Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Twas the Night Before Christmas in Academia

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the college,
not a student was stirring, their heads full of knowledge,
the grades were all posted through the portal, with care,
in the hopes that professors were kind and were fair,

with a tablet in one hand, I sat up in bed,
and visions of theses still danced in my head,
the freshman class papers I asked to review,
would wait until next week, perhaps even two,

when up from my inbox there rose such a clatter
I turned to my tablet to see what’s the matter,
Was my little ‘puter about to go crash
Or was it a pop-up to upgrade the Flash?

Ah, the expected messages, urgent and scared,
Hoping to find a professor who cared,
The names so familiar, the desperate tweet
Begging at last for one more Incomplete,

But there were still more; inquiring faces
From adjuncts still working out plagiarism cases,
automated requests from all over the nation
Grad schools seeking letters of recommendation,

Reminders from the Dean: the schedule’s due
For the Fall semester – 2032!
Another request, from someone named “whiner,”
Who wants to declare film and media minor,

And if all that stuff wasn’t enough enjoyment,
cv’s of teachers seeking employment,
some with their master’s, some with PhD,
and some without even an English degree,

then: please go to surveymonkey, we must vote
on whether we can keep your program afloat,
I looked at my watch, it was 10:59,
I wondered, what classes we could offer on-line!

I replied, I clicked links, I said yes, I said no,
I said maybe to some, and to others “I don’t know”
Some students were sincere, others just lazy
But then I hit TILT, I was going quite crazy

I screamed at the screen: “go get you out, Johnny!
Go Jacob, Go Jimmy, Go Bertha and Bonnie!
Dash away, dash away, dash away all!”
And I threw my hot tablet against my green wall!

I woke with a start (you saw this one coming)
On my couch, with the lights of my Christmas tree humming,
The children were dressing, and getting their wish:
Christmas Eve at Grandma’s with nine courses of fish,

And turned off my tablet, not in need of repair,
And forgot the dreams of an Associate Chair,
But not before mailing my family’s cheer,
To my colleagues: happy holidays, and happy new year!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The New York Jets: a Post-Mortem (or, Ghost-mortem...)

Now that we have had several weeks to accept that their season is over, it's time to examine what the fuck happened to the 2014 New York Jets, one of the jokes of the NFL. 

You know, that line has been used before, but it's been a really long time when you think of it.  For all the ups and downs of the past fifteen or so years, the team has managed to make the playoffs a couple of times and even to the AFC championship game thrice.  But it was Gary Myers in his column for the Daily News that brought up the dreaded name from the past:


That's right.  Rich Kotite, the one-time Jets offensive coordinator and two-season head coach who managed to win just four games out of thirty-two.  

Kotite, who became a symbol of all that was wrong with the Jets and their management approach.

Kotite, who was fired from his previous head coaching job with the Eagles for losing his last seven games when they were looking like a shoo-in to make the playoffs, only to be hired by the Jets, whose one-season coach -- some guy named Pete Carroll -- got canned because he blew his last six.

Kotite, who was hired personally by then-owner Leon Hess because Mr. Hess didn't want to wait and give Carroll a chance to develop his team.  "I want results now," the old man said. 

Kotite, who won three games his first season, was given a Super-Bowl QB in Neil O'Donnell in his second, who promptly got hurt after losing the first six games.

The management of the Jets was so inept that they didn't even officially announce that Kotite was fired, and Kotite said he did not really resign; despite the fact that he had a contract for a third season, the Jets announced simply that he would not be returning for the 1997 campaign.

Could the Jets be this dysfunctional again, with owner Woody Johnson?  Consider:

He replaced one cap-ologist, Mike  Tannenbaum, with another, John Idzik; was Idzik the best candidate? No, but he was the only one who was willing to a) keep Rex Ryan as his head coach instead of being given the chance to hire his own, and b) trade star cornerback Darelle Revis, coming off ACL surgery, because Revis had been a pain in the ass about salary pretty much every year he'd been with the team.  Some candidates wanted their own coach, and other candidates were reticent about trading away the best player on the team, even if he was costly, and not a quarterback.  And to do both -- keep Ryan and take away his best weapon, when healthy -- made little sense to most candidates.

So Idzik traded Revis and did turn one of the picks he got from Tampa Bay into his only worthwhile draft choice, Sheldon Richardson.  Otherwise his drafts have been poor, and he's very much on the hook for his second-round selection of QB Geno Smith, who, yesterday in a dreadful first half against the mediocre Buffalo Bills, managed to do something not seen in about eight years -- throw more interceptions (3) than receptions (2).  He left the game before the first half ended, with a Blutarsky-level QB rating: zero point zero.  Smith has been a disaster this season, after showing promise late last year. 

Idzik was  a bit handcuffed his first year because there were several big contracts still on the books, including QB Mark (Butt-fumble) Sanchez, who had been Tannenbaum's first-round pick in Ryan's first season as coach.  But when Sanchez got injured in a preseason game -- at a point in the game that he had no business being  in, and that's on Ryan for screwing that up -- that paved the way for the Geno era to start last season.  With Sanchez's contract and a few others coming off the books, Idzik was free to spend some money, yet with a pretty good free-agent class of cornerbacks out there -- including, of all guys, Revis -- Idzik brought in garbage.  Other free agent choices have either been so-so (like WR Eric Decker, who has been hampered by not having Peyton Manning throwing him the football) or dreadful (like RB Chris Johnson, who seems to have lost it completely). 

Rex Ryan's team is undisciplined (they make lots of penalties) and unfocused (several players got screwed up by the time-zone change when they went to San Diego and missed a team meeting the night before the game, a brutal loss to the Chargers where the Jets didn't even make it to midfield until it was garbage time).  He's made some bad decisions, and he sometimes seems to prefer acting the clown that being a professional.  But the Jets' problems run deeper than this.

This is about an owner who looked to sell PSLs by bringing in Brett Favre, a gamble that almost worked -- until Favre hurt his shoulder just enough to be ineffective in the last five games and cost the team a playoff spot and coach Eric Mangini his job. (Mangini was not initially on board with bringing the aging legend in, and the previous QB, the injured but otherwise steady Chad Pennington, won eleven games and the division with the Dolphins, who'd been 1-15 the year before.)  This same owner brought in Tim Tebow, for no real good reason other than to sell seats and jerseys.  (Tebow was hardly used during his one year here.)  Eventually, Tannenbaum lost his job, though he got to be around for the butt-fumble.  

It's about an owner who doesn't really have a clue. 

And we're back to the Kotite years. 

