Fashion is funny. It used to be you only saw knee high boots on horse women and hookers. Now every women looks like they are riding something.
“What does resurrected mean?” my son asked.
“Well, the word means to bring back to life, or rise from the dead, and people use it as an expression like, the project was resurrected because it wasn’t going anywhere and now it has new life.”
I considered ending it there, but not knowing in what context he heard it, I thought I should address all the possibilities.
“And then people also use it when they talk about religion. The Christian myth says that Jesus was killed and three days later he was resurrected.”
“Oh. So, like Frankenstein.”
“It was a bold question, and one which has ever been considered as a mystery; yet with how many things are we upon the brink of becoming acquainted, if cowardice or carelessness did not restrain our inquiries…In my education my father had taken the greatest precautions that my mind should be impressed with no supernatural horrors. I do not ever remember to have trembled at a tale of superstition or to have feared the apparition of a spirit. Darkness had no effect upon my fancy, and a churchyard was to me merely the receptacle of bodies deprived of life, which, from being the seat of beauty and strength, had become food for the worm.”
—Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein
Talk to me about something that has content and meaning.
Don’t talk to me about the weather.
Tell me about who you are and what you like.
Don’t tell me about the temperature.
Tell me about your passions and convictions.
Don’t tell me about today’s highs and lows.
Talk to me about your view of the world.
Or don’t talk to me at all.
Recently I was asked to participate on a panel of professionals for the benefit of English Majors at Eastern Connecticut State University. The subject for the panel was in particular, what is the value of the degree beyond being a teacher. The following is what I wrote in preparation for the event and delivered via the answer to one of the questions:
First I have to say that I’m feeling so much joy being surrounded by people, both in the panel and the audience, who have a passion for words, because I believe that words matter, the words we choose reflect who we are and how we are perceived.
Personally, I count my English degree as the single greatest asset I have. I can’t lose it, it can’t be damaged or destroyed, it doesn’t grow obsolete or lose value, and it confers on me two great super powers. I’ll get back to those in a minute.
But first, what does it mean to study English? What is it you’re really studying? They call it the study of English because that’s the language we speak here in this country, but it’s really the study of the transfer of knowledge, concepts, and ideas from one consciousness to another via words. So, whether it’s someone speaking to you in the moment, or from an 1000 year old text, the author’s purpose was to communicate ideas through words. Our job as scholars of this process is to discover the meaning the originator intended. Because let’s be honest, it’s not a perfect process. Anyone who’s ever read Kafka knows what I mean. And so you pour over various books, and essays, and oral stories intent on discovering their meaning. You are always asking the question; what was the author trying to say? When you do that as often as English majors do, you develop two super powers.
Eventually, you develop the ability to discern an author’s meaning with very little effort and very quickly, even if the originator isn’t communicating well. You can pick up a manual for a technology you’ve never heard of, written by a guy in another country whose primary language is not English, and where other people might be totally confused, you know exactly what they were trying to say. You pick up on clues in the word choice, or the sentence structure, and piece together the meaning that was intended, regardless of what was actually written on the page! And so the superpower that comes from this is the power to learn. Getting an English degree taught me first and foremost how to learn. And with that power you can learn almost anything else, any career, industry or task, and you can learn it very quickly because you’ve practiced this process so much. You can find a book, or tutorial, or online resources, and with what seems like nothing more than the power to read, you can master the subject. With this skill, you can accumulate knowledge and skills far beyond the more narrow scope of other disciplines.
And as you accumulate knowledge, the second superpower begins to emerge. Your ability to originate the messages (the other side of the equation, if you will) becomes quite sharp. The writers you study write for an audience, and so they consider their audience through every part of the process. And you begin to learn incorporate this into your own messages. So whether you are writing an email or a report, or a training document, or trying to communicate verbally, you take into account your audience, and the position and experience they come from. You become so adept at choosing words that clearly and efficiently communicate your meaning, the understanding of it seems effortless to the recipient. And if they still don’t get your meaning, you are able to reach into their background, whether it’s their field, or industry, or just the common human experiences we all have, and you are able to put your meaning into contexts they can relate to, because you’ve spent countless hours pouring over allegories, analogies, metaphors, and similes. So it just comes natural.
So in gaining your English degree, you gain both the power to learn anything, and the power to teach anything. The power to understand, and to be understood, and that is what makes us mighty!
Often we’re encouraged to be true to ourselves and not let anyone tell us differently, but when I do I’m told I should work on being a better person. Catch 22.
This quitting thing, it’s a hard habit to break once you start. —Coach Morris Buttermaker
W.C. Fields said, never work with children or animals. Give the kids beer, cigarettes, a mouthful of vulgarities, volatile tempers, and bigotry and you might just rethink your position on animals. But that’s exactly what Coach Morris Buttermaker does and the results are…well, vulgar, violent, bigoted, and decidedly not politically correct, but hilarious nonetheless.
