 'that' bottled up somewhere. There is no way in Hell Vince Carter ever pulls off that 4th and 5 run (or its basketball equivalent) through the entire USC secondary. No f'cking way.

The question I've been mulling, then, is who VY resembles basketball wise, in that he's an amazing athlete who doesn't lack that "heart/clutch" gene but at the same time is vulnerable to external pressures of another kind (media/fans/coaches?...)

The best (imperfect) comparison I can come up with us young Shawn Kemp, coming off hanging 23-10 on the Jordan Bulls in the Finals, being traded to Cleveland and eating his way out of the league.

At 9/10/2008 7:59 PM, Blogger FunWithLogic said...

"Oh, Lord, what a pleasure it used to be to dream I might be a really great dictator or writer or religious or political leader--and now even a Leonardo da Vinci or Lorenzo de Medici couldn't be a real old-fashioned bolt in the world. Life is too huge and complex. The world is so overgrown that it can't lift its own fingers, and I was planning to be such an important finger--"

"I don't agree with you," Tom interrupted. "There never were men placed in such egotistic positions since--oh, since the French Revolution."

Amory disagreed violently.

"You're mistaking this period when every nut is an individualist for a period of individualism. Wilson has only been powerful when he has represented; he's had to compromise over and over again. Just as soon as Trotsky and Lenin take a definite, consistent stand they'll become merely two-minute figures like Kerensky. Even Foch hasn't half the significance of Stonewall Jackson. War used to be the most individualistic pursuit of man, and yet the popular heroes of the war had neither authority nor
responsibility: Guynemer and Sergeant York. How could a schoolboy make a hero of Pershing? A big man has no time really to do anything but just
sit and be big."

"Then you don't think there will be any more permanent world heroes?"

"Yes--in history--not in life."

(This is from Fitzgerald's This Side of Paradise. Maybe it's just me, but it seems fitting. Young succeeded in a realm where individualism was key - NCAA. Now, he is playing in an individualist realm, where the perception of being great is greater than doing great things. There is only so much that someone transcendent can take. On a similar note, the Times website has a great article on egoism and psychology in football: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/14/sports/playmagazine/14OFFTHEFIELD.html?hp - sorry I don't know how to make that a real link.)

At 9/10/2008 9:30 PM, Blogger The Raccoon said...

You don't find John McCain to be larger than life?

As Bob Ellis put it,
"John McCain was a great raw wound of a man, with fury and goodness mixed in him in dangerous, poignant proportions. We would not be surprised if he invited Bin Laden to the White House to talk peace and then re-invaded Vietnam. We know he's a perfect summer storm of a man, full of perilous lightning and healing waters and his core honesty, unlike Hillary's, is not in doubt"

Disagree with his politics if you must, but i'm really dissappointed that you guys have been so utterly contemptuous and dismissive of McCain's unique stature in our political landscape. I mean this is John McCain of McCain-Feingold, of McCain-Kennedy, of the Gang of 14, of McCain-Leiberman...

At 9/10/2008 9:45 PM, Blogger m. Alana said...

...the John McCain of the Keating 5. The John McCain that called his wife a cunt in front of three journalists. The John McCain that left the wife that had stayed with him throughout his time in Vietnam, and gotten in a crippling car accident while he was gone, in order to marry the 20-years-younger beauty queen/heiress he'd been stepping out on his first wife with. The McCain known for his womanizing, foul mouth, and incredibly brief fuse. The McCain known even among his allies on the hill as a dangerous loose cannon...

That guy.

I love FreeDarko, you know? But I don't want an FD president.

At 9/10/2008 9:50 PM, Blogger m. Alana said...

Oh, and not to downgrade the bipartisan accomplishments you mentioned. I liked centrist McCain fine, when he was a senator. But he's essentially denounced all of his moderate tendencies in order to be embraced by a shrinking far-right base. He has to do so in order to be nominated, but that doesn't say much in his favor to me.