Which might not be so bad, if the Jets could blow the season and then get a top-tier quarterback in the first round, though none of these guys is as impressive as the group that came out two years ago. 

Speaking of Kotite, his 1-15 final season did give the Jets the first pick of the draft. 

That was the year Peyton Manning graduated from Tennessee.  Bill Parcells was hired to be the coach and the President of football operations.

But Manning opted to take one more year of his eligibility (which he had as a red-shirted freshman) and stay at Tennessee.  The Jets, needing so much help, traded the pick instead of drafting future HOF lineman Orlando Pace, who won a Super Bowl with the Rams, protecting Kurt Warner.

So even if the Jets get a good young stud quarterback, we all expect them to blow it. 

Ryan is gone.  He's not really meant to develop young quarterbacks.  The thing you can say that Sanchez and Smith have in common is bad decision-making.  They throw bad picks, including in the red zone.  Ryan needs a steadier hand, a veteran who's not too old, someone like Brad Johnson when he managed the Bucs to a Super Bowl in 2002.  Idzik needs to go back to his actuarial tables.  But what of the owner? 

Indeed.  What of him. 

If he fires Idzik, he'll be looking for his fifth GM and and fifth head coach since getting the team just at the dawn of the century.  The New York Giants have only had three GMs since 1979.  They have been to five Super Bowls, winning four.  

The math on this is simple.  

Friday, October 10, 2014

Film Friday: Lesser than Macbeth, and greater: Random thoughts on Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood

Kurosawa Akira’s version of Macbeth, released in the West as Throne of Blood (it’s not a literal translation), has become one of the most enduring adaptations of any of Shakespeare’s plays.  It’s a demonstration of how a filmmaker can represent the major thematic elements of a text from one language and translate them not only to a second language, but also to a second, medium, from drama to film.  Some may scoff at seeing this as “Shakespearean,” but this is one the essential aspects of Shakespeare’s art: his stories all have their source material, and he transformed them into some of the greatest poetry of his language.  (You hear anyone going around these days saying, oh, man that dude ruined Holinshed’s Chronicles?  Not now, not then.)  
Kurosawa takes the medieval Scottish play and places it in roughly a similar period, of feudal Japan, with rival warlords fighting ceaselessly.  The question of nationhood is much less significant in the film than in Shakespeare. (For Shakespeare, nationality was a crucial component, since his new boss was the James VI King of Scotland, now James I King of England. There was likely an understood lineage between James and Banquo, whom the three witches told would beget kings though never be one himself.)  What likely drew Kurosawa to the play was the question of man's control over fate: how much of Macbeth's fate is out of his hands?   
Shakespeare was "discovered" in Japan during the era of the Meiji Restoration (1862-1912), a period of openness between the island nation and the West.  The notions of Individualism, which had become more or less taken for granted since the Renaissance, where comparatively new to Japan, and since Shakespeare was writing in the midst of that era, and whose plays were often set in times where the individual struggled in relation to fate (or to the collective),  the tales told held fascination.  The traditional Noh theater used many different narrative forms, but the supernatural was often a theme: one genre is known as "demon play."  Kurosawa used Japanese theatrical conventions as a central element in Throne of Blood. The three central actors -- Chieko Naniwa as the "forest spirit" (Kurosawa's version of the "weird sisters"), Isuzu Yamada as Lady Asaji Washizu, and the legendary Toshiru Mifune as Lord Washizu -- were given Noh masks to study as part of their acting process.   
It was during the Meiji era that cinema was introduced to Japan (as it was to much of the planet, between 1895 and 1900).  Japanese theatrical conventions again determined how the cinema was to be received and presented. (In its earliest days, the projection of a film itself was performance; historian Donald Ritchie writes of a screening where the projector was presented one side of the stage, and watching the projectionist was really the object of attention.)   The tradition of the benshi --- men who explained the action of early silent films -- was borrowed from theater, especially puppet theater.  In many respects Japanese cinema always retained an aspect of self-awareness; the audience was not usually "lulled" into the drama of the film to forget that it  was just that, only a film (unlike in Classical Hollywood cinema, which almost always sought to "hide" its processes).   
Kurosawa's film is a fascinating mixture of  Japanense theater and Western-style film-making.  I just want to make a few short observations, mainly using some images from the film.   
On the subject of Washizu's control over his fate, I am inclined to believe, as many scholars have said, that he is even less in control than the Thane of Cawdor.  The film begins with a misty scene of ruin and death, with a chorus telling us that a mighty fortress once stood there, that a great warrior, ruined by ambition, met his destruction because of it.  We're about to see that story unfold: the mist begins to move, in patterns that vaguely resemble horses, and suddenly we see Cobweb Castle (translated by most video versions of the film as "Forest Castle"); a soldier rides toward it to tell the Lord Tsuzuki news of the battle. (The opening events resemble Duncan's first scene in Macbeth: the witches are not needed, since the chorus has already filled us in.)  When we meet our hero, and his friend, Lord Miki, they are riding hard after their successes, struggling in the rain ("so fair and foul a day," indeed!) to get through the natural labyrinth of the forest that surrounds his Lordship's castle.   They hear a haunting, echoing laughter, then declare that an evil spirit is keeping them from finding their way.  They finally stumble upon said evil spirit; the shot resembles a theater setting: 

The spirit drones on about the doomed nature of humanity, suggesting perhaps she's listened to a lot of Smiths albums (speaking of western influence), spinning at her wheel, reading the future of the brave warriors.  Note also, as Jack Jorgens did in one of the first books on Shakespeare films (which in one edition featured a picture of Mifune-as-Washizu on the cover), that the loom resembles the reels of a film projector:  
Cinema as Fate: The spinning wheels

Their futures told, the spirit vanished, the two men ride through the mist and ride through the mist and ride some more through the mist and then ride some more, and when they finally see the castle, they stop to rest.  I really like this shot of the two of them, in repose, their future laid before them, visible in the form of the castle.  They have joked about the prophecy, but both warriors wonder if there is some truth in them. (Dreams are a reflection of our desires, Washizu, pre-Freudean, says.) 

Something about the composition of the shot is so powerful:  the two friends, laughing uneasily, amid the gray, death-marked dirt and the fog, not quite fully lifted, showing us how close their doom lies. 

Some more theater: Asaji is very much a figure out of Noh traditions, as this shot demonstrates: 

Yamada's performance is stoic, chilling; she rules her roost, carefully manipulating her husband into murder.  Mifune's performance runs his classic, intense range: he's angry, guilty, helpless.  

