Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Inconsequential Things That Matter To Me

 1. 6/17/94

In researching my latest book,* I spent several days in the basement of the University of Maryland library, watching raw footage of Len Bias. I watched documentaries, I watched game tape, and--most fascinating of all--I watched several hours of spliced-together news footage depicting the aftermath of Len Bias' death. This was a revelatory moment; on those tapes, you can actually witness Bias' death slip from the realm of absolute mystery into the realm of self-inflicted tragedy, and then slowly became a societal signpost, a proxy for a larger War on Drugs.** I saw the whole story unfold before my eyes; it was all there on those tapes.

This is what's brilliant about Brett Morgen's 30 for 30 documentary, June 17, 1994. Sometimes the raw footage is all you need to depict a critical moment in history. Morgen eschewed narration; he didn't interview anyone, because he didn't have to. The story was right there, and even those of us who lived through it tend to forget the emotions it invoked, and none of us understood, at the time, what a watershed moment this was. Only in looking back do we see those threads. This is why that episode of Mad Men last season, in which the characters mostly sat around watching televised reports about the Kennedy assassination, worked for me, while I know it didn't work for so many others; because sometimes the best way of depicting reality is to capture its reflection.

2. The Strasburg Bubble

Seriously, who still pays this much for a baseball card? Is Bernie Madoff able to access EBay from prison? Are we about to enter another period of rampant and irresponsible speculative maneuvering, as witnessed in the 1980s?***If so, I have a ream of Dan Gladden cards that could use a good home.

3. America Number One!

Let me reiterate: I'm not anti-soccer; I've actually enjoyed this World Cup quite a bit, especially the parts where Alexi Lalas isn't permitted to say anything. I'm just anti- American soccer. And let me be clear, all you Fox News acolytes: This does not make me anti-American; it just seems that we, as a country, have no pressing need to be good at this, any more than we need to win a gold medal in hockey or a Nobel Peace Prize. If Ghana wins the World Cup, then it is the biggest thing that has happened to Ghana since...well, since Ghana. They would dance in the street for weeks. If America wins the World Cup, it is a three-day story, and some drunks in Detroit might overturn a few compact automobiles, and then we immediately start talking about Alabama's offensive line and Trevor Hoffman's struggles and Tiger's sex life. So this is my argument: Why should I root for temporality when I can root for immortality?

I expect my IRS audit shortly.

*Only a few more weeks to pre-order, while (yet to exist) supplies last.

**You can also witness an early television appearance by Tony Kornheiser, whose hair, even when he had more of it, was truly an unfortunate hereditary accident.

***And depicted in Dave Jamieson's excellent (and highly recommended) book, Mint Condition.

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