Tuesday, September 27, 2011

20,000 Different Kinds of Sentimentality

So much of what I write at this time of year is about the NFL, and much of what I write about the NFL can be filed under either "exasperated/political" or "frankly hallucinatory." I have examples of both up today, although the most recent edition of my goof-therapy football-yakking with Jeff Johnson has not yet gone up at GQ as I write this. But this week's Vice column came out pretty well, I think, both in general and as an example of what I do actually think is kind of great about the NFL. As overbranded and generally, half-fascistic-ly dumb as the league is, and as multiply objectionable as it is in so many ways, it's also a great place to project some feelings and get some escapism up in yourself. And when formerly (and possibly still) crummy teams from crumbling cities random pull off upsets and generally don't look terrible... well, you'd have to be a much more serious and well-balanced human than me not to write a column about how awesome that is.

That both teams are sharing first place at this point in the season makes even non-partisan fans feel good, especially since the Bills got there by knocking off the unctuously sadistic New England Patriots on Sunday in a comeback you’d scoff at for being unrealistic if you saw it in a movie. Whether that success has any greater football significance remains to be seen, although it wouldn't be surprising if it didn’t—Detroit hasn't beaten a good team yet, and Buffalo has trailed by three scores in both of their last two games. And of course, appealing though it is to think otherwise, nothing that either team does will do much to make the cities of Detroit or Buffalo less like their bleak selves.

But there's still something worth celebrating here, even if it's illusory and despite the fact that—broadly speaking—it’s all pretty resoundingly insignificant. The NFL's militaristic pomp and goony storylines are not, after all, the only way to understand or enjoy a football game. American culture is currently screaming profanities at itself from the bottom of a canyon-sized rut; everyplace, increasingly, feels like a cross between Detroit and Buffalo. So a stunning comeback win or two from the NFL's ultimate rust-belt no-hopers offers a very in-context type of escapism, and inspires a different and sweeter sort of sentimentality.

Because of the inherent TL;DR issues at Vice, that's like half the column, but there are jokes en route to the end. This should in no way suggest that I am giving up on seeing the NFL as a giant ass-carnival of bad ideas and bad faith. It still is. But I'm certainly not boycotting a Bills team powered by friend-of-the-program Ryan Fitzpatrick, or a Lions team that wins and plays joyously. The opposite. I am, for all the usual qualifications, LOVING that shit.

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