At 9/10/2008 10:24 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

"...the McCain of McCain-Palin, the McCain who sought DUBYA's endorsement, the McCain who had people chant 'drill, baby, drill' at his nomination, the 100-years-in-Iraq McCain..."


*fist pump*

At 9/10/2008 10:29 PM, Blogger avery said...

i know half of us are grad students. just got home from "postmodern fiction" where we compared baudrillard and kosinski's novel Being There (see the movie/read the book).
Then I read this stuff, and the last half messes me up.
We impose our own will, imperfections and desire onto a hero. The less experienced the better a blank slate for us to project our images of greatness.
We love the high school kid with mad hops, we love the inexperienced , but charming orator; we love the inexperienced moose shooter.
and the site that brings it home is this--in case you haven't seen it yet: www.barackobamaisyournewbicycle.com

At 9/11/2008 12:25 AM, Blogger m. Alana said...

Avery - I support Obama because his policies agree with my positions on almost every issue. But, you know, your mileage may vary.

At 9/11/2008 1:13 AM, Blogger The Raccoon said...

I didn't come here to ask for anybody's vote, so i'm going to completely ignore Daniel and m. Alana.

I'm a lot more concerned with why none of the authors here can put aside policy disagreements to acknowledge that Maverick is at least as FD as Barry O'Bomber.

At 9/11/2008 1:50 AM, Blogger jawaan oldham said...

It shouldn't concern you. People disagree. Not to mention it being problematic (not to mention irrelevant) to worry about politicians being FD. Unless, of course, J.R. Smith blows out a knee and says "fuck it, I'm running for the Senate."

wv: vwiwh---my reaction at turning on MSNBC and seeing that J.R. Smith is running for the Senate

At 9/11/2008 2:30 AM, Blogger m. Alana said...

raccoon - Here's the thing: I don't think he is, particularly. He's about as FD as, I don't know. Bill Laimbeer or something. Centrist positions and notable time served aside, being an asshole doesn't necessarily make one a rebel.

At 9/11/2008 3:16 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

I don't know anything about NFL, aside from the occasional comment on this or other basketball sites, being as I live in Australia... however, it seems that the VY situation is eerily similar to one of our local footballers here... granted, the kid never got booed or anything, but the story is as follows: Nathan Ablett, son of the consensus greatest Australian Rules footballer of all time (Gary Ablett Sr.), and younger brother of the current best player in the league (Gary Ablett Jr.). Scouts would have us believe that Nathan possesses more raw potential and talent than his older brother. The Australian Football League plays 22 games in a season, and, if you win well enough, 3 or 4 in the finals, depending on the path taken to the Grand Final. Including finals games, Nathan played about 30 total matches. Won the premiership on the same team as his brother last year, under the watchful eye of their illustrious but very private father, who also played for the same team (Geelong). Such is the weight of expectation upon having the surname Ablett in Geelong (and general football circles), the boy could not handle the pressure of being a celebrity on such a scale, gave up football at 23 years old after winning the Premiership last season, and is now a construction worker. Apparently, he'd rather play local footy with his mates that in the big league. Curious decision, but these things happen...

At 9/11/2008 3:26 AM, Blogger The Raccoon said...

McCain doesn't have a rebellious streak?

This is the man who went to Michigan during primary season and said "those jobs aren't coming back.", the man who went to Iowa in caucus season and said he's against farm subsidies because they “hurt the world’s poorest farmers in Africa", the man who went to Virginia and railed against Agents of Intolerance. You don't think that man takes a special joy in slaying sacred cows?

At 9/11/2008 3:48 AM, Blogger The Raccoon said...

from p. 50 of Robert Timberg's biography of McCain

"Pondexter was the sort of guy with a halo around his head." said classmate Bill Hemingway. "McCains was the one with the horns." Hemingway was Pondexter's roommate, but not even McCain would contest the point....McCain enjoyed plebe summer, thriving on the physical activity and drill... he displayed a dynamic quality, a scrappiness that revealed itself most clearly in the plebe summer boxing smokers. Unschooled as a boxer, McCain would charge to the center of the ring and throw punches until someone went down. That summer it was always the other guy. He won all his fights by knockouts or TKOs.
His fortunes took a downward turn when the upper three classes returned in September. The least docile of plebes, he refused to accept the notion that someone could demean and degrade him simply because he had been at Annapolis two or three years longer. As he saw it, a lot of guys who had never done anything in their lives suddenly had the power to make his life miserable. "It was bullshit and I resented the hell out of it," he later said.