There is hardly an underdog sports movie today that doesn’t owe something to this film. Despite its datedness, it still stands up today. Mathhau is outstanding in his role as Morris Buttermaker. Watching his character arc from a man who has all but given up, to one who simply agrees to try again, is nothing short of genius. Everything else in the film is a reflection of where he is on his path to redemption. And the film pulls no punches. Amid the comedy of errors, we have moments of real pain, regret, anger, and humiliation, as well as resolve, redemption, apology, and ultimately triumph. Pivotal moments such as when he pushes Amanda away because he knows he’s no good for her, or when he realizes he’s no better than his ultra-competitive nemesis Coach Turner, come across loud and clear without being verbalized. That’s no easy feat.
And each kid has a defined personality all unto their own. What they have in common is that they don’t fit in, and no one wants them to. They’re classic underdogs, but with distinctive voices and reasons for why they’ve given up on a world that’s given up on them at the ripe old age of 10.
The music may as well be a character as it comments on the action scenes, ironcially suggesting they were well orchestrated operatic movements. The music, being an adaptation of the principle themes in the opera Carmen, shares a bit more than one might think with its source. Carmen was the first of what’s called Opera-Comique, which is to say it was the first light hearted opera departing from the tradition of heavy, heroic, and serious, and it has, as its major characters, a group of gypsies. It’s not much of a stretch to say that the ragtag group of misfits that make up the Bears are a kind of sports gypsies. And while it’s not the first sports comedy ever made, it is an early model who’s formula was copied over the following years.
Underdog sports stories were made before 1976, but back then they almost always had the underdog coming out on top by the end of the picture. 1976 was exceptional for underdog sports films because of the two films in this genre that came out that year, both underdogs failed to win the top honors. Both Rocky and The Bears continue to teach us today that in sports, and in life, winning isn’t everything, being the best you can be is.
Amanda: Hey, Buttermaker! Maybe next spring you’ll teach me how to hit.
Buttermaker: You bet.
I’ve been disappointed before. —Morris Buttermaker
Richard Linklater gave us Dazed and Confused, and with it, showed us that he not only has an intricate genuine sensibility for the late 70s, but that he also has a sense of humor that is in touch with the time. So it defies explanation how he could take a title like The Bad News Bears and make it unwatchable.
There were some updates that made it fun (chief among them being a strip club sponsor rather than a bail bondsman), but ultimately they are not enough to sustain it. Change the script, or keep it exactly like the original, either way you can’t make it work without personality. This film is ultimately about personality.
None of the kids have the personality of the original cast, with the exception of Timmy Deters playing Tanner. Clearly this kid studied because he acts just like the original Tanner, and lucky for him not much had changed in the update. But clearly Sammi Kane Kraft was cast as Amanda for her athletic ability rather than her acting. And one would think that if the movie hinges on the relationship between Amanda and Buttermaker, you would cast an an athletic actor rather than an athlete who can’t act.
Greg Kinear is admirable in his role as the opposing coach Bullock, but whether he or the director watered down the character to a goofy, smiley-on-the-surface, middle-class dad, I don’t know. I do know that it makes it hard to believe him when he does have to deliver the lines that are supposed to make him seem ultra-competitive. Ultimately it makes it hard to really hate him. And when the payoff for that hate comes, when he is supposed to smack his kid on the mound, he only knocks his hat off, and the falling on the ground seems like an unintentional effect of the whole confrontation. No he won’t win any father of the year awards, but he’s hardly the monster we need him to be to make us feel vindicated when his kid purposely blows the next play, or to keep us feeling sympathetic to Buttermaker despite all his failings.
And so the whole movie rests on Buttermaker, and admittedly, it’s an important role. But Billy Bob Thorton seems like he just showed up to read his lines. At times, what is supposed to pass for a reflective moment, simply looks like he’s trying to remember what comes next.
Baseball movies, or any sports movies for that matter, are not simply about the underdogs coming out on top. That’s the plot to move you through the story. What they are about is Personality, they’re about Character. They’re about the type of person you have to be to not quit, to stand up and fight, to help someone and let someone help you, to admit when you’re wrong, and to make an effort to change. The original captured all that just as eloquently as Rocky, Hoosiers, or Remember the Titans, with all the wit and comedy of Major League, Bull Durham, or The Replacements. Unfortunately, this version falls short of the fence and doesn’t quite drive the message home.
Four prep school kids Greyhound down to the South.
When I was in college, I had an opportunity to take two dignitaries from Bosnia to NYC. A Bosnian Supreme Court Justice who also taught International Law at the University of Sarajevo and his Chief of staff. After seeing some sights they asked me what I thought they might like. I’ve always thought that St. Patricks is a unique and outstanding peiece of architecture unlike the surrounding brick boxes that make up the majority of the buildings in that area. I walked them down 5th Ave., and with a big wave of the arms, introduced them to the it: violia!
They took one disinterested look and started looking elsewhere. I was confused. “Do you want to go in?” I asked. They spoke a bit in their language and the Chief of Staff turned to me and said with his thick accent, “Eastern Europe is full of this kind of structure. We want to see 5 story walk-up…” and then his face lit up with delight…”preferably with fire escape!”
OK then, let’s go to The Village.