Noh, or "NO!!!" ?
 She moves heel to toe, her dress almost squeaking as she prepares to get the wine to drug his Lordship's guards, and as she does so, she fades into the darkness: it's a great fifteen seconds of movement.  

fade into darkness...

Notice also the way that Washizu is "trapped" by the framing, by the architecture.  While his lordship stays in their quarters upon visiting Wahizu's castle, husband and wife stay in a room where one of the traitors killed himself, leaving blood on the wall that would not come off. (Foreshadowing, obviously, but that's the point: we the audience know what's coming.)  Here is  a shot of the wall as Washizu's servants enter the room to prepare it.  

and now, here is Washizu, trapped in the room by the screen, by the drama, by his fate.  

The most obvious example, an image often used in the books, is of Washizu's final moments, as the forest has moved toward his castle, and his own men shoot arrows at him and kill him.  

talk about lines of fate
Throughout the film, the wildness and mystery -- or should I say mist-ery -- of the forest is contrasted with the straight lines of the castle, the men's uniforms, and their weapons.  Washizu is ultimately trapped by both.  

Kurosawa's composition owes much to theater, but his camera work is also very fluid, especially in the scenes where men race through the forest on horseback.  His use of hard-wipes to change scenes may seem a bit old-fashioned, but it is keeping within a tradition of the use of screens in Japanese theater to change time and space.  But then, perhaps one of the oddest possible mixes of west and east comes in this shot:  

Isn't that Captain Jack Sparrow next to Washizu?????

Thursday, October 9, 2014

F words: failing our students to inspire...

Today, I shot an e-mail off to one of my students working on a thesis.  The gist of it was this: since you haven't handed in the required amount of work by the first deadline, you'd better withdraw from the course, or receive an F.  Within hours, I got a response, pleading for more time.  It was the first message from said student in about three weeks.

It really is funny how that works.

I've been doing this kind of thing for years, as the deadline to withdraw from classes approaches.  Doesn't matter what the class is: you announce in class (or now electronically) that students who have handed in little to no work after five weeks should withdraw, and amazingly, their calendar clears, the work obligations change, their personal problems or health issues subside enough to... ask for more time! And to be truthful, sometimes they actually hand in work!

Every situation is different, and how I respond to late submissions can depend on too many variables to share here.  But one scenario is among the most interesting: the choice between failing a student and giving the student a grade of Incomplete.

In theory, this is an easy deal, because there are usually rules at any college that govern when a student can be given an Incomplete grade.  It's supposed to be given in cases where a student needs more time to complete the course work, and has a "serious reason" why s/he cannot complete the work on time.  There's a lot of vagueness out there in student handbooks. For most classes, a student who hands in, say more than half the required work, has taken all the tests, but has one more assignment and needs more time because s/he got sick for two weeks near the end of the term, might be a good candidate for an Incomplete.  Someone else who did hardly any work, did poorly on exams (or even skipped the midterm), is not a candidate.  Common sense can prevail. 

But common sense does not always apply to the college student.  Many see a grade of Incomplete as another means to slack off, and if the professors don't follow up, the grade lingers beyond the standard deadline, and not all institutions just automatically change such grades to F.   So, let's say you've got a student who could use a little more time to get the work done, especially the work of a senior thesis, which means someone who is really really close to getting his/her degree.   In the old days, we might just not submit a grade at all until the work was done, but that really fosters laziness and apparently missing grades is a no-no because of financial aid issues.  So: do you just give the kid an F, and THEN, when the stuff actually comes in (usually within 48 hours of the student realize s/he's just screwed up bigtime), file a change of grade form from F to whatever?  Or give the Incomplete grade, often prolonging the inevitable change to F?

I think it's all psychological:  you see that F and you realize the gravity of your situation.  The Incomplete grade is a license to ignore the problem until the last minute.  (Of course the last minute should really be in the fourteenth or fifteenth week of the term, not three weeks after finals.)

But is that the right thing for faculty to do?  Doesn't changing a grade from an F to a passing grade, and doing so a few times a semester, defeat the purpose of the F grade?   We're supposed to change grades infrequently; the reason for grade changes, aside from Incomplete grades (or the notorious "ABsent from final exam" grade, wherein a student doesn't show for finals, gets a reprieve, and takes a makeup test that may be easier than the one his/her classmates got), should be compelling: maybe you reconsidered some grades after the student appealed, or maybe you actually did make a computation error.  To go from F to, say, a B seems like a big jump; it says you're circumnavigating the Incomplete-grade system by accepting work after the grade is in. 

Again, theory and practices don't often mesh. In some ways, giving the F is also a short cut, since some of the students might not even bother to do the work.  (I've had more than a few students simply disappear after they've asked for more time, or a chance to hand in late work to change a bad grade.)   But I gotta say: it's  a short cut that can really produce prolific undergraduate scholarship.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A thought about football

So there's been a lot of talk about football these days, and I actually have many thoughts about the domestic violence discourse in the nfl context, but I'm just too drained right now to put them together.  I have become overloaded in my head, my back has given out again, and I just don't feel compelled as I had recently.  But as I listened today about the latest information on the Sayreville (NJ) high school football hazing scandal,  I thought of this poem by James Wright, who captured small town america of a long time ago, and yet maybe not so long ago. 

Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

James Wright, 1927 - 1980
In the Shreve High football stadium,
I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
Dreaming of heroes.

All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
Their women cluck like starved pullets,
Dying for love.

Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
At the beginning of October,
And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.

There are many places in our country where high school sports transcends all else; young men dream of getting out of a future of slow-death hard labor, or quick-death-drug-trade-violence.  Being teenagers, and of course believing themselves to be immortal, they may still be choosing a shorter path to the grave by playing sports.  But they may not have any other luxury in a country where so many of us are really expendable. 

I think of some of the servicemen and women I know, who also had few options; the army gave them a sense of purpose, and if they can survive these endless middle-east wars, they can actually have a chance at the good life, if they don't let their memories and madnesses wear them down.  I've seen it on their faces; sometimes you know which ones will make it okay and which ones won't.  

Those of us who choose certain professions, even those that come with physical damage as a price, can't quite grasp, except at a distance, what those high-profile, high-risk-high-reward jobs like football player means when there are no options. And Wright's poem just simply nails it.  And so when you read about this scandal at Sayreville, or read about the NFL's troubles, I hope you reflect on the images Wright creates here. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Mets' Sexual Discrimination Lawsuit: Oh, great, another excuse for the Wilpons not to spend money...

