Archive for June, 2012

The Tides of Sports Media

Yesterday, you were the worst. In the second quarter tonight, the best. By the time the game had ended, by the awful grace of God, you were the goat again.

This is life for Russell Westbrook and high-profile athletes that find themselves in the ire of a 24/7 sports media’s relentless narrative. It can’t be that LeBron James is simply at the peak of his powers and any team in his way is destined to lose. Granted the Miami Heat still have one more game to win, but the theme of this postseason, if such a thing need exist in sports, is James’ magnificent play. He is facilitating both offense and defense at a historic pace, and despite a remarkable performance by Westbrook where he was  unstoppable for long stretches of the game, eventually scoring 43, the Thunder still fell short.

A late mistake has columnists painting Westbrook as an inexperienced, explosive talent whose unawareness inevitably will cost the Thunder. Never mind the 47 minutes that preceded his decision to foul Chalmers in the final seconds. In a season where the Oklahoma City Thunder has played 85 games, the journey is negated—what have you done for me lately, Westbrook? Made a costly mistake, that’s what.

In his postgame press conference it was nice to hear Russell say he didn’t care what the sports media was saying. It’s now become a necessary skill for today’s modern athlete. James Harden is learning this. LeBron James has known it for years. And it’s remarkable the age at which it’s fair game to attack these young men. Westbrook is just 23, yet a few million people are questioning his intelligence and resolve in the wake of his masterful display of ability. He is facing scrutiny on a national scale when most at his age are simply trying to master the art of the entry-level interview. I messed my last one up by telling my potential employer that in five years I didn’t necessarily see myself with their company: a rookie mistake.

At the neighborhood playground the men warming up for the next pickup game like to talk basketball. “He shoots too much,” one of them says. “He’s not on Tony Parker’s level,” another utters. Yet the Thunder are three wins away from a championship title. He’s great enough to get them there, but flawed enough to have led them so close to a finals defeat. The media has convinced every amateur basketball connoisseur that Kevin Durant has led this team to such incredible success all on his own, and Westbrook is somehow standing between Durant and his ring. At just 23 like Westbrook, Durant’s time will come, and Westbrook is the caliber of player that can only help his chances in this new era of NBA.

OKC swag.

This is just another example of how in NBA commentary the old-timers always prevail. A point guard is supposed to play a certain kind of way, and every team has one go-to-guy that you go to till the end, win or lose. Many seem unwilling to accept the prospect that Westbrook is one of the best guards in the league, yet he’s proven it time and time again this season. He pushes the ball up the court with such power and ferociousness, his intensity is an incredible thing to behold.

Durant is a great player, of course, and Westbrook is nothing short of astonishing when he’s on his game. He’s a worthy compliment to Durant and in many ways, directly responsible for the sheer output of Durant’s scoring. He penetrates with explosive quickness and kicks the ball to the perimeter giving Durant look after look at three-point field goals. Westbrook’s constant attacking of the defense opens up lanes in their spacing, it has to, he’s just too fast for any team not to collapse toward the basket in a desperate attempt to help, and Durant feeds off of this. Durant, a reigning MVP-runner up and inevitable winner of the top individual prize, owes his success in large part to Westbrook’s abilities, and he has always been the first to say this.

As the two gain experience their joint scoring is becoming more regular. The two complement each other so nicely; their future, and the present for that matter, is undoubtedly a bright one. This simply seems to be the Heat’s year to win the title. And it will have been won, not given to them.

A seasoned Westbrook and Durant could run the Western Conference for years to come, but for now they might have to settle for second place in the finals, and it’s really not the sensational failure that the media will make it out to be. It is a success to have made it to the big show, especially for a team so young. Oklahoma City should start filling up those empty rafters soon enough.

0 and 35 are going to be hanging next to a lot of banners someday.

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Coke or Pepsi? “Whichever Obama Doesn’t Drink!”

Now our partisanship has gone too far.

I’ve always thought it was merely a coincidence that political affiliations seem to fall along soft drink lines. Democrats just seem more willing to enjoy a Pepsi than their Republican counterparts. I’ve never done the sociological research it would take to assert such a thing was true, so I simply smile when I notice it or laugh it off as a stretch to presume it a reality. It’s just a harmless observation I’ve made over the years that’s fodder for a weak Jerry Seinfeld bit, and I suppose that’s why I’ve never heard it pop up in his act.

My family is mostly Republican, and coincidentally enough, have strong emotional ties to Coca-Cola. Maybe that’s where I got the notion. Let’s just say that the Diet Coke brand has made quite a lot of money off my family tree. I myself subscribe to the “whatever ya got” approach to soda consumption, because at the end of the day I know that they both leave my body the same way. I’d be lying if I said members of my family didn’t take the choice more personal. Every time my mother hears that a restaurant we’re dining at serves Pepsi, she groans out of sheer disappointment. My gram-gram does the same and her reaction is even more visceral. She claims it’s a part of her upbringing, her heritage even. And yes, I still call my grandma “gram-gram.”

Coke has a profound presence in the south, and my grandmother studied at Georgia Tech back in the day. She’d consider ordering Pepsi at an Atlanta Waffle House treasonous. I find her stance more humorous than I take it serious, but sometimes a person says a thing so much that you start to think he or she actually means it.

The joy of Pepsi.

At a recent family dinner a relative said to me, “This is my first Pepsi since I found out Obama drinks it.” My response was silence, as I’ve mostly grown tired of discussing political matters with the family. It usually leads to somebody getting more upset than the other, and then Christmas ends early with a quiet room filled with high blood pressure and too many helpings of dessert. I suspect he was kidding with his comment, yet apparently he cared enough about Obama’s preference of soft drink to take note of it, and ultimately it’s affected the way he views the brands. Then again there really isn’t much else to go on besides which color you prefer, red or blue.

Personally when I drink a Pepsi, Barack Obama is the last thing on my mind. In fact, I like to think about all those sexy pop stars that the company used in their advertising campaigns at the turn of the century. There was Beyonce and Shakira, and they’d dance around and sing and shake up that bottle till it erupted with epic explosions of sweet, soda pop. I still don’t know what those ads had to do with the product, but I do know why I was supposed to buy a Pepsi. Britney Spears could sell me anything in the summer of 2001.

My brother’s always been a big fan of Christina Aguilera, though. He only drinks a Coke.

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Why Can’t I Stop Killing People?

Good thing there’s respawn.

It’s been eight months of this, staring at my screen for ten minutes at a time, unflinching, unblinking, shouting curse words as my enemy beats me to the draw. Nearly 10,000 souls have perished by my hand, yet I’m hungry for more carnage as though I were Drew Barrymore starring in a film titled, “Fifty First Kills.” I have accrued almost double as many deaths, but still strive for efficiency at the start of every new match. My efforts are futile on account of my putrid ability. My chronically poor performance makes me more appreciative of the season that LeBron James has had. I tend more towards Kobe though, I’m disappointed when I have to settle for an assist.

I don’t really believe they have souls, the soldiers in my video game, yet as I play I think about the real men and women around the globe that actually do this sort of thing for a living. They don’t just start blindly shooting at every shadow, of course, but bullets and bombs are a part of their work, and it makes me uncomfortable to think about how realistic the game must be. Not so much the look of it, but the sound: a burst of gunfire and a grunt of pain, and then silence. Around certain corners you can hear the buzzing of flies.

My PlayStation informs me that I’ve played online multiplayer for a total of 6 days, 19 hours, 37 minutes, and 3 seconds. I don’t know why it records down to the second, but I’m glad someone is keeping track. That comes out to an average of 1 kill for every 58.7 seconds. In that same total time I could drive to San Francisco and back with minutes to spare. Instead I’ve spent it shooting the population of my zip code.

And it’s so fun. What a sick people we’ve become. At Thanksgiving I was playing MW3 as extended family looked on. They were horrified to see me, a member of an African militia, shooting white Americans in the head with a sniper-rifle. My cousin and I laughed as their bodies twitched in the high grass; it started an argument. Perhaps our joy was exaggerated on account of my family’s disgust. What can I say, we were feeling confrontational.

The quiet halls of Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant.”

When indulging in first-person shooter games I often think about Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film, “Elephant.” At one point during the film’s shooting spree, we see the victims from the viewpoint of a gunman staring down the barrel of his weapon. Modern Warfare’s gameplay could be loosely inspired by this.

I don’t agree with the premise that video games cause violence, but I can easily see why some might. At the very least they desensitize us. I think I realized this just about the time that I killed the same opposing player four straight times with a knife attack, and gleefully turned to my cousin and slapped hands. I proudly told him how exciting I found it because I’d never done it before.

“You only live once,” he said, and laughed when I got shot from behind.

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It Ain’t 1979, Baby

“Now that Fauxhawk Guy and Guy with Glasses are gone, this is a rather attractive expedition.”

Having let Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” the proper time to pupate, I began scanning through metacritic.com as I ruminated over some of the film’s more interesting mythological explorations.

I’ve been surprised by how the film’s ideas have evolved the more I’ve thought about them. Unlike so many critics that either see a film several times or write from the gut after one initial viewing, I’ve always found that letting a movie sit for a week or two allows the images the proper time to infiltrate your daily routine, or maybe even your dreams depending on their personal impact. Only then can you know how many thumbs to give it. But I guess that’s what makes me an amateur.

The night after seeing “Prometheus” I thought of things slithering down my throat, a trademark of Ridley Scott’s work in the genre. There is one scene in particular where two pointless crew members attempt to make first contact and it ends up being their last. It thrills in the way of the original “Alien,” but it’s been nearly two weeks and already the sudden fright of their deaths has worn off.  Now my relationship with “Prometheus” revolves around those enormous, pale, bald, well-built men in the sky. I’ve thought about them most nights as Ridley Scott has depicted them.

The truth of our origin might not be as exciting as the prospect. To me, life has always read like a poem. It’s comprised of bits and pieces of profound beauty and lines that for whatever reasons don’t seem to resonate. We’re all different though. Some believe that there is a God, and that He is divine. I happen to feel otherwise, but sometimes I get the suspicion that He might be watching me. I don’t much care whether Ridley Scott believes in God either. What he offers us with “Prometheus” is a contrarian glimpse of a galaxy we will likely never understand, and this is where his film draws its power.

I’ve never seen a film like “Prometheus.” As much as I was disappointed when our Engineers woke up and started ripping off heads, I could see why they would. In a summer filled with alien films in the mold of “Transformers,” how could they not be disappointed? “Avengers,” is one of said films, and it’s already earned over $1,000,000,000.00 worldwide. I like to write the whole number out like that with all its zeroes and decimal places lest we forget just how much money that really is. “Prometheus” is the antithesis of Michael Bay, all the special effects and suspense we crave in a summer blockbuster with the ideas to make it great science fiction. It’s a movie that’s getting at something much higher on the thought-chain than beautiful pop stars in Camo costumes.

Ripley and Ash from Scott’s 1979 film,”Alien.”

I recently watched Ridley Scott’s 1979 film, “Alien” on DVD. It was late at night, as it should be watched, and I thought of the voices on metacritic. I kept reading, “Prometheus is no Alien,” and of course it isn’t. The original impact of “Alien” could never be duplicated because it is not 1979. One might imagine that goes without saying, yet some mainstream critics seemed disappointed that Ridley Scott could not muster the suspense and violence necessary to shock and awe in the Age of the Human Centipede. Maybe we all had simply watched the trailer too many times in anticipation.

In many ways I enjoyed “Prometheus” more than “Alien.” I didn’t realize it till days after viewing it, but the wealth of ideas in Ridley Scott’s 2012 film trump the sheer horror of “Alien.” And horror always dissipates over time. The man in the rubber suit can only be the most frightening thing in cinematic history for so long.

I suspect that maybe “Alien” has ideas that today might be overlooked: the sequence in which Ash is revealed to be an android, the crew’s ongoing consultation with a supercomputer they call “Mother,” which is eerily similar to Zooey Deschanel asking her iPhone if it’s raining, and then there’s private enterprise attempting to profit on the depths of space, these are all provocative and powerful, but none of them are as imaginative and all-encompassing as the conversation happening in “Prometheus.” There is no God in “Alien,” only long, dark corridors and the coldness of space. There is that too, in “Prometheus,” but also humanity’s engineers and parables to the greater processes of life.

The engineer.

What struck me most of all from “Prometheus” was the idea that the infectious organisms that inevitably give birth to the series’ monsters have been stored below ground like atomic weaponry. A character makes the proclamation that there was once life on planet LV-423, but the inhabitants have since fled because the power of the weapon they created was beyond their control. There are several parables to be read here, but the one I find most intriguing is that of God with the life He’s created. The history of humanity has shown us that eventually life is a threat to other existence. An analogy for this same process can be found in The Old Testament in the story of Noah. Flood was the cure.

“Prometheus” reads as Ridley Scott’s The Creation of Adam. Michelangelo had imagined Him with a white beard, long hair, and a pink robe.

God’s depiction is at the discretion of the artist.

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“… and there was light.”

The first word is always the hardest. The last word is second. But once your mouth starts moving it’s easy to pretend that you know what you’re talking about. I am skilled at this in many subjects. I am well-versed in being uneducated. It’s a gift, really. I’ve always felt that I have the ability to bullshit my way through any conversation as long as you know as little as I do. When it’s obvious I’m out of my element I simply change the topic before you’ve realized. It’s the same strategy that Gandhi used to defeat the Nazis.

Tonight is a monumental point in my life. Once I was an aimless boy without a blog, now I’m a man with no audience. But because of you that will change. All I ask is that you read my posts and take them seriously or take them casually, but whatever you do don’t ever take them sitting down. Ataractic Jack must be consumed standing up. Now… Rise.

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