It All Falls Somewhere
Spectacle has no angle, no perspective. It is horror without intent, intent without horror; it fuses the two poles of aesthetics and outcome as if there had never been an need to reconcile them. There is now a complete circle where before we had long chains of dialectics, writhing between extremes more friendly than they knew. Gone is the case-by-case nature, which required the utmost level of devotion -- either an intuitive crackle, or monastic grind. War's finery and brutality were historically used in the West to mask and enrich one another. Then in the modern age, war-as-spectacle turned power into art, and art into an expression of power. It's fascism, but it's also every single terrorist organization that garnered street cred with kids in the latest digs.
And yes, spectacle is the place where war bleeds into sport without the least bit of room for resistance.
Did you hear the one about last night's TNT line-up. Coming into this season -- as far back as Hoop Summit 2009, actually -- I had expected Wall to not only wow us all with highlights, but rip through the fabric of the game. Some players expand possibilities; others leave categories in liquid ruin. Wall struck me as the kind who lashes out at what we know as if each play were his opening salvo. LeBron James is his own canon; the young Kevin Garnett had a gate-crashing spirit fit for the maddest explorer or most abstract scientist. Wall, though, would make his mark through spectacle, aggressive gestures that left you stunned, and altered the game, while leaving little trace of where they came from or how they might happen again. I still have that hope for Wall, but the newfound importance of the NBA point guard is, in some ways, a burden. The quarterback analogy, along with the learning curve that position demands, is relevant like never before. Structure isn't orthodoxy -- if anything, it's a chance for grander subversion. And yet it's a different kind of engagement.
Wall can still disrupt our basketball brains, and yet to really come into his own, he must expand this sensibility to an entire unit. Impossible? Who knows. Paul is a mastermind, Rondo an eccentric, Nash a trickster. Jazz fans, stick your Deron Williams line here. None of them had Wall's smoldering message, and yet each has consistently found a way to lead their troops not only toward the basket, but to send them scurrying with style -- an extension of themselves. There simply is no other position that offers this possibility, to transmute the quirks of one's game into something resembling a community. There is something cult-ish about it. These things don't end well in the real world. Especially when, in the thick of it, you find a player like Wall -- who, by definition, is at his best when he overrides what we thought we knew. I have no idea what a team premised on this kind of gesture means, and if "prophetic" is even the right word. Do prophets cause problems, or do they teach us anew? Saying "both" seems both unreasonable, presumptuous, and something only yours truly on the sidelines of both basketball and belief would ever tell you. I do know, though, that JaVale McGee figures prominently is that as-of-yet unknown future.
Blake Griffin doesn't have these problems. In part, it's because a vaguely-defined "big man", a giant entrusted merely with making life difficult, even harrowing, for other tall people or smaller ones who would come near the basket. The center has dissolved, and we are left with the "big man". Garnett may have started it, but don't disregard Tim Duncan's unwillingness to play, or be defined as, a five. Or everyone's refusal to be listed as 7'. What's left for Griffin, then, is a space blank, raw, and undefined. He has answered with the ultimate in basketball-as-spectacle. We can attempt to talk about him rationally -- how his combination of power, skill, strength, precision, speed, athleticism, and zeal is fairly unprecedented (LeBron doesn't use his size like this, nor is he as big). I could post some videos to remind you of his greatest hits. Yet Griffin's every move contains within it a shard of his genius. That's the definition of style, and yet in this case, the way that dominance is etched. When we lose this distinction, totalizing occur and spectacle overtakes us. Nothing is frivolous, or entertaining without suggesting a trail of wreckage and damnation left huddled in the corner. The chills Griffin gives us may be degree of difficulty, or because he makes it look so easy. Technology and culture hate each other most when they stare out from the same eyes.
From a fan's perspective, Blake Griffin is one of the most amazing athletes I have ever watched, as well as one of the most frightening. It is these same qualities that also likely make him one of the best. I said last night that Griffin is this NBA season's sole must-watch. Why? Pumped-up excerpts don't do him justice, and neither does the removed act of "having the game on". Griffin plays a different sport than everyone else. Wall would swoop in and scramble expectations. Griffin simply ignores that there was anything there before or since, or that showmanship and brute effectiveness need, for practical purposes, go their separate ways in a blink. His method isn't expert chaos, but a space-aged roar that makes you shout out in joy and pain at once -- at both the "how" and the "what".
This is the heart of spectacle, and when you're sucked in, you can't tell which way is up and which is down. It is the end and the beginning, for the game and for the way we parse it. Sometimes, I'm not even sure whether I'm supposed to love or hate him. Once upon a time, man discovered fire. According to the Greeks, Prometheus paid a price, but for an adjective like that, I would give my liver to a buzzard who knew more than I did.