Yeh, I know, it's not really the nicest thing I could say about a lawsuit filed by Leigh Castergine, former ticketing executive with the New York Mets, claiming that the Mets, chiefly, their Chief Operating Officer, Jeff (Mandar) Wilpon, harassed Castergine about being pregnant and unmarried and then fired her after her child was born.

But as a bitter fan, who's seen them use the Madoff scandal -- which some reports indicate Sterling LP, which owns the Mets, actually profited from -- as an excuse not to put more money into the team, I hope I can get a little slack.

The allegations are pretty crappy, as if Mandar is still living in the age of Victoria.  Castergine alleges that Wilpon humiliated her at more than one meeting about her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and that when she went to the Mets' HR department (that's Human Resources, not Home Runs; the Mets don't really use the latter anymore) to complain, she was fired.  This after having received multiple bonuses for her excellent work at creating innovative ticketing plans to keep the suckers -- Met fans -- coming through the turnstiles.  (The suit mentions that some people compared her job to "selling tickets to a funeral.")  Indeed, Castergine claims that Wilpon told her that she could get even bigger bonuses if she got married.

If the suit's allegations are true -- and since it cites a board meeting where some of Mandar's demeaning remarks were made, it'll be pretty simple to depose the others in attendance and get at the truth -- then it obviously makes the Mets COO appear like a moralistic jerk (instead of, you know, just a jerk).

The Mets' public statement on this is that the suit "has no merit." They didn't say that the allegations are false, just "without merit."  It's worth noting that Castergine refused to accept a severance package because it was offered on the the condition that she not sue the Mets, or Mandar individually.

This story could be interesting because sports organizations remain male-dominated, and while there are more women in executive positions than ever before, sexist bullshit still happens.  (Would the NFL's take on the Ray Rice incident been as awful as it's been had their been any female executives or owners involved?)

It could also be interesting because I am envisioning yet another War on Women/War on Religious Freedom debate going on: "Hey, it's HIS business and he has the right to set policies with HIS (or should I say His) moral standards, and if this suit goes against him it's a blow to Religious Freedom!"

But then I remember, it's just the Mets. Maybe if it were the Yankees someone would care.

As a Met fan, the only hope I see is that these allegations are true, she takes the Wilpons to the cleaners and they have to sell the team.  (Could we persuade the court, if it rules in her favor, to force them to actually spend money on the product on the field instead of putting out a minor-league-to-quadruple-A team at best?)

By the way, the Mets first owner, Mrs. Joan Payson, was the first woman to own a controlling stake in a major North American sports franchise, when the Mets were formed in 1962.  I wonder if she'd have treated an executive who'd been so good at selling tickets to the funeral.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Short Meditation on Ray Rice, or, Georgia on My Mind

There was a lot of blather out there today about TMZ's release of the elevator video showing Baltimore Ravens running back -- now, former Ravens running back -- Ray Rice beating his then-girlfriend-now-wife Janay, which has led to the Ravens cutting him from the team and the NFL suspending him indefinitely.  Lots of people outraged that the NFL was so soft on him initially, giving him only a two-game suspension, and just as many people outraged at the outrage, because people should have been outraged before ("why did they need to see the video?" goes the argument).  Lots of questions about whether or not the NFL actually saw that video before rendering its suspension, etc. etc. 

Somehow, amid the blather, a thought came to me: what would Georgia think? 

ESPN's Colin Cowherd made a point on his show today that the NFL is one of many big-money, Good-Ole-Boy clubs, and that, like a lot of such institutions, they are real blind when it comes to women.  They had no clue how badly they blew the Rice matter this summer.  Maybe it was thinking about those comments that the one female owner in NFL history popped into my head: Georgia Frontiere, the late owner of the Rams, who died in 2008. 

Frontiere inherited ownership of the Rams, who were in Los Angeles, when her sixth husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, died in a swimming accident in 1979.  (Side note: When she married Rosenbloom in 1966, he owned the Baltimore Colts; when Robert Irsay bought the Rams, the two men traded franchises.) She received a ton of criticism in her first few years as owner; she was fairly high-profile, and it was pretty clear that the Good Ole Boys didn't like her.  It didn't help that not too long after she attained control of the team, she fired Rosenbloom's son from his top position in the organization -- he'd been groomed to take over the team, even though the will gave it to Georgia -- and by the mid-nineties, moved the team from L.A.  to her home town of St. Louis.  (The team actually moved out of the L.A. Coliseum to Anaheim about 1980 or 81; that deal had been done by Rosenbloom before he died.)  She often could be found down on the field hugging her players, and took crap for it.  (When the cabbage patch kids craze hit, she bought a whole, um, batch of them for her players to give to their children. I'm having a hard time seeing Wellington Mara, the late co-owner of the Giants and a pretty well-loved and respected man, doing that.) 

She made an interesting statement in her first press conference as Rams owner:

"There are some who feel there are two different kinds of people -- humans and women." 

Frontiere was not a beloved owner, but like a lot of owners, especially those who move their teams -- like Irsay, who packed up his organization in the middle of the night to move from Baltimore to Indianapolis -- she had supporters as well as detractors.   She was familiar with the spotlight (she'd been a chorus girl a long time before owning the Rams), but she was not necessarily any more visible an owner as some of the wave of Good Ole Boys who joined the club after she was in. (Jerry Jones comes to mind.)  

But I keep thinking about the meetings the NFL had over the summer, and wondering what kinds of conversations NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was having with his bosses, the owners of the teams, about what to do.  Even before this video was released, we know Goodell felt like he and the league blew it, laying down a clear policy on domestic violence because they got so much grief for how they handled the Rice situation. 

And I wonder, just wonder: had Georgia Frontiere been alive, and if she were present in any of those meetings about what to do with Ray Rice, would she have offered a voice that might have helped the league get tougher immediately, be proactive instead of reactive?   We'll never know of course, and as of right now, there are no women who own a controlling interest in any of the four major North American sports franchises.  (Jeannie Buss and her brothers, through the Trust set up by their late father, control the L.A. Lakers. Three WNBA franchises are owned in partnerships that are headed by women.)  There's no guarantee either that having a female owner would have resulted in a stiffer punishment for Rice this summer. 

