I promise this post–unlike your average root canal–will be more fun than it sounds!
The issues change…the dynamic never does. From 1973:
Richardson was an activist and I respected him for it. But all I needed to know about the war had been babbled to me years ago by a drunken political science professor I had met at the Michigan State Varsity Club Chicken Fry. After several stiff drinks he confided to me that not only did he work for the CIA, but he had been in on the final planning of Diem’s assassination. I pointed out that Diem was still alive.
“I’ll tell you this,” the professor had spit, his eyes blazing from my rebuff, “the son of a bitch’ll be dead in six weeks.”
The “son of a bitch” was killed three weeks later. Since that time I have tried to ignore politics; if a man with no innate political interests at all could find out such things because he was a football player, I didn’t want to know the real secrets. Thomas Richardson was finding out that the hero status of professional football merely allowed him to become privy to the bigger lies.
(North Dallas Forty, Peter Gent, 1973)
I saw the movie based on Pete Gent’s novel when it came out in 1979. I remember it being pretty good though I haven’t seen it since. Very seventies.
Fifty pages in, the novel is already deeper and better and more farsighted–the kind of high quality pulp that has made up the bulk of our national literary achievement since WWII.
Of course the war hanging over North Dallas Forty (the novel at least) is Viet Nam and, if time (the beast!) allows, I may have to finally get around to reading Normal Mailer’s Why Are We in Vietnam? when I’m done just for the sake of comparison.
Our wars don’t hang over us any more. We just ignore them, with or without the CIA’s assistance. Keep the army all volunteer. Keep the casualties to an acceptable minimum–with “acceptable” defined by a compliant media. Keep time and the empire rolling along.
Gent seems to be catching it at a crucial turning point. He had been a player for the Dallas Cowboys in the sixties. People had a lot of fun, when the book was first published and again when the movie came out, trying to decide who was who in his fictionalized account. If Thomas Richardson, the black player Gent’s stand-in, Phil Elliot. references above (the next paragraph deals with Richardson’s frustrated attempt to get fair housing for black players), was based on anybody real, then whoever he is can probably relate to Colin Kaepernick these days.
I’ve never been a red hot fan of the NFL and I can think of a thousand good reasons why I wouldn’t mind seeing The League fall flat on its face–not least being the capacity of the professional game’s authoritarian nature to rot the national soul. Before pro football became the national sport we never lost a war. Afterwards (round about the time Gent’s novel is set) we’ve never won one–and, as I like to point out now and then–we never will.
Our best hope, then, is to become adept at avoiding them. If Colin Kaepernick and other protesters can help that come about, I’ll support them whole-heartedly.
I’m guessing fat contracts with Nike aren’t the way–or the point–but, if he proves me wrong I’ll be happy to admit it.
Meanwhile, the great pulp novels–of which I already suspect North Dallas Forty is a fine example–have been far better at telling us why than any “serious” literature, let alone history or journalism.
Now if we only still had great pulp novels (I’m working on it, folks, I’m working on it!)….we wouldn’t have to leave it all up to the rock and rollers:
…See, I told you it would be fun!