Full Moon Drone
What a little honesty can do. Obama suggests that it might be stupid to arrest a cranky old public intellectual in his own home, and it overshadows the most important facing the (non-voting) American populace today. Stephen Marbury sustains 24 hours of online rant 'n' rave, and comes out on the other end provoking a range of emotions . . . if you consider disgust, annoyance, amusement, bemusement, and meta-voyeurism range. Here you go, your hybrid media event of the week, both sides manufactured, both ultimately very revealing.
To repeat something I said on Twitter: Marbury plays basketball for (roughly) the same city that Skip Gates was humiliated in. That's when you realize how, in their utter disparity, these two stories end up contradicting and reinforcing each other.
Dr. LIC called to my attention the following Stanley Fish passage, in today's NYT:
When an offer came from Harvard, there wasn’t much I could do. Gates accepted it, and when he left he was pursued by false reports about his tenure at what he had come to call “the plantation.” (I became aware of his feelings when he and I and his father watched the N.C.A.A. championship game between Duke and U.N.L.V. at my house; they were rooting for U.N.L.V.)
There was some internal debate over whether U.N.L.V was desirable because they represented the antithesis of Duke—including in all matters of style, culture, and race—or simply because they weren't Duke. Dr. LIC and I came to the consensus, though, that it didn't matter. The Times was never going to skew that radical, or near-essentialist. But I almost wish that Fish had, one way or the other, definitively let us know. Not because I think that important African-American figures owe us a daily update on their version of "Blackness," and relative relationship to the latest definitions of the terms.
No, I just think this kind of inkling would make the story more intelligible to members of the public who see Gates as having left himself behind and flipped out. Who don't see how the PBS figure connects to this outrage and belligerence. On the one hand, it's evidence of certain "tendencies" in Gates that could be used against him. But it also serves to undermine the myth of the good/bad Negro. Gates could be the paragon of respectability, and yet still have this sense of alienation simmering inside him—without it showing through except under the most exigent circumstances. That's proof that not he flipped out, but that anyone assuming that an angry Harvard professor is acting erratically just doesn't get it.
Back to saying all that you mean, and putting stock in the idea that the world need know that we exist on multiple levels, or registers. One can override most, and keep us secure. However, without those strains of dissent or self-contradicton, it becomes all the easier for a public figure to be portrayed as "lost" or "ruined" when he goes down that avenue. Show that they're connected, and people start to understand how these strains can co-exist. This, and not the politics of post-racial blandness, is Obama's most important political gimmick.
When I wrote that piece on Iverson and shifting definitions of authenticity, I spend way too much time explaining what I thought about AI. That really was neither here nor there. I also was wary of bringing hip-hop into the picture, because everyone knows I don't count there at all. But that's the analogy I was going for. Iverson was hip-hop to the core because, from a young age, he learned to make his public and professional face almost formally, or at least over-determinedly, fiery and uncompromising. Say what you will about his heart, or his production on the court, but as an athlete and public figure, Iverson never backed down, believed primarily in his own self-determination, and in that, met that era's fairly intentional, inorganic definition of "realness."
If that gets murky in basketball terms, just think about it vis a vis rap. One can be earnest, or know how he got to a point of playing a part, while still having to suppress contradictory strains of personality or behavior. Or creativity. Or style. So fine, argue about Iverson's career all you want. As an icon, he's associated with that strange space where fierce honesty can lead you down the path of self-limitation. Like Richard Nixon.
All of which brings us back to Marbury. In that Iverson ditty, I concluded that his stubbornness/integrity had given way to something more fluid, flexible and, if not complex, at least more stem cell-like among athlete images. Twitter brings us athletes watching their manners, sometimes, acting like themselves, mostly, and all in all, makes the Jordan/Iverson struggle seem like two prehistoric gods who battled to the death and left only pragmatism in their wake (note: any and all propositions that involve Obama and Twitter together are true.). The dark—for lack of a better word—side of this new access is UStream, which seems to attract only players who have the most to lose by having an unfiltered camera on them (or sprung on them) for hours on end.
J.R. Smith, we got you. Brandon Jennings may have been blindsided, but it's not accident he was mixed up in that world of new media marketing. And now Marbury's marathon spazz-session which, at its best, hammered home for me Dr. LIC's comparision of Steph to Tracy Jordan/Morgan, and how our inability to tell the difference between the two Tracys was something far more sad than just "dude playing himself." The tragedy of Iverson is that, while he spent so much time doing what he thought steeled him best against adversaries, and gave him the greatest, can't-trust-no-one chance for survival, he's also funny, charismatic in the grand warm sense of yore, and known for taking his art seriously, and game as art.
Who could forget this wild and woolly TrueHoop post, and a passage that should ring in our memories forever:
"Allen took psychocybernetics to a new level," [high school athletic director] Kozlowski recalls. Today, Iverson doesn't like to talk about how he does what he does on the basketball court. "I just do it," he says. Partially, like any artist, he is wary of overanalyzing his gift. But it could also be that he's known since high school that the real explanation defies easy answers, that the answer is, at heart, both beneath and above the level of language, and connected, on some level, to his psyche.
Cybernetics has to do with learning to understand a higher dimension after you break your nose, or something, and really, this plus the "unplugged" Iverson is one of the great lost opportunities of the modern marketing age. Did he jump or was he pushed? Remember those adidas bloopers that got yanked from YouTube once they blew up? Adidas eventually put some factory-sanctioned ones up for T-Mac, but Iverson's never returned.
Then, there's Stephon Marbury, whose last 24-hours speak for itself. Like it or not, that's Marbury. Try and position his performance in opposition to his career, or write it off as a stunt. But the very conception of it is totally weird. The mainstream media pushes binaries, or at least set models, and we buy into them. Marbury may have all along had the warning signs of a grade-A weirdo, but we were too busy trying to decide if players were Iverson or Jordan to connect the dots. The behavior with the Knicks certainly helped things, and yet that was taken as "acting out" in the same way that ultimately, Gilbert Arenas's persona served to make him seem more sane than the initial anecdotes that came out.
Staring into the abyss, sailing into the heart of darkness without you calling me racist. That's the shock, and retroactive head-slap, that this Marbury thing brought for me. Where have all the truly odd people gone in sports? We squelched them out as much as the corporations did. For better or worse, now there's nowhere for any of us to hide.
If people like Skip Gates were not only allowed, but expected, to have layers to them, the range of their personality would be harder to dismiss or reduce to an unflattering photo. If sports culture more often took into account that jocks are a sample of the population at large (some gay, some depressed, some indecisive) then this Marbury thing would've been a close-up on a landscape we'd known had been there all along. And instead of our judgments being cynical, we would know that the cynicism rested purely within our own hearts.