But it does make me wonder. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Film Friday: Joan Rivers, Auteur: Rabbit Test, her first and last film as director

Only a handful of times will you see movie promotions that feature a non-acting director among the publicity.  It's one thing for Woody Allen to be on posters for Annie Hall, since he's the lead actor; it's another to have a trailer show Sylvester Stallone behind the scenes directing Stayin' Alive, the ill-conceived sequel to Saturday Night Fever

But in 1978, Joan Rivers, who died yesterday, was all over the publicity of her directorial debut,  loosely based on a French farce, Rabbit Test, starring Billy Crystal.  One of the main reasons for her presence surely was ego -- not just hers, but the fact that it was a very much a family affair: her husband, Edgar Rosenberg, was the producer.  But there had been so few women who got a chance to direct a film in Hollywood (you can find a few during the heyday of the studio system, since so many films were made, and star Ida Lupino, as an independent producer in the fifties, directed about a dozen films), and Rivers getting this chance -- which she created herself -- was a Big Deal.

Unfortunately, the film was hammered by the critics.  Roger Ebert acknowledged that the film tried to be funny: "That's what makes the movie quietly amazing: That so many different gags could not be funny." The Times' Janet Maslin wrote that "[w]hen one does laugh, it's in spite of the movie, rather than because of it. And these were the more polite reviews.  Despite the bad reviews, the film managed to make money, but Rivers never directed another film again, and it would be another decade or so before women got more and more opportunities to direct.  While Rivers was a major breakthrough artist in standup comedy, still capable of outraging audiences into her eighties, her talents as a director never got beyond this one effort.

I remember well the pub for the film; she was all over the place promoting it, thanks to her onetime patron saint Carson.  And Billy Crystal was known to audiences, as a comedian and also for his role as Jody on Soap, the first openly gay male character on a network primetime show.  It was not the kind of movie my parents would have let me see; the topic was sex after all, even though it was probably tame even by the standards of 1978. In some ways, I'd wish I had seen it then; it would have put many of the gags found in Airplane! (1980) in a different context.

As a comedian who honed her craft not only in nightclubs but on television, Rivers writes jokes and gags, not really a plot. (Presumably that's what co-scriptwriter and longtime friend Jay Redack was there for.) The quick moments and zingers -- both verbal and visual -- never add up to a coherent film, but then again, neither did the best films of the Marx Brothers.  But I'll give a quick synopsis anyway: Lionel Carpenter is a loser, a Momma's Boy who teaches citizenship at night school while pursuing an advanced degree in botany.  His army cousin (a hilarious, tasteless Alex "Moe Green" Rocco) helps him to get laid -- with a crazy USO volunteer, who attacks him in a closet and fucks him on top of an arcade bowling machine. The woman, like the gags she's a part of, is never seen again; we cut to six weeks later, and Lionel is not feeling well.  Gaining the sympathy of one of his students -- on whose skirt he threw up -- Lionel walks the young woman, Segoynia, home to meet her bizarre family, who seem every kind of Eastern European immigrant stereotype going back to... well, the Marxes again.  (One brother has a hat like Chico.) When old grandma reads the tea leaves, she declares Lionel to be pregnant.  Hilarity then ensues.

Well, not necessarily:  Lionel becomes a media darling, honored by the President, but then suddenly, when the Indian Prime Minister realizes that men getting pregnant could mean an even more overpopulated world, she suggests to other world leaders that something must be done.  The President himself offers Lionel a hundred grand to "stop" having the baby. (This is five years after Roe v. Wade. More on that dynamic later.) The world turns on Lionel, who goes into hiding, but eventually having the baby... on Christmas day.

Rivers found a lot of work for many of her old friends and heroes.  By 1978, she'd been a very popular "square" on The Hollywood Squares game show, and several of her chums appear: Paul Lynde plays the OB/GYN, George Gobel the President, and Fanny Flagg his wife.  Squares hostPeter Marshall himself appears as himself, crying that because of Lionel's pregnancy, over five hundred questions the show has asked have been wrong, and that the show is going to have to be canceled! The great Imogene Coca, co-star with Sid Ceasar for so many years in the fifties, plays Segoynia's mother.  The most hilarious performance is by Doris Roberts as Lionel's mother, a Jewish version of the Marie Barone she'd play decades later on Everybody Loves Raymond.

To criticize the film for not adding up  seems silly, since it really isn't about that.  Come on: the Carpenters are nominally goyish -- we seem them going to a baptism and celebrating Easter --  but clearly Mrs C. is another variation on Sophie Portnoy.  (One funny bit comes outside the church, where Charlotte Rae, a family friend, asks the reverend, played by Tom Poston, if she can come in even though she's Jewish -- she thanks him, and then, touching his cross, says, you know we didn't have anything to do with that.)  Rivers works with these incongruities and comes to an interesting subtle double standard at work: an unmarried man gets pregnant, and he becomes a media star.  Think about that.

And then, when everyone turns against him, the President wants him to "stop" having the baby. The term "abortion" is not used.  How he should "stop" is not discussed.  He's just not supposed to have it.  And before all the media attention is poured onto Lionel, he is never even given a chance to consider the possibility (let alone "choice") of terminating the pregnancy: he's too much of a "freak" to have any say in the matter. Much like the circumstances of women who give birth to quints (and higher) and find themselves surrounded by media, Lionel becomes swept away (though I don't remember Mrs. Fisher ever going on a worldwide tour).

The world tour satirizes the ways mass media turn nobodies into heroes, but one liners fall flat; the visit to Africa is just plain horrible.  In its attempt to turn racist stereotypes on their heads, the scene just reproduces them.  It's embarrassing, plain and simple.  (The same could be said of the Peace Corps scene from Airplane!, though, yet that film was a blockbuster smash and is still considered a classic, y the likes of, well, everyone, including me..)

The Christmas birth of the baby carries the more obvious analogy for the film: "divinely" conceived, the child is to be the "newborn king," according to Segoynia, which is why her crazy family agrees to stand guard and protect Lionel. Eventually, Segoynia and Lionel fall in love, so that she becomes Joseph to Lionel's Mary. In case you missed it, let me remind you that Lionel's last name refers to Joseph's profession: carpenter.  (Unless you think that Rives and Redack came up with the name by listening to some Lite-FM station.)  Yes, the Carpenters celebrate Easter -- which is when the film begins, a celebration of Christ's death and resurrection -- but they are as Jewish as Mel Brooks' 2000-year old man.  The joke at the end -- a declaration that "it's a girl!" -- falls terribly flat, which is too bad, but again, this film is not about plot.

Rabbit Test never became a cult classic, and is unlikely to, even as a copy of the film garners a few extra hits on YouTube.  There are many jokes that miss (though many that hit), and the aggressive, one-liner style of Rivers' standup cannot sustain a narrative like this. You watch it because Roberts is really funny, because Rocco is great, and because frankly I grin big every time I see Imogene on a screen, knowing I'm going to laugh any second.  The film stands as a daring effort within its context, but Rivers stayed with her standup work, and enjoyed a lot more ups (and a few downs, like the sudden drop in the ratings of her own late night talk show, which some say contributed to her husband Rosenberg's suicide) in the second half of her celebrity.  Her significance should not be overlooked: Phyllis Diller may have opened the door, but Joan Rivers smashed it wide. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A wiseguy for parking?

