Why I didn’t watch the Superbowl

A lot of terrible things happened in 1968. There was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King and the My Lai massacre to name just a couple, but there was at least one amazing positive thing: Outside some legion hall in Nashua New Hampshire the Republican candidate for president, a certain Richard Milhous Nixon was about to spend an hour in his limo riding up to Manchester. He was tired, it was late and he just wanted to talk about football during the ride, nothing else. Apparently he loved talking football and none of the hyper-intellectual ivy leaguers in the press corps were even remotely versed enough to engage him save one guy, Hunter S. Thompson.

Did they search him before letting him in the car?

Did they search him before letting him in the car?

So they shared the limo up to the airport chatting about the great game the whole way, having a fine time. They even shook hands as then-candidate Nixon stepped up the stairs into the Lear jet and Thompson flicked his cigarette causing a panic because it landed close to the fueling equipment.

These guys were mortal enemies. Thompson considered Nixon a monster “Straight out of Grendel” and the whole reason he even got into writing about politics was to fight him. On the other side, Nixon stood as a bulwark against the counterculture, drugs, anti-Vietnam, and his path to the presidency was through activating the “silent majority” of American voters who opposed what the good doctor represented. But these two guys shared a passion for professional football and on this they connected. Football has the power to do that, to cross bridges and boundaries. It’s the one thing we share between the classes, the races and the states.

And I hate the NFL for fucking that up.

If I was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looking at the numbers from Sunday I’d be thinking to myself, “I wonder what it would really take for our ratings to actually drop? Finding out we trade in illegally harvested human organs from kidnapped orphans?” Think about it, you have a game damaging the brains of the guys who play it, you have domestic abuse ignored at the highest level and you have corporate practices that can best be described as “crony socialism” more reminiscent of how businesses are structured in China than any Western purportedly capitalist democracy, And yet the consumer knowing this is pretty much saying, “Yeah, whelp, you know. It’s a beautiful fucking game is all…”

Roger Godell is the real winner Sunday Night.

Wait till they find out the turf is actually made of kitten fur

Next year I’m wearing a suit made out of live kittens because who’s gonna stop me?

Personally, I got to a point with football where I was starting to feel shitty watching games. The video of Ray Rice beating his girlfriend, every new revelation about head injury and the notably non-neurologist denialists who feel the need to butt-in with dumb arguments like “soccer produces concussions too!” without any seeming understanding of the magnitude of the problem borne out by the statistics. The team representing our capital is still named after an ethnic slur, for fuck’s sake. It just seemed like a constant parade of yet another dude arrested for murder followed by another suicide then another sexual assault at a college or a high school. Allowing myself to keep a connection to football was demanding increasingly elaborate mental gymnastics.

So it was time to employ one of my favorite pieces of neural equipment: The Cognitive Dissonator™. This is the mental device that makes it possible for us to do specific things even though we kinda sorta know we shouldn’t. It’s what allows me to write this on a computer that was probably assembled by child slaves, eat a BLT that likely came from a factory farm and run my car on fuel pumped out of the ground by one of the most repressive regimes on Earth, a place where they behead people for “witchcraft”.  I imagine that mine looks something like this:

It's also great for holidays family gatherings

It’s also great for holidays and family gatherings

It’s essential to have because we all live in a state of permanent cognitive dissonance around a number of topics. We are all hypocrites, it’s an essential part of being human. As Physicist Niels Bohr once said, “The opposite of a fact is falsehood, but the opposite of one profound truth may very well be another profound truth.” (Quantum physicists have hyper-developed dissonators, by the way. Manufactured in Copenhagen.)

So employing this device allowed me to live for a while in the dual-reality state of recognizing football for both sides of its coin.

We're entertained just fine, thanks for asking.

We’re entertained just fine, thanks for asking.

But sometime this Spring I found myself having to employ an additional industrial strength dissonator just to keep up with football and the load it was putting on my coping systems.

These are the ones they issue to people working on tobacco accounts at advertising agencies

These are the ones they issue to people working on tobacco accounts at advertising agencies

Still the load was too great. Everything from Sandusky to Stubenvile. From OJ to JoPa. Rice. Peterson. Hernandez. Finding out that the NFL hasn’t paid any taxes since 1966 and that cities use tax free bonds usually reserved for schools and roads to build stadiums for them. Hearing NFL has been running a junk science campaign on CTE and now we learn even high schoolers are being hit hard and repeatedly enough to bring it on. Cheerleaders are treated shamefully. My own high school and the toxic football mania, the quarterback for the Jets ran a dogfighting ring…my dissonator started smoking. It got very warm. There was a noise.

