I wasn't going to write anything about Buzz Bissinger and his petulant, sanctimonious, and ill-informed rage. Not that I didn't care, far from it in fact; it actually ruined my day yesterday. Being told, even indirectly, "you suck" for the millionth time, by someone who in some sense you respect, even admire, and in any case has ultimate scoreboard over you, isn't very fun, although sadly, I've had plenty of time to get used to this sort of thing.
Then I saw this: Step Aside Yankees Universe and Red Sox Nation.
A collaborative piece posted by Jim Baker, Jonah Keri and Mike Philbrick on April 30th on ESPN's Page2, Step Aside is a humorous parody of the the endless, and endlessly tiring Yankees-Red Sox rivalry and the purple prose that it's generated. Ha! The Orioles and Rays, two pathetic teams, dividing a town miles from both and obviously not a battleground. That's pretty good. There's even a take on the old saw about familes being divided, and it's all the better because the town, in this case, Manning, South Carolina, is simply a tiny lil dot on the map.
The post on Page2 (or is it Page 2?) is funny, and I would have enjoyed it, as it's the kind of thing I really love. Unfortunately, I didn't, because I wrote something highly similar almost exactly one year ago: The Battle for Grass Creek, Wyoming. Parody of Yankes-Sawx? Check. Two pathetic teams with no actual rivalry? Check. Highlighting a tiny town sarcastically caught in the middle? Check.
Not that they were identical. The Page 2 "battle" included some great Rays-O's games, while I tried to dig a little deeper into Grass Creek (which wasn't easy, since in reality, it isn't actually a town anymore). In subsequent posts I've played up the players who've gone between the Mariners and Royals, which wasn't stressed on ESPN, while they went with the future as a framing device. I do take immense pride in the fact that, God knows how, a man who grew up in Grass Creek actually found my post, contacted me and shared his stories and thoughts on what the place was like. That remains one of the most satisfying things thats ever happened to me in connection with this site.
ESPN (The World Wide Leader in Sports):
Just off Interstate 95, not all too far from Florence, S.C., is a little place called Manning. In the giant battle zone that is the Orioles-Rays rivalry, this unassuming way station on the great coastal corridor just happens to be the very front line. Sitting equidistant to Baltimore and St. Petersburg, Fla., it represents the physical demarcation line of loyalties in this epic encounter of enmity. All those to the south of Manning are in the Rays' camp. All those to the north side with the Orioles. Any deviance from this geo-fandom would be a betrayal of the natural order of things.
In Manning, though, the lines are not so clearly drawn. Here, where the two great regions dominated by these team allegiances abut one another, it is neighbor against neighbor -- and very often brother against brother, father against son and pastor against parishioner.
Royals Review (Part of the unwashed masses with no standards and intelligence):
Royals-Mariners is always special. The proximity of the two cities, as well as their long historical rivalry, would alone justify the contempt. When you factor in the nearly annual 1-2 finish the Royals and M's produced in the old AL West (who can forget 1992?) and the countless greats who have shuttled between the two teams what emerges is a battle for the American soul: are you a Mariners fan or a Royals fan?
How you answer that question says everything about you.
And this is why the Gil Meche signing was not only the biggest news in sports this December, it was a cultural and historical event. Gil switching teams altered the emotional state of an entire region. It was a betrayal, it was a new found friend, it was the jilting of a lover and the gaining of a mistress. It was everything.
It divides families, college campuses, marriages and army units. Each side knows just what the other side hates most to hear, and vice versa. Every year ESPN jams the rivalry down our throats, knowing that we'll only beg for more. Mariners fans think the Royal cronies are bandwagonners, while Royals fans think the Mariner supporters are self-important and annoying. The Royals are sleek, corporate, professional and classy. The Mariners are swept by the tides of the sea, romantic, given over to loathing and self-doubt.Caught in the middle of this culture war is Grass Creek, Wyoming.
Let me be clear, I do not think Baker/Keri/Philbrick stole my idea. I really don't. I don't think they did so directly, indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Not only would it be wrong to assume so, it would be grossly presumptuous. Even though this last month was the biggest in the history of this site, my audience is astronomically small compared to the WWL, as they call themselves. It's hard to even imagine a scenario in which something from Royals Review ended up in front of them, especially from a year ago. No, I just think we both ended up in the same place by pure coincidence. A coincidence driven by the simple fact that the whole premise is a good idea.
