Hot Air: Myth America

On the mornings when I’m driving up to Indy to do my writing and audio editing at the big central library on St. Clair St. at the north end of the city’s charming mall*, I listen to Chicago sports talk radio. It’s one of my guilty pleasures, of which I have some twenty-three or twenty-four hundred.

This being the morning after the Oscars™ presentation, the conversation turned to last night’s big winners, including The Green Book, Olivia Coleman, and Spike Lee. Naturally, talk turned to what the radio hosts thought was the greatest sports picture of all time. They mentioned the Rocky series, Hoosiers, and a few others. At no time did either mention what I consider to be the greatest sports movie ever made, Raging Bull. They settled on the original Rocky (1977) as their consensus choice.

It occurred to me that the first Rocky and Raging Bull represent opposite ends of the dramatic spectrum. One is pure myth; the other, a slide into the gutter. Rocky can be compared to the works of, say, Norman Rockwell while Martin Scorcese’s masterpiece is right out of the same creative school to which Diane Arbus, Weegee, James Baldwin, and Nelson Algren no doubt made alumni contributions.

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At which point in my musings I hit upon the idea that Rocky is perhaps the most American of films. Rocky, again, is pure myth: the unheralded, unlettered everyman works hard, keeps the faith, and believes in himself enough to beat the heavyweight champion of the world. The world he lived in was chock-full of angelic, simple folk, helpers, supporters — mensches, they’d be called in certain other ‘hoods. It’s all pure baloney, of course, but my point is so is the American ideal.

Look at Thomas Jefferson’s first “self-evident” truth in the Declaration of Independence: “all men are created equal.” It’s a beautiful, stunning, revolutionary concept, something that’d never before been advanced by people in charge of a government, be it an empire or a breakaway set of colonies. The reason the line itself is so quintessentially American is that it aims for the stars. It sets a goal so high that it’s almost impossible to achieve. Yet it’s as full of shit as a goose chained up and force-fed so it’s liver can be harvested for pâté de foie gras.

Here we are, 243 years after Jefferson (a slave-holder) penned those words and only within the last, oh, 45 minutes have Blacks, Native Americans, women, and whatever is the latest despised group of ethnic immigrants even caught a faint whiff of equality to white men. At best, we’re a good hundred years from dark-skinned and XX-chromosome-bearing fellow members of our benighted species achieving legal, economic, and societal parity with the genetic lottery-winning individuals who run the show.

Raging Bull showed us what life was really like among the hard-scrabble tough guys of the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s lower east side New York Italian neighborhoods. Life there was brutal and sweaty, unfair, terrifying, and crushing. Only people with superhuman desire and the good fortune to be born with nearly-impossibly rare superior athleticism could escape it and even if one or two could, they’d be scarred so deeply they were incapable of truly thriving in the wider world. That’s what life is like when a person grows up in a slum with its laughable schools, its food deserts, its street gangs, and its almost bestial pressures.

No, Raging Bull wasn’t a typical American film at all. We Americans like…, nay, love, to pretend the world it portrayed doesn’t exist.

In keeping with the film motif here, let me call out a line from another great movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

That’s America.

[ * I use mall here in its originally intended definition: to signify a landscaped promenade, much like the National Mall in Washington, DC and, prior to that, the Westminster Mall in London, where the game pall-mall, a croquet precursor, was played in the 16th & 17th centuries. ]

No News Is Bad News

Perry [Image: Chris Howell/Herald-Times]

New Herald-Times editor J.J. Perry has a hell of a problem to solve. USA Today is ceasing publication of its national news inserts that have been carried by the HT, the Indy Star, and gobs of other newspapers around the country.

So now, even as local coverage is being carried out by a skeleton staff, the H-T brain trust must figure out a way to convey to us the news occurring outside our comfortable little hollow of Indiana. Perry said in an editorial yesterday that the paper “will again feature national, international and business news from the Associated Press and other syndicates.”

But, hell, even that’ll take humanpower, something the newspaper industry these days is standing on its head to make go away.

The big fear in these parts is our venerable local paper will soon evolve into a dollar-a-copy compendium of high school sports stories and Royal South Toyota and Drs. Don & Lisa Baker ads.

The news? Pshaw, that’s what Facebook and Twitter are for.

Unopposed

God forbid I should ever reveal which well-known political figure in this town whispered the following into my ear:

I’m glad so many people are challenging the incumbents in Bloomington this year. But it’s ironic the two who should be challenged aren’t.

Check out the Herald Times‘ list of primary candidates here. And keep in mind I’m featuring as many city council challengers as possible between now and the May 7th primary on my weekly WFHB interview show, Big Talk.

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