And it just stopped.

Without the protection of cognitive dissonance I found myself having to ask “What would these guys have to do to finally make me stop watching football?” I found that the answer was the steady stream of things they’d already done and continued to do and showed no signs of not doing in the future. I had to cop to the fact that by watching in spite of it all,  I’m giving my tacit approval. The only power I have is to not watch.

So now I’m that guy. I’m the guy who won’t watch football. I can’t say that I like being this particular guy. I enjoyed the pageantry and camaraderie. I loved participating in a thing that could bring even Nixon and Thompson together. So much of our culture, so much great writing, so much hanging with buds and drinking suds. I don’t want to be the precious hipster in art-school dropout glasses who bitches about pop culture. I don’t want to be a dude who can’t instantly bond with the bus driver or the client in a meeting. But…I got overwhelmed. There was too much for me, I know too much about CTE. I live with someone who has a head injury. I grew up in an abusive household in the ’70s when no one gave a shit about domestic violence, just like the NFL today. I did in-depth interviews with 30 neurologists on a project and listened to their stories and their anger at the game they too once loved and are now speaking out against (and some of them even live in Texas).

So I’m not going to debate you and have you be on that side and I’ll be on this side. I’m just telling you that for me it got to be too much. The bad overwhelmed the good. You’d think if Thompson could sit with Nixon for an hour and enjoy each other’s company I could figure out how to put aside my issues and watch a football game, but I can’t.

Then again, Hunter had the benefit of some serious drugs.

Calling Football Fans Stupid Doesn’t Accomplish Anything.

I am kind of over people being incredibly sanctimonious about football. It doesn’t help.

Facebook is a minefield on days like yesterday. You have a bunch of people that are wicked hyped up about football and love it to death, some people who get into it when the timing is right, and then people who hate it. I can understand the reasoning behind every single stance on the NFL itself and football as a sport. It’s honestly hard to tell who’s more vocal about it lately – the screaming fans or the folks so adamantly anti-football that they’re willing to call football fans any name in the book. Idiots. Sheep. I honestly can’t even repeat some of the stuff I saw on Facebook yesterday, and this is the goddamn Clam, which is pretty much a mayonnaise fetish site at this point.

download (4)

Spread it on my buns. You know how I like it.


But calling football fans names and insulting their intelligence is not going to help solve any of the giant, looming problems the sport has. And it needs to stop. 

Of course, I say this as a person with a hockey-related tattoo. I’m sure everyone in high-horseville will knock twenty IQ points off their idea of me just for that, and I’ve totally lost Manic Pixie Dream Girl status with more than a few of you. I’ve got to be an absolute fucking dolt, right? Also I spent my teen and tween years in Foxboro, getting my schools paid for by ticket sales. So, biased. Obviously. Wake up, stupid!

Sports are culture, and it’s intertwined with how we live our lives. It’s not that simple. 

If you didn’t watch the game, you missed quite a fucking show. There’s no doubt about it. It was insane. It had everything, and it was only settled at the last few fucking seconds when of course, a rookie intercepts a pass and saves the damn day. Hollywood would kill for a script like that.

And I mean, Katy Perry’s Left Shark kind of won the entire night.



Here’s the rub: the inherent complexity and chess-like maneuvers of American football are not for idiots. You can watch, of course, slackjawed and with dog food for brains – but to cast the sport as something for rubes is missing the point completely. It’s a logic puzzle at times, a series of pick-your-own outcomes, and it turns out that sometimes it’s not chance, or sporting as hard as you can sport, but it’s brilliant coaching that makes the game. There are massively relatable characters on both teams. It feels fucking amazing to win. Men who have worked their whole lives for what they just accomplished celebrate on live TV, entire cities get to bask in something incredibly positive to keep the rest of the world’s shitty news at bay. Champions, baby.

The sport has major, major, glaring problems – there is no way to dance around that fact. There’s a huge, and reasonable, argument that it shouldn’t even exist because of the overarching negative health impact on the humans who play the game. I will go out on a limb and say that I don’t think kids should be playing it. We now know too much about how football can seriously hurt developing brains, and that even in high school, a player who may not even suffer a concussion can show changes in their brain with one season of play. One season. On the college level, too much money gets spent on football – taking everything to a grotesque level of admiration and hero worship, and the cover-up of absolutely awful, terrible behavior. It ends up being the farthest thing from academia one could even fathom.

On the NFL level, a blind eye towards the long-term effects of concussions on players, domestic violence, criminal activity, and racist-as-fuck team names leaves a terrible taste in a lot of mouths. There’s no painting that shit in a positive light. It’s awful. No excuses can be made for it, although there’s no lack of trying.

But here’s the thing: A sea change is coming. A wave of awareness has hit – there’s no escaping the mountains of data piling up, the news of cover-ups. Football fans and non fans know it’s bad. But the cognitive dissonance is still too vast a gulf to traverse right now, and it will take years of pushing to get change accomplished. That’s just the way it is.

Calling fans of the sport stupid is misguided and doesn’t help push for positive change at all. It just ends up being divisive, promoting backlash, and making the anti-football movement look bad. It’s like blaming Walmart employees for being poor instead of blaming fucking Walmart. And guess what? A lot of smart motherfuckers watch sports, and watch football.

It’s massively entertaining for a huge swath of our country’s population, if you’re wondering why. It’s as stimulating as a play, a movie, or an opera, at times. And almost every form of human entertainment we’ve got involves some kind of level of suffering. Look no further than what has just happened to Bobbi Kristina. Fame destroys people’s psyches. Heath Ledger. Michael Jackson. Brittany Murphy. Chris Farley. I could go on for hours. It’s not just football that leaves broken people in its wake, so singling out football fans as being stupid is disingenuous.

When you strip away its problems, the core of the sport is still deeply likable. It’s been ingrained in most of us since youth and it will not just turn off like a switch. The relationship between consumer and product with the NFL is not as symbiotic as people assume. The NFL is in charge, not the people watching – yet. It will take time, and it will take education, and it will take intense outside pressure on the league to change. And guess who needs to exert that pressure? Fans. Not the guy who wasn’t watching in the first place. If that guy not watching is a major fucking dick to the fans, it’s not going to work.

Also, go Pats.


No Snark, Supplemental

We ended today’s post with a request for all Gloucester-related communications to be centralized in one location. This strikes home as I sit here at 3:08pm on Sunday after seeing on Facebook that schools will be closed tomorrow. WCVB is posting this:

seems clear enough

seems clear enough

The city is posting this

also crystal clear

also crystal clear

But nothing, not dick about the schools on the city website. Nada. No “all call”.  So folks are asking what’s happening on the mayor’s FB page.
Screen shot 2015-02-01 at 3.11.58 PMThe GDT has nothing.

No Snark Sunday: We’re Better People in Blizzards

Disaster movies have given us much. Images of huge, radioactive ants devouring 1950’s police cars, for instance. But to increase the tension and give our heroes something to react to the producers of these films, which serve as the template for how many of us assume a real-life crisis will unfold, have for more than 80 years perpetrated some pretty fucked-up ideas about how humans actually respond when faced with a societal challenge. So, as a public service, The Clam is going to dispel a few myths around human reactions to disasters. Let this be the last word on the subject.

Disaster movies also good for stills when making band gig flyers

Disaster movies also good for stills when making hipster band gig flyers

1. People don’t really panic What? But the classic chest-high shot of a screaming crowd fleeing the scene? What of that? And later in the film, who is the hero going to punch in the face when we realize that the real enemy is not the zombies, but the evil within ourselves? Speaking of zombies, I recently re-watched George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead again, the one from the ‘60s. I had forgotten how little of that movie is actually zombies in favor of the argument between survivors trapped in a house around whether to hide upstairs or down in the basement instead. It’s really the central conflict of the film.

Actually this is an appropriate response to a spider that big

Actually this is an appropriate response to a spider that big

Reality- people usually keep their cool and respond rationally to a real crisis (which is more than you can say for a manufactured one, like losing a hockey game). Think about all the crises that have occurred recently- from Katrina to Hurricane Sandy. Folks are pretty chill, actually. They know what needs to get done and they do it in a remarkably organized fashion. It’s true even here. Sure The Basket is a crowded hellzone before a storm, but it’s only somewhat more of a crowded hellzone than usual. No one is burning down the place or punching people, we reserve that kind of behavior for shopping on Black Friday which interestingly is not a time of real scarcity, but of imagined crisis  among a group of consensual participants (and by participants I mean “idiots”).

In Gloucester the only time I’ve ever seen anyone panic in the face of a disaster was after the Japanese Fukishima meltdown. A clerk in the convenience store where I buy beer started yelling at the TV  about the radiation “It’s in ouah aiah! It’s in ouah fuckin aiah!” and could not be consoled by my sci-splaining that we get more absorbed doses of ionizing radiation from eating a banana (0.1 sv) than we could ever get from the other side of the world. Instead, she told me she’d have to go outside to smoke a cigarette to calm down before ringing me up.

2. Most people think altruistically during crises and help out their neighbors This flies in the face of everything we think we know. It’s just assumed that everyone will hoard food, screw their neighbors over for the last leg of dogmeat (sorry Thisbee) and we are all essentially one step from donning leather outfits and forming armed bands of brigands who roam the countryside in jacked up vehicles.

If you can maintain that hair after the apocalypse, you deserve my last can of Spam

If you can maintain that hair after the apocalypse, you deserve my last can of Spam

The reality is much more like a Unitarian pot luck. Everyone brings something to the table and folks help each other out in whatever way they can (although Unitarians are more likely to label the gluten/dairy free dishes).

In Sandy people with electricity created makeshift charging stations for those without. This in New York of all places, the city where a dude will urinate on you in the subway and then indignantly go “What?” when you cast him a shady glance. In Katrina folks pooled resources as some people went out to find supplies even as resources grew desperately scarce.

There was a lot of that last week, those with snowblowers running around helping out, folk checking in on neighbors, etc. When the whole thing was over one the woman up the street came by with a fresh, hot loaf of bread because my daughter and I literally spent no more than ten minutes on a short section of her walkway she couldn’t get to.

I hazard that in many, even perhaps all of us crave this kind of connection. I get to run around with the snowblower helping out my neighbors while also confusing them by yelling, “I’m going for the power generators!” and she gets to bake and help out that way. A lot of us want more meaning in our daily lives and the storm provided a sense of purpose, a chance to be noble. Also: baked goods.

Once the shield generator is down we can get the cinnamon buns

Once the shield generator is down we can get the cinnamon buns

A note on looting (and by looting I mean taking jeans and big-screen TVs NOT diapers and soup from an abandoned supermarket in the midst of a major crisis): This is going to sound weird, but I’m going to put this out there: If you’re a criminal or of that mindset then looting is simply a more rational way of getting stuff. The store owners are not at their places of business, the alarms are disabled and the cops are busy or incapacitated. It’s obviously wrong and I’m down with extremely harsh repercussions on them, but it’s not like we see evidence of looters breaking into houses and taking the fresh water and baby food. Usually it’s consumer goods useless to surviving the crisis at hand taken  because they are atypically unguarded. It’s like leaving the back of an armored truck full of cash bags open on a rural road. Some of those bags will be missing after enough time.

3. More info is better than less It turns out when people do panic or act in stupid ways it’s because they don’t know what’s going on and feel trapped. Here I want to both commend and criticize our local response to the last storm. There was a lot of information, and a lot of it was good and even free from the usual “Ohjesusgodit’sfuckingsnowwe’reallgonnadie” local TV news bullcrap. But the communication was all over the place.

Too cold for apes even

What local TV stations tell you

In Gloucester, we need to centralize the official information to one source- it can take feeds from all over, but it all has to be in one place. It can’t be the Mayor’s personal Facebook page, it can’t be The Bridge (?) or Good Morning Gloucester. They can have their own feeds but it has to go to a central location. It should be the town’s official website, official Facebook page and Twitter account along with all-call.

I don’t envy the position of Mayor Sefatia with all the folks who come to her because she is one of the few people who can reliably get shit done in this town. But we’ve got to separate the personal from professional business. Her official statements issued during times like this need to be short and as coherent as possible. I like her “just getting it out there” style a lot, but I’d hate to see one of her personal statements about the storm misconstrued as official and have her excoriated by outside media who don’t get her.

So, the last myth is a twofer- yes more information is better than less, but info has to be consolidated and clear otherwise it will simply frustrate people when a critical bit of info slips past and leave well-meaning people open to criticism if, God forbid, something really bad happens and the press decide to check the “Wayback Machine” of the Internet and find a lot of mixed and garbled communications from official sources.

Since the storm was named “Juno” we can think back to the teen pregnancy scandal and remember what dicks the media were to everyone in Gloucester in pursuit of the most salacious story they could tell. Let’s not give them that chance again.

Because giant, radioactive ant season is coming.