On any other day, my reaction would be a slightly frustrated bit of pride, but on the post-Bissinger Thursday, frankly, I feel angry and bitter. Bitter that people who don't even read 99% of the good blogs out there still have the platform to make blanket statements. Bitter that, in a strange way, I feel like I have written quality content, content that's basically been ignored in this false and idiotic debate that's been based on medium and format.
When I started writing on this site, I imagined that the worst thing that could possibly happen would be getting a cease and desist letter from the Royals regarding the name, or some trumped up claim of defamation or copyright infringement (not that there's actually any defaming here, ever). Perhaps the next closest fear was getting an angry email from some player's girlfriend telling me what an idiot I am and what a joke I am and how pathetic I am. Hasn't happened. I've received one angry email from a reporter (which we talked out and ended well) and I've received one angry email from a Kenny Rogers supporter, which was not threatening but was certainly negative.
The funny thing, is that the most upsetting bit about being a blogger is that, for some terrible reason, about once a month I get word from Michael Wilbon or Bill Simmons or Rick Reilly or now, Buzz Bissinger, that I'm an ignorant, no-talent hack who lives in his mother's basement , hates civility, breeds cruelty and regularly butchers the English language. As regularly gets pointed out, the unmistakable vitriol in many of these blasts bespeaks a clear sense of being threatened, which is both understandable and ironic. But it's also just dumb. Really really dumb and tiring. It's about the same as Steve Nash showing up at a middle school, yelling at everyone that they can't shoot free throws, challenging one kid to a contest and then pumping his chest.
This may sound weak, maybe even too much so, but beyond anything else, these recurrent "controversies" hurt my feelings and depress me more than anything else. We often hear writers of all kinds brag about how little they get paid and how they're in it for all the right reasons. Well maybe they should consider the position of someone who does something for free, for almost no audience. Yet, I'm supposed to be the one who doesn't care about pure language and the beauty of words, in Bissinger's world.
Oh, and of course, also without any talent or standards. Best not to forget that.
If you only knew, Buzz. It's a sad fact of life that we are destined to lose sight of our roots, to lose connection to the motivations and circumstances that pushed us to succeed in the first place. This is what so many artists never quite match that first novel, album, or set of poems. So let's step into mine for a moment: in two weeks this site will celebrate it's third year of existence. Over that span, I have made probably $1,500 dollars total (see those text links in the sidebar), and that probably won't grow any time soon, since Google has killed the text link industry. Still, Royals Review is the most satisfying writing I've ever done, because of the feedback and interaction I have with readers. Compared to my supposedly real work, it's not even close. Let's see, there's the scholarly article I spent over a year working on and submitted seven months ago. Feedback? None. Response? None. Comments? None. Nothing. But just because I want even more pain, I'm also trying to finish a novel this month, which by my calculations stands about a two percent chance of ever getting published, and if so, that'll be sometime next decade. Maybe those with a built-in audience can't see how the simple ability to have a voice can be inspiring. Maybe those who detest the public can't grasp how the entire internet isn't a "wild west" of idiocy. What is clear is that the Buzz Bissinger who was able to avoid cliche and generalization and see around the sides of issues in Friday Night Lights is long gone, at least when he has something personal at stake. Or inaccurately feels like he does, as it were.
In the last few years, and this is a point Will Leitch has made brilliantly, we've been able to see just what the established media thinks of their audience, and it isn't pretty; we aren't capable of insight, we aren't capable of a well-turned phrase, we aren't capable of being polite and we aren't capable of reading big kid books. But by all means, keep watching Costas Now! And this is in the world of sports by God. Sports! Not foreign policy, not economics, not chemistry, sports! The mind boggles.
So, in sum, it wasn't a fun day to see -- via Lookout Landing actually -- that one of my ideas was executed so similarly by a set of pros. It should be affirming, even a small vindication, but, today at least, it's just another iron in the fire of resentment and sadness.