This short post was inspired by two things:

1. Reading Nicholas Pileggi's Wiseguy, the famous nonfiction work that became the basis for Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas
2. Spending some time in the city this weekend, trying to win lottery tickets to see Newsies for thirty bucks. 

I was fascinated to read Henry Hill's account of all the privileges the mobsters he associated with were able to attain: front row seats at the Copa, bypassing the line at first-class restaurants, access to quality food even when in prison, etc.  The wiseguys may have hustled a lot of cons, but they did seem to live the good life. 

Me, I just want to have one perk: I'd be a wiseguy if I could park any place I wanted to in the city. Really. 

I'd like to just put my car across the street from any fine restaurant or theater and stick a tag in it, and BAM! I'm protected from tickets and tows. 

I'm pretty smart about parking, and I know where and when's a good time to park in the most crowded space in America, but there's nothing like the thrill of parking where you're not supposed to and getting away with it. 

I'm not into running numbers or selling dope, or hijacking trucks, or transporting cigarettes across state lines (which is illegal because of the differences in state taxes on them).  I just wanna park.

Sadly, I did have a friend who had a special handicapped tag that allowed her to do what I want; she could even park in places where you were not allowed ever, like in front of churches. But she suffered from MS, and has since passed on.  (I'm pretty sure the parking perks and her death were not related.)

One more thing about Henry Hill: it seems pretty clear from Pileggi's book -- let alone the life he led after the book's initial publication, when he was still in the Witness Protection Program -- that Hill had absolutely no feelings of remorse for living the life he led.  As far as he was concerned, guys like his father, who worked hard and never really got the American Dream, were suckers.  If you wanted to really get the good life, you had to be willing not only to work hard, but to work hard doing things that were not always on the level.  Hill may have had some compulsive need, even after he ratted out his buddies, to keep doing illegal things, but he clearly made many choices that he simply lived with.  (And like a lot of other wiseguys, it was never his fault; he is angry at getting caught, at those who helped him land in jail, forced to rat out his associates.)  Hill gave the impression of being a smart man to Pileggi, but he clearly had a blind side too. 

Anyway, more on this topic when I write about Goodfellas, which I'll get to eventually, as I'm showing it in my class in a coupla months.  Unless of course I'm spending some time for trying to operate a crooked parking pass scam.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Ferguson: A polemic disguised as a film review

Over at Bill Simmons' Grantland magazine's web site, a fascinating review of Luke Greenfield's ill-timed comedy Let's Be Cops by Wesley Morris, one that doesn't say much about the film itself -- probably a wise thing, given how awful it appears to be -- but does an impressive job of looking at the discourse of law and order and race around which the film attempts to deliver its slapstick humor.

It's not especially easy to have a comedy out there about fake cops when there is so much uproar in this country about real ones.

Morris hits many of the current spots, notably of course the shooting death by police of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri and its aftermath. (Some of the violence that has taken place in Ferguson since Brown's death has occurred since Morris's review was first posted.)  Other recent incidents of black men being shot by police are also mentioned.  But Morris also goes back to the 2009 arrest of noted Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates to point out that once again, our first Black president has had to deliver a statement on race relations in America. 

The Gates incident goes to the heart of the matter, as Morris knows, that America still sees blackness as a threat.  As George Zimmerman shows us, such a matter is not just about cops.  (Frankly, the practice of policing, the choices made as to where to bust, help bring out the racially charged incidents more so that the individual racist cop, though it's easy enough to find the latter, like Justin Volpe, who shoved a broom handle into the rectum of Hatian immigrant Abner Louima while Louima was in police custody.)  It's about the easy equation pigmentally challenged Americans make about men of color and their presence in public spaces.

I find it interesting to read Morris's essay as it moves from the realm of the fictional to the realm of the real.  In a way, it makes perfect sense in our postmodern world, where a jury in L.A. could accept the argument that Rodney King beat himself up rather than draw the obvious conclusion from the infamous videotape that the cops used excessive force to restrain him.   I'm surprised Morris didn't mention the ill timing of The Watch, which was supposed to be titled Neighborhood Watch, but in the wake of Zimmerman's shooting of Trayvon Martin, the filmmakers had to change the title to avoid the negative connotation. (It didn't help.) 

Morris does go back, however, 25 years, to Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee's most important fiction film, focusing as he does on the death of Radio Raheem, which leads to a riot in Bed-Stuy.  The film was eerily prophetic in its expression of racial tension and violence that led to numerous incidents like the shooting death of Yusef Hawkins in an Italian American neighborhood in Brooklyn just weeks after Lee's film premiered.  (I wish he'd mentioned the fact that Radio Raheem's big rings marked "LOVE" and "HATE" were Lee's homage to the Charles Laughton-directed, James Agee-scripted classic The Night of the Hunter, starring Robert Mitchum as the deranged preacher who has those words tattooed across the knuckles of his hands.) 

In writing a review of a fiction film about idiots who decide to pretend to be cops, Morris shifts back and forth, almost like a Chinese puzzle box, to reveal layers of the real beneath the fantastic.  The disturbing thing  is that the more things change, the more they stay the same: a black man's life is of great significance, but only as it must be defined by those who hold the real power: politicians and pundits even above law enforcement.  Once again, the Black man is merely a cipher on which white Americans write what they want, on all sides of the political spectrum. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Film Friday: Robin Williams

Robin Williams died four days ago, and in today's "news cycle," that's a damn eternity, even as more recent revelations that he was in the early stages of Parkinson's have come out, along with unequivocal statements that he was sober at the time of his suicide.

I have remained quiet on the death of this mad genius, mainly because his death was unexpected, despite Williams' history of struggles with substance abuse.  (I was pretty quick to post something about James Garner's death, because I knew he'd been sick, and kind of knew what I was going to say before he'd died.) Williams' sudden death was something I needed to process, and still am processing.

My first thoughts were not nice ones. 

They were tied to the anger stage of grief, I suppose, though that would imply that I actually knew Williams well enough to feel grief.  (Some shrinks might say that grief is grief, but when we express grief for the death of a celebrity there has to be some sense of being at a remove, no?)  But I was thinking of another gifted actor we'd just lost too soon, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, who, from my angle, threw his life away due to his heroin addiction. And I remember Williams' joke about cocaine being "God's way of telling you you have too much money," and wondered what drove this man to hang himself in despair. 

