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
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.