Thursday, March 15, 2007

Another Reason To Skip Work -or- Sports for Laymen

Seems like there are pretty much two things going on the world right now that the Scooter Libby trial is over. One is South By Southwest, or as some like to call, I think erroneously, SXSW. Really, that should be written S x SW, if at all, but not at all, preferably. The other is Division One NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. This is, by far, or, um, XFar, the more important of the two.

Just to get it out of my system, though, why do bands like Sunburned Hand of Man play South By Southwest? They're never going to sign to a label, they don't need industry exposure - what the fuck are they doing there? I assume there's a good reason, cause there has to be, but it certainly isn't apparant to me. But hey, like I said, South By Southwest, not important. Ok.

I figure there are only a handful of sporting events non-sports fans, which are not to be confused with non sports-fans, will be able sit through and will benefit, in some perhaps extremely marginal way, from sitting through. Olympics for the whole national pride deal, Super Bowl for the commercials, World Cup because it's fucking boss and anyone who can't see that is a dumbass (this one is obviously up for debate but based on personal feelings I am unable to leave it out of a list like this one), and finally the NCAA Basketball Tournament.

I realize the tournament is long. Maybe not as long as the Olympics or even the World Cup, but it's pretty long. It happens at wierd hours, involves tons and tons of people most people have never and will never hear of, is involved with the fascio-liberal academic system, whatever your complaints about it in theory, there are ways that this thing can emotionally effect anyone who opens up to it. And, for the following reasons, it is way easier than any other sporting event to open up to.

College basketball is bite sized. Two twenty minute halves. Games are over in less than 90 minutes. There is very little time commitment involved in watching one of these games. If the game is uninteresting in the first half, turn it off straight away. No reason to mess around, check back in twenty minutes. Cause with this tournament, those twenty minutes are actually meaningful. Twenty minutes at the Super Bowl is, like, the length of the gap between coherent John Madden sentences. In this tournament, especially for the first few days when there are four games going on at any given time, you don't need to wait for anything. Often CBS even does your job for you, only showing the game that is interesting at that particular moment. Do you live in Columbus? Is Ohio State up by 40 points? You'll be watching the last minute of a tie game between Louisville vs. Iowa State. I dare you, sit down for half an hour tomorrow with CBS on, and you'll see something exciting.

College basketball players are bite sized. With the exception of some unnaturally composed kids, Shane Battier comes to mind, (and some astonishingly old and bald ones [Brian Cardinal]) most college basketball players are basically college kids, and they aren't expected to act like adults. They aren't expected to really go to college either, especially, but in terms of maturity they are college kids. This makes it extremely easy to empathize with them. They will cry, and not just on the court, they will break down in press conferences! They will throw things! Even moreso with kids from smaller schools, poorer schools, people with go batshit insane over this in a way that is totally different from they way people go batshit for other sporting events.

For purposes of illustration: you have a Champions League soccer match. People from Spain and England gather around the stadium grounds to punch each other, knock over a car, unsheath some knives and get gassed by mounted policemen with riot shields. This happens regardless of outcome. With even a tournament final in college basketball you also get a huge riot - but it happens, necessarily, at a location detached from the location of the real action. As these games always take place on neutral territory inaccessible to most of the team's supporters, they don't destroy the actual scene of the crime, they destroy their home campus out of joy. There's a lot of tradition with rioting in soccer, which makes it feel like those European louts are just going through the motions. In basketball I like to think of rioting as a more spontaneous expression of youthful exuberance and confused ecstasy. Isn't that, after all, what college is all about?

Getting down to brass tacks, there are too many points to cover when it comes to why this tournament is alone in its status of greatness as a sporting event. We could get into why nobody really cares who wins, why the underdog means more here than anywhere else (outside of, perhaps, the Olympics), why the monolithic and obsolete style of TV coverage actually enhances the experience of watching the games, but I don't know why we would. Not when there's only :30 left in the Xavier-BYU game.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Dead Serious -or- They Never Thought They'd Get This Far

Prison Break is kind of a fascinating show. The first time I saw it, I couldn't tell if it was the worst show I'd ever seen, or whether value judgements as such weren't really applicable. The former may well be true, but I mean, a statement that extreme is bound to ignore holes. The latter, I'm pretty sure, is also wrong. A relatively shitty show that goes to prove a couple of pertinent principles:

1) Television shows that take themselves far too seriously can be euthanizingly entertaining
in spite of themselves even when they don't cross the line into self parody

2) Most people, and I guess here I'm mainly referring to myself, can become engrossed in pretty much any television program of which they watch, in it's entirety, one episode

Granted, I didn't watch the show tonight so perhaps "engrossed" isn't exactly the right word. But still, how many shows will I watch, on my own, without any secondary activity going on, for a whole hour? What makes Prison Break special?

Nothing, asshole, I thought I already covered that: I watch it more than once simply because I watched it once. Take that back and why did I watch it once? Relative to 24 or Lost it's easy. It doesn't put walls in the way of simple comprehension. If "complex" action shows with characters all over the globe doing seemingly disconnected things really fast are the new vanguard, Prison Break is Dragnet. Shit is simple. I could explain everything that was going on to another viewer who had never seen the show without interrupting the narrative, and I know this, because I did it. There is still a place for mindless entertainment, and Prison Break fills it, if not snugly, then at least adequately.

What I really wanted to say here, though, is that it's fucking amazing how little smiling there is in this show. The circumstances of the characters make this believable as much as anything in the show is believable, but still, it seems like the cast was chosen simply for their varied abilities in not smiling. If SNL cast like this maybe I'd still watch it. If Mischa Barton joined this show, that'd be it. An entire fictional world in which all people have one facial expression. Now that I think about it the creators of Prison Break may have had more of a conceptual vision for the show than our puny minds can even fathom.

No, uwps, no. I do picture them sitting around a conference room table in pressed dress shirts hissing ideas through their teeth, every bit as serious as the characters on the show:

"And then he says, 'You don't. You have to trust me.' and she says, 'Do you know who I am? I'm the President of the United States' Oh! It's awesome!"

"That's intense."

"Christ! this Gatorade is good!"

If a lack of pretension counts for anything these days, Prison Break deserves some cred. When this fucking thing gets cancelled at the end of the year (a third season of a show named Prison Break in which the characters break out of prison at the end of the first season and which makes no mention of said escape at all in the second season? are you allowed to change the name of a show? no, it's cancelled. idiots who named the show are kicking themselves in hell.) nobody's gonna care. Nobody's gonna care, that is, until they make a movie version in 15 years with whoever Harrison Ford -40 years is. Topher Grace?

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