I thought of how many Americans killed themselves this week.  I don't have an answer at the moment. A quick Google search shows that 38 American soldiers committed suicide in July.  We're only talking about one American civilian.  That is to be expected in our media-saturated culture.  I have argued that in the media-world, the first person with HIV was Magic Johnson (not Arthur Ashe or Rock Hudson, both of whom died of AIDS before Magic was diagnosed as HIV-positive.), because that put the disease in a whole new frame of reference for Americans. Will Robin Williams' suicide do that for America when so many others' deaths did not (including the mass-murder suicides such as Adam Lanza, the Newtown massacre killer)?

What scares me is that Williams had so many resources at hand to fight his mental illness, and he had an awareness of his illness, unlike most Americans whose mental illnesses will go undiagnosed.  If he couldn't stop himself from suicide, what chances do those who can't afford a doctor have? I read a small article in the paper wherein a doctor suggested that the Parkinson's diagnosis probably did not  directly lead to Williams' suicide, since he was in its early stages and it would not have hampered him physically to the point where he'd have been frustrated enough.  As if someone who had never actually met the patient could be certain of this. 

As more information emerged, I began to reflect on my recent post about the relation between genius and madness; that Williams fit such a profile is not a surprise to anyone who had a copy of Reality -- What a Concept in the 1970s.  Playing Mork made perfect sense; Williams was not of this world in how he saw it. When Williams turned to film -- wrongly miscast in Robert Altman's Popeye --  he was often accused of having to "rope in" his anarchic talent, which is why he was praised so much for Good Morning, Vietnam, which allowed him to "be crazy" yet at the same time demonstrate his considerable acting talent.  (Lest we forget, the man trained at Julliard.)  

Such an assessment was never really fair, but it is true that many of his better written roles came after GMV, notably Good Will Hunting, for which he won his Oscar. (While his speech about love is probably his most remembered, the real acting came as he talked about the most famous moment in Boston Red Sox history prior to 2004, Carlton Fisk's home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series; Williams was never a sports fan and comprehended just enough about sports to fake it for this moment.)  It was easy to sit back and enjoy Williams giving voice to the genie in Alladin, where he could pretty much go all out, but he could impress even in modulated roles like that of Dr. Oliver Sacks in Awakenings.  I actually think his performance in/as Mrs. Doubtfire is creepier than his role as the ostensibly creepy Sy in One Hour Photo.  His role in Death to Smoochy, as a fallen kiddie-show star, is wonderfully perverse, and one that has gone overlooked in all the comments and tributes I have seen.

Williams also made a lot of crappy movies, some unfunny comedies and a few overwrought dramas.  Par for the course if you stay long enough.  Was anyone watching his new sitcom?  That's not a rhetorical question or a snarky judgment; I have no idea.  Hist standup and talk show appearances are legendary, and YouTube has em all over the place.  There is a reason why Johnny Carson would ask him to be there on what would be his final "regular"-format of The Tonight Show (the last being just Carson and Ed and Doc talking about the show and saying goodbye).  He was an impossibly funny man, and like more than a few clowns, agonized inside, unable to believe in his talent, that he was good enough, like so many geniuses, unable to appreciate how special he was.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Baseball's New Commissioner: A Lesson CBS could teach him

Okay, the white smoke has appeared, and in a move that surprised no one, Bud Selig's wingman Rob Manfred has been named the next commissioner of Major League Baseball. And there have been tons of posts out there outlining the Top 5 (or 3) (or 10) (or --this is clever -- 9) (you know, since baseball games take 9 hours to finish) Things that the New Commissioner of Baseball Must Do To Save the Game.

This is not one of those posts.

I don't pretend to have a wholly original perspective here, because numerous media-heads have made one specific point of concern here: that baseball's main audience is getting old, too old to keep it relevant.  (The median age for last year's World Series was over 50. The median age for the NBA Finals was just over 40.) 

Now, you can also find a few posts which suggest that the sky is  not falling yet for MLB. Television viewership in general is getting older, and that's because until recently, Neilsen was not tracking web viewing as part of its methods of calculating viewership. Since sitting in front of the tube is becoming a bit of an outmoded way of consuming television, naturally us old folks -- I'm in my mid-forties -- are the ones less likely to use mobile devices (though I do stream on my smartTV instead of using cable).

I'm nevertheless inclined to see the glass half-empty for the sport, and this is especially the case because young folks are not rushing out to play it, let alone watch it.  Now here's a little history lesson for you.

For several generations CBS had dominated American broadcasting.  Not just television, but radio before that.  Amid the swirling cultural changes of the late sixties, CBS maintained its position on top with shows that seemed not at all to take those changes into account: Green Acres, Hee HawPetticoat Junction , Gunsmoke, Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle and Mayberry RFD (both spinoffs of The Andy Griffith Show).  All these shows enjoyed years in the top thirty, often top ten, and several of them were still highly rated when they were canceled.  By the 1971-72 season, all but Gunsmoke (an institution of a Western that started on radio) were gone.  (Hee-Haw survived through the seventies in syndication.) 

What happened?  The executives at CBS realized that they were appealing to an older, rural demographic with such programming, and that they were not gaining the desirable markets in their network-owned-and-operated stations in the big cities.  They sought a younger, urban, more educated audience, and went after it: The Mary Tyler Moore Show (debut 1970-71), All in the Family (1971-72), M*A*S*H  (1972-73), The Bob Newhart Show (1972-73).  These shows changed American television comedy, and people working on these programs went on to produce other classics of American TV for the next twenty years.  AITF was the number one show on tv for five consecutive seasons, the last great consensus of American television programming. 

CBS did not totally abandon its older audience; the rural drama set in the Depression, The Waltons, became a staple, for example, but that's a key point: it was a drama, not a sitcom.  Cop shows remained popular for all the networks, and CBS had its share, the most successful and longest lasting being the original  Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980).  But the network understood this: the product of television is not the programming, it's the audience.  CBS was in the business of selling viewers to sponsors, and that's why it altered its lineup in the early seventies.

The change was not as dramatic as it may sound in this short recap, but it was significant in the long run.  CBS could not have kept its programming as it was, or appeal only to an older audience.  Baseball may face the same situation -- as long as there are fifty-somethings who will turn on the set, they're fine, but what happens when they're gone?

Thursday, August 7, 2014

"Redskins' Kike Owner Won't Change Offensive Name"...