As at Episcopal, he reacted by challenging the system, quickly piling up demerits. Shoes unshined, late for formation, talking in ranks, room in disorder, gear improperly stowed....He treated the system throughout his four years like a hostile organism, something to beat back, keep at bay, as if any compromise meant surrendering a part of himself that he might never retrieve."

That doesn't remind you of, say, McCants or Stephen Jackson or Iverson?

I'm voting for McCain because I think he's done more for progressive causes over the last 15 years than any other America, but I'm not interested in anyone's politics.

I'm very curious about why in a weeks worth of political posts littered with snide dismissals of McCain, there's been no appreciation of McCain's very FD character.

At 9/11/2008 4:24 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

Because he's not very FD anymore-he's playing a careful system game now (get the soc cons onside, work the base, take the low road in ads, lie like a motherfucker, be orthodox and Republican fundamental). You're talking about the McCain of 2000, not 2008. And if the old KG meant nothing here once he hit the system of the Celtics, why would you expect that FD would love on a guy who "sold out" on a larger scale and more ugly?

At 9/11/2008 9:51 AM, Blogger m. Alana said...

Andrew - Took the words out of my mouth.

Raccoon - The "agents of intolerance" thing is why I'm now disgusted with him, at least in that particular sense. He denounced the bigoted evangelicals providing votes for his party for what they were - then, the next electino cycle, embraced them. Disgraceful.

At 9/11/2008 10:07 AM, Blogger wondahbap said...

I suspect you're voting for McCain because you'd vote for any nominee the Republicans put out there. Just like most Republicans rabidly defend the Palin choice because you're told to, and go along regardless of the absurdity. McCain simply refused to ever get out of line. So it became his turn. This has been a terrible 8 years, and he sure won't try to change it.

At 9/11/2008 10:45 AM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Being the toughest guy at your prep school doesn't seem very FD to me, but maybe I'm missing something.

At 9/11/2008 10:49 AM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

Please stop.

At 9/11/2008 2:04 PM, Blogger Joey said...

"anyone can be president" doesnt mean "everyone can be president", it just means the president can come from anywhere. jeez, didnt you see Ratatouille?

that being said, i agree that people just look to get behind someone thats like them, i wouldnt call it arrogance, as much as narcissism. but people on both sides are guilty of that.

i find that Obama sometimes answers questions to way I WOULD answer them, and its refreshing, i think thats his appeal, he doesnt seem full of shit.....but i wont vote for him, cause im not basing my vote on that. maybe the most underqualified presidential candidate in recent history answers questions like a normal person is because normal people are totally unqualified to be president. but here i am, making YOUR point.

At 9/11/2008 2:41 PM, Blogger Brown Recluse, Esq. said...

Obama is at least as qualified as W. was when he was elected, save for that magical "executive experience" (5 years as governor versus 3 years as U.S. Senator and 7 years as a state senator) but whatever. You should vote on policy, especially when the differences between the candidates are huge.

At 9/11/2008 3:45 PM, Blogger Jay Smith said...

Very thoughtful, had a great time reading your post

At 9/11/2008 5:04 PM, Blogger Jason Gill said...

To embrace cliche:

If you were a butterfly, and I clipped your wings and told you to embrace your life as a caterpillar, you would be struggling to crawl out of the depths of despair as well.

At 9/11/2008 9:56 PM, Blogger wondahbap said...



At 9/12/2008 1:35 AM, Blogger Avinash said...

Damn, Cuban just addressed the idea of role models today.


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