May 20, 2011

"Macho Man" Randy Savage: The Value of the Bad Guy

Randall Poffo ("Macho Man" Randy Savage) was the greatest WWF(E) wrestler-entertainer of the 1980s. Like a lot of amazing wrestlers, he was often in the shadow of another more popular one, in his case, Hulk Hogan.

Sometimes he was Hogan's friend (Mega Powers)

And more entertainingly, he was his adversary:

Savage was always the alternative to Hogan: the good guy. To a kid who, consciously or not, never liked the coolest or best thing (I liked GoBots, Hey Vern! It's Ernest, the band Skid Row), Macho Man was the first time I can remember embracing the alternative choice: the bad guy.

After hearing about his death, I (like others I imagine) am thinking about myself as a kid today. There's really no other sane way to contextualize the death of celebrities you didn't know personally other than to remember their first effects on you. Before Macho Man, Darth Vader and Clubber Lang were the bad guys, and therefore, I hated them. I didn't want to understand them. Pro wrestling taught my single-digit self how to be interested in the villain, and that first villain, was Randy Macho Man Savage.

Savage provided a counterpoint to Hulkamania that wasn't draped in a foreign flag like Nikolai Volkov or the Iron Sheik (intricate political concepts like xenophobia were likely lost on me at 8 years of age). Savage was like Hogan, only, he was nothing like Hogan. And that was all a kid needed if he wanted to avoid the clutches and restrictions of Hulkamania.

Somehow, Macho Man dying reminds me of how glad I am to have never embraced Hulkamania for fear of the effect that might have on my current adult life. Hulkamania indoctrination might have inspired me to say my prayers and eat my vitamins, both rather mundane things. Maybe, being a Hulkamaniac would've led to a love for Nickelback or pleated khaki pants or conservative politics? I don't know. I really don't. But with Hulkamania, there was little room for human nuance. Savage was every shade of grey.

I'm positive the Macho Man taught me something when my brain was still soft. Learning to embrace the bad guy, hopefully, hasn't resulted in my becoming a bad guy, but I believe it has somehow expanded my tolerance, my defense of "unpopular" choices (yes, I realize I'm giving a lot of weight to pro wrestling now). Savage was neither wholly good nor wholly bad. He was as human a superstar the WWF ever dared present.

And for that, his death is not just another wrestler death. It really is, as people will say, a piece of childhood. The piece that didn't yet know, the good guy is not always so good and the bad guy, not always so bad.

Dig it.

May 17, 2011

Botaoshi: Another Sport I Haven't Heard Of...Until Now...

Okay, watch this. Maybe I'm late to the party, as this seems to be reaching viral video status, but better late than never. The sport is called Botaoshi, and even though I have no idea what's happening for the first half of it, I want to play it:

Literally meaning (apparently) Pole-pull down, according to Peter C. Smith's Fist from the Sky: Japan's Dive-Bomber Ace of World War II, Botaoshi is a Japanese Naval sport where two opposing teams [of possibly 75 a side] attempted to protect their respective flags placed atop a pole. Obviously, the game has replaced the flag with, well, a human being. (Though the pole has yet to become a Pole)
So what, you want me to just stand here like this until they knock him off?

The aggression of North American football, the rule confusion of Aussie Rules Football (though the OAFL's High Park Demons are currently at 2-0), and the mayhem of WWE Royal Rumbles, Botaoshi should be a surefire hit for North Americans into alternative sports who have long grown tired of Ultimate Frisbee and Unicycles.

So what do you say? All we need to do is get two poles and 150 people to the park this weekend.

Should be easy. Start Bataoshi!

Or maybe Americans invented Botaoshi in Japan. I need a research department.

May 4, 2011

Rashard Mendenhall & Osama Bin Laden, with Obligatory Tie-In To Candian Politics

We're about to start with one discussion, and leave it dangling on another, barely related one. This will be a problem for some. If this were one of my student's essays, I might write "lacks cohesion." We like a thesis. We like conclusions stemming from said thesis. However, the only real conclusions mentioned here will be death (Osama Bin Laden's) and 140 Character limits (Pittsburgh Steelers Running Back Rashard Mendenhall's). But a thesis? Okay.

I’m not upset that Osama Bin Laden is dead, or that Rashard Mendenhall tweeted about it.

On Monday, Rashard Mendenhall tweeted the following with respect to the Bin Laden death announcement:
"@R_Mendenhall What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...”
Obviously, some people were pissed. ESPN dusted off the "Should Athletes Tweet" discussion.

Hold up now, and let me finish.

Now, I didn’t follow the Pittsburgh Steelers running back on twitter (until now) because following NFL players on twitter can ruin their appeal for me. Last year, I followed one of my favourite players in the NFL, and maybe of all time, Atlanta’s WR Roddy White, only to find out he is a terrible speller with an addiction to comma splices. It hasn’t ruined my admiration for him as a football player (though maybe for the standards at his College), but it certainly threatened to. To be fair, seeing Billy Collins attempt to catch a Matt Ryan pass in the slot might affect how I read his poetry.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths" - From Marginalia by Billy Collins

But back to the @R_Mendenhall tweet:
“What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side...”
The impractical philosopher side of my brain was with him until “We’ve only heard one side….” – I respectfully disagree that we did hear Bin Laden’s side, and the obvious literal side of me says it was pretty friggin' loud. It sounded like airplanes crashing and has echoed with war and global paranoia for the past ten years. Okay, so Mendenhall is a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. We're all a little bit insane. If the Steelers can forgive Roethlisberger's raping, I think we can forgive Mendendall for a questionable belief.

The tweet as a whole shows some intellectual balls (brain balls), particularly as NFL players twitter accounts often centre on football training and inspirational quotes (@jeremyshockey) unwavering love for America (@drewbrees) or solipsism and product endorsement (@TerrellOwens). Now, despite my leading adjectives, there is nothing particularly wrong with any of these tweeting styles, and each are well within what one might want or need from an NFL tweeter—particularly during Fantasy Football season. Hey, we all can't be @JohnFugelsang.

Rashard Mendenhall works a job where it’s necessary to have a personality, but anathema to display the real one (it's a bit like what us teachers are "supposed" to be). But Mendenhall did both, and agree or disagree, here’s why that’s awesome:

1. He actively engages in politics through a thoughtful and difficult question. If you're an athlete (which he is) and 23 (which he is), it’s likely too easy to let Twitter be a string of empty bullshit, especially if your fan base has no interest in what you ACTUALLY have to say (which his did). For anyone who bounces around this blog, a few years ago, I suggested Sean Avery was an asshole for “having a personality.” My preoccupation at the time, his only engagement was in being a thoughtless asshole. Mendenhall might have been a bit of an asshole to some, but puts considered thought behind it. That difference is huge, and the reason why every verbal disagreement doesn't become a fist fight (or why every difference of policy need not become a war).

Athletes dipping into politics without thought is bad (e.g. John Rocker's "The biggest thing I don't like about New York are the foreigners."). Yes, sometimes athletes, like everyone else, will piss people off with politics, and sometimes, yes, that starts a necessary conversation with the people who are most offended:

Mexico City, 1968 (from R to L: Uncomfortable white guy, Tommie Smith, John Carlos)

2. Mendenhall didn’t delete the tweet after receiving what must have been a shit storm of 140 character Patriotism and sports news roundtables condemning him. That takes wherewithal. Last week, I deleted a tweet, embarrassed because I spelled colour the American way “color.” Monday, a 13 year old girl tweeted me unsarcastically about a joke I had made regarding my "adolescent orange zits" and to be honest @skysfamousbaby, it took all my strength to let it go.

3. Mendenall clarifies his tweet with this follow-up letter (because sometimes, there is no shame in saying something using more than 140 characters). While I don’t share his religious justification for the tweet, he still had the stones to say the following:
Nothing I said was meant to stir up controversy. It was my way to generate conversation. In looking at my timeline in its entirety, everything that I’ve said is with the intent of expressing a wide array of ideas and generating open and honest discussions, something I believe we as American citizens should be able to do. Most opinions will not be fully agreed upon and are not meant to be. However, I believe every opinion should be respected or at least given some thought.
Mendenhall didn't express anything that was immoral (though pin that down). He expressed an opinion as a person, which is not the same thing as expressing an opinion as a football player. Yes, he gets paid to do the later, but it's refreshing to see the former, particularly in the follow up, which acknowledges without recanting, teaches without lecturing, discusses without concluding.

Now, as the title suggests, here's the leap:

Sometimes conversations don't need to end right fact, the ones that do, probably weren't even conversations. This sounds too simple. And it is. I likely could've expressed in half a tweet, and more people probably would've read it too. Fresh off a disappointing election and extremely negative week of "discussion" in Canada, which will no doubt continue until 2015, I sort of just want to leave it at that for now...if you made it this far, and now ask "So what was the point of these 6500 characters (approx. 46 tweets)?", great...step one.

"The Holy Roman Empire was neither holy nor Roman nor an empire. Discuss."

May 1, 2011

The NHL Playoff Mascot Battle Part Four: Bruins v. Flyers

A day late, but cry about it why don't you? Let's finish up this premise, shall we….

What's a Bruin?
It's a bear. Killer of Goldlilocks, eight month hibernator, comedian friend to Kermit and comic relief for Dan Aykroyd's The Great Outdoors. Specifically, a bruin refers to the Eurasian Brown Bear, which has likely only ever been to Boston as part of a circus or as a rug.

Another Dan Aykroyd reference, Brock? Really?

What's a Flyer?
A Flyer is someone who flies. I thought it would have more significance, but really, it doesn't. So, I guess let's find someone who flies. UFC fighter Ben Henderson has giant wings tattooed on his back (any they're terrible), but he doesn't fly (and we need literal flying here). 90% of Seal songs discuss his ability to soar, glide, or fly, but that seems to be a metaphor. The only angels I believe in are Rod Carew's 1983 California Angels and the Greek mythology thing was sort of done in Lightning v. Capitals. No, we need a frequent flier. We need a pilot. And who better than the world's most famous pilot Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger.

I don't like where this one's going. You're actually going to make me fight a bear? I saved like, a bunch of people.

What if Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger fought a Eurasian Brown Bear?
As poised and heroic as Captain Sullenberger was on flight 1549, come on, this is a bear we're talking about here. There's really not much of a fight. I do, however, feel somewhat reticent to discuss the mauling of a guy who saved so many lives. I started writing about what a bear would do to a 60 year old man, and then thought, whoa, this is in poor taste, and hadn't I learned my lesson after the 2006 blog entry fiasco "Who would win a punch fight: Oscar Schindler or Ogopogo?"

So here's what happened in the scenario. The morning of the fight, Sully wasn't feeling well. He went to the Doctor who diagnosed a minor cold and recommended he avoid all strenuous activity. "But I have to fight a bear today" Sully said. "Not today you won't," said the Good Doctor. Enter the bear, "Are you kidding me? I trained to fight a pilot. I'm ready to fight a pilot. I AM GOING TO FIGHT A PILOT!"

What a bear wants, a bear gets. Now, keep in mind, no matter who fights, the results will be the same. The Bear will maul the Flyer. So, I ask you, dear reader in order to save Sully Sullenberger, which of these pilots would you like to see mauled by a bear? (leave a comment why don't ya). The nominees are....

Maverick in Top Gun

Ted Striker in Airplane!

Snoopy when he pretends to fight The Red Baron

Mel Gibson in Air America

John Travolta

Result: Exit, pursued by a bear. Regardless of the Pilot the winner is...

Whoa, a Shakespeare reference! Show off!