The only thing I’ve ever really wanted for Christmas (besides a transistor radio when I was eight years old) was a Cubs World Series victory.
Way back a quarter of a century ago, I was lucky enough to be assigned to write perhaps the first piece in the nation about a film documentary that’d just been wrapped, a sports thing called Hoop Dreams.
My editor at The 3rd Coast,* a small arts and culture magazine, told me she’d heard about a trio of local filmmakers who’d tailed a couple of inner-city kids, basketball phenoms, through their four-year high school careers. They’d resisted the temptations of gangs and drugs, they struggled to overcome their woefully inadequate elementary school educations, they battled to remain academically eligible at the private, parochial high school that’d recruited them (one of them flunked out and had to go to public school), and they at last made it to graduation. The film ended as they packed up and left their public housing homes to go to college. It was as though they’d survived hell and had earned a second chance at life.
[ * Big Mike Note: Not to be confused with the renowned Third Coast literary journal.]
Hoop Dreams became one of the most lauded sports docs in history. Roger Ebert called it the film of the decade. It spawned subsequent generations of films and filmmakers, using hand-held cameras, tracing the lives of sports figures great and small, delving into their personal lives and revealing the humanity behind their facades. Hoop Dreams was called last week in the New York Times, “The first truly great sports documentary.” Its director, Steve James, went on to become one of filmdom’s most renowned documentary director/producers.
ESPN’s award-winning sports doc series, 30 for 30, for the most part, is simply Hoop Dreams done again and again, only with different stars on different teams in different cities facing different challenges.
So, Joe Nocera’s NYT piece on some of Hoop Dreams‘s peripheral characters’ subsequent lives caught my eye. Gun play, Nocera writes, wasn’t given a second thought when James and his partners shot Hoop Dreams. This, even though the year 1991 in Chi. was far more dangerous, in terms of gun deaths, than is 2016. Yet, Chi.’s streets are viewed today as shooting galleries. Nocera posits that’s due to the random nature of the killing now. In the ’80s and ’90s, say he and his sources, gang-bangers shot to kill each other for turf (read: business) reasons. Today, Nocera writes, “people can be killed over the tiniest slights, including insults on social media.”
Social media and guns. They define this holy land — from its White House to its toughest streets — in the year of somebody’s lord, 2016.
Words Can Kill You
Be thankful rages, fads, manias, and other mini-psychopathies fall out of fashion. For instance, the following words, phrases, and concepts are no longer part of the common parlance:
I know, right?
Not (Mike Myers’ mortal sin)
This (in all but its strictly denotative senses)
Brah (in all its permutations)
This isn’t rocket science
Om nom nom
Kale (not that kale doesn’t exist anymore but it’s no longer the answer to every problem confronting humankind)
On the flip side, here are some idioms of idiocy, awkward and inapt usages, and cutesy-poo utterances still in vogue that I want permanently barred — on penalty of death — in all public and private discourse:
It is what it is
I’m sorry if…, & I’m not a racist but…, & No offense but…
I can’t even
Disrupt (in the business jargon sense)
Impact (as a verb, plus its cousin impactful)
I could care less (I blame Phil Donahue for popularizing this)
Can’t we all just get along? (no, we can’t — especially now — because sometimes we shouldn’t)
Mansplaining (if you don’t like a guy talking loudly and unjustifiably authoritatively, then speak up and tell him to STFU)
My Yule Tradition