Well, it’s finally happening. By this point in my life I have sent almost everyone I know a link to a piece by Grantland’s Brian Phillips, and now I’m finally sending one to YOU. Brian Phillips has written something for everyone, so there must be something about cyberspace. Lucky for us, he wrote it today. I could post the link here, but I think I’ll blather for a bit first.
I have Brian Phillips on the brain these days. I am, you might say, a Phillips head. Haha. Very funny. Anyway, the thing about Phillips’ writing is that he does a lot of the things that I’ve tried to do on this blog, and that I try to do in my writing about art history. I could try to go on about these features in greater depth, but the thrust of things is that he resists generalization and overarching theories in favor of close readings of particular experiences, like watching a particular football player or reacting to news about a soccer player. Don’t get me wrong, Phillips does generalize, but when he does it seems clear that he’s open to having his claims overturned, and that the claims are personal before they are anything else. This approach is pleasantly honest, and it has the advantage of always being right because it deals only with things that the writer understands, i.e. personal experience. It’s possible that this sort of writing could be boring in the wrong hands, but it’s great when you have an insightful writer like Phillips, who offers very human ways to respond to current culture.
For further clarification, know that I enjoy imagining Grantland as an unspoken battle between Phillips and his arch rival, the perfidious Carles. