Maybe I first realized it while watching Jerry and the Cowboys strutting arm-in-arm like the Rockettes. Or it could have been when I noticed that all the late-night comics had morphed into policy wonks. Perhaps it was when I noticed every showbiz awards show had devolved into a political meeting with nearly all the subtlety and nuance of a nominating convention. Or it might have been when I heard that NFL teams were holding pre-game meetings to determine how they were going to conduct themselves as they faced the flag that draped my father’s coffin. Or maybe it was while listening to one tsunami of sanctimony after another from ESPN’s sages as they strained to talk about something other than Xs and Os.
I guess I don’t know exactly when it was, but I recently realized that I’m being driven away from contemporary American culture.
And the farther I get from it, the more I notice a peculiar thing: It’s not much of a culture. Name a great, active American novelist, composer, playwright, poet, or artist who can move the cultural needle? Let me save you the trouble; there aren’t any. It’s even been a long time since there’s been an American movie touched by timeless greatness. Why is the culture in such a crummy state? Maybe it’s because unquestioned groupthink and a rigid orthodoxy do not make for great art; they make for inane entertainment and oppressive propaganda. And that’s pretty much what we’ve got.
My estrangement from the culture has not been easy; I really miss the NFL. I grew up watching it every Sunday afternoon with my father. Until the day he died, it was the one thing we could talk about when we couldn’t talk about anything else. In his heartbreaking last years, whenever I wanted to cheer him up, I’d reminisce about the heroics of the Houston Oilers, especially Earl Campbell. Even as Alzheimer’s tightened its pitiless grip on him, he’d still smile every time I mentioned The Tyler Rose.
Because I stopped watching the NFL several weeks ago, I was forced to look around for another kind of light entertainment to wile away lazy Sunday afternoons. While channel surfing, I saw a stadium full of British soccer hooligans serenading their team with a sappy Broadway show tune: You’ll Never Walk Alone. It was the Liverpool Football Club of the English Premier League. Intrigued, I studied up on them and found that they’ve been around since 1892 and were just the right combination of success and futility for me. I started recording their games and watching them on Sunday afternoons.
I don’t know much about soccer yet, but I like it. There are no huddles, so the action is continuous and spontaneous. I could do without the players collapsing like they’ve been poleaxed whenever an opponent breathes on them. And the action is sometimes hard to follow and often seems to descend into pointless chaos. But then suddenly, like a clap of thunder on a cloudless day, there’s a flash of unimaginable collaborative brilliance and out of the chaos the ball somehow lasers just past the goalie and into the onion bag. And then I find myself cheering and fist pumping just like I used to when Dak and Dez would connect for a TD.
But best of all, at the end of the game, many of the players and coaches walk to the center of the field and applaud their home fans in sincere appreciation for supporting them in good times and in bad and from one generation to the next. Try to imagine NFL players and coaches showing that kind of appreciation and respect for their generations of loyal fans. Don’t bother; it’s never gonna happen.
Maybe that says it all.