That title is borrowed from the Onion, whose piece makes a very sharp point about language, context, and why such issues actually matter. The article uses several terms to describe Jews that many people, Jews and gentiles alike, would deem very offensive. 

There are a couple of important things to consider about the controversy surrounding the pressure the NFL is trying to put on Daniel Snyder to change the name of his team.  Just to catch you up to speed on a few facts:

  • The US Patent office has canceled most though not all of the trademarks associated with the team.  This means that if I want to start selling mugs with the team name and certain logos, I can, and Synder can't stop me. 
  • How many Native Americans are offended by the name? That really depends on what polls you look at, as any google search asking the question will show.  
  • That said, NFL Commissioner Roger Godell wants no one to be offended, so that's why he has begun to listen to Native Americans who are. 
  • The team became called the Redskins supposedly in honor of the coach, who was thought to be an Indian but in fact may not have been; it was also as much about promotion as anything else, to be able to have someone dress up in costume for the crowd (not unlike the use of blackface in minstrelsy, yes. And here's a pic to make that point: on the left is an image of "Sambo," the racist characture of Black boy, and on the right is that of Chief Wahoo, the mascot of the Cleveland Indians.) 

So, having noted all these pieces of information, let's point out a few things that this case is and is not about.

It's not about "they're taking away our freedom."  No one is putting Daniel Snyder in jail.  No one is forcing him to sell the team.  This isn't about First Amendment stuff, either.  It's about trade.  Would the Patent Office allow a sports team with the name "New York Niggers"? What if that had been the team's name since 1947? What, we can't change it?

It's not about maintaining a "tradition." Owning people was a tradition.  So was segregating sports organizations by race. Be wary of the "purist" fan of any sport; go back far enough in time, and you realize that the "purists" wanted to keep Black players out of MLB.  It's not in and of itself a good reason not to change the name.

Snyder does not intend the name to offend people; he says that it's meant to honor the "warrior spirit" of the Native American, who some condescending stuff that reminds one of James Fennimore Cooper's characterization of Uncas in Last of the Mohicans.  And some radio commentators talk about "intent" as if that makes being offended problematic.  There is intent and there is effect.  The WB cartoonists may not have intended to perpetuate stereotypes of people of color in several of their cartoons, but that doesn't mean they are not racist stereotypes (which is why they are less likely to be put on DVD and Blu-Ray sets).  In many legal matters, effect is more important than intent: a man may claim not to intend to offend a co-worker with some crude sexist remark, but that doesn't mean he won't be called into the HR office and given a talking-to. 

Think of it this way: if an Englishman runs a B and B in the Hamptons of New York, and he tells a female guest, "breakfast starts at 6; what time shall I knock you up," he's going to get slapped! The fact that the British expression "knock you up" has a very different meaning from the American expression isn't going to help him, and if he keeps using that phrase, he'll probably get bad Yelp reviews and lose his business unless he changes his language, and too bad for him, he can't use the "but I'm British!" excuse. 

 But, "it's a slippery slope."  Down what? So, one day the Washington team has to change its name, the next the government comes after your guns? Are you worried about being soooo PC that we end up living like the people in Fahrenheit 451, a society that decided that no books were better than any that offended even just the smallest group of people? Really? Is that what's going to happen? I've heard people ask, where do we draw the line on offense? Do we have to have a certain poll's percentage of people offended in order to change the name? Will Notre Dame have to give up "Fightin' Irish" one day? We've seen some college programs change their Native American names; the St. John's "Redmen" (sound familiar?) became the "Red Storm."  And why can't we just look at each situation individually?  A good test, as Mike Greenberg said on his radio show "Mike and Mike in the Morning," is simply this: would you use the word "Redskin" in any other context besides referring to the team? The answer is "no," because it's considered a slur, and so it makes sense to consider a name change. 

Why does this matter? As author Sherman Alexie tells Bill Moyers, it's about cultural power -- or the real lack of it, for those whose ancestors were in the US before 1492.  That's why the name "thing" is an issue.  When you are in the cultural majority, such naming seems "natural," or perhaps (as per Genesis) your God-given authority.  But it's not.  Language is power.  It's the little things that hurt even worse than the land-grabs and the reservations, Alexie once said.

And ultimately, how many of us will care if/when the team changes its name?  The NBA's Charlotte Hornets moved to New Orleans, kept the name Hornets, then after the NBA gave Charlotte another team, the Bobcats (why did they try again? Oh, that's right, the new owner in Carolina was Michael Jordan), and a few years after that, the New Orleans Hornets changed their name to the Pelicans, and now the Bobcats are going to be the Hornets again, in Charlotte.  (And I'm ignoring the fact that New Orleans once had an NBA team called the Jazz, which makes perfect sense, but they moved to Utah, where calling them the Jazz makes no sense at all.)  Who gives a crap? How many people were OUTRAGED when the New York Highlanders changed their name to "Yankees"?  A few, perhaps, but did any of them care when a few years later Babe Ruth was hitting 60 home runs and helping them on their run of 27 World Series titles?  Did you know that once the University of Nebraska's football team was known as the Bugeaters? That's right, "Bugeaters."   Anyone in Lincoln hoping they go back to it? The point: no one will really care.  

I would want to add one last thought on the question of language and power that does give me food for thought.

Lenny Bruce's famous routine in which he just rattles off a ton of racist slurs (eventually calling them out as if he were an auctioneer) made a very fascinating argument: that the suppression of words people find offensive gives those words more power.  (Think about the "bad words" we don't want our kids to say. Once they know Mom and Dad don't want them to use "fuck," they often gravitate to it.  I know I did, and still do.) If society just keeps using words repeatedly, in an ordinary context, their power to hurt diminishes.   Dick Gregory was so influenced by this routine that he called his autobiography Nigger, dedicating it to his mom, saying that now she shouldn't cry when they shout out the word because they are just plugging his book. (Gregory has since changed his view on the Bruce routine.)  But what Bruce, in this context an idealist, overlooks is that language is not just about power, but power relations.  That's why it does matter.  But one other thing the debate on the name-change demonstrates is that language is a living thing; meaning is not totally fixed forever.  The word "gay" now has a very specific cultural meaning that was not its only meaning a hundred years ago.  It may be that the term "redskin" becomes somehow culturally accepted in twenty years; think about the very debate happening over hip-hop culture's use of nigga.  (And yes, it does mean something different when middle aged college professor uses that term.) 

Ultimately, this is not about freedom; it's about money.  When the NFL starts losing money because of the loss of trademark revenue, that's when the name will change, and no one will cry the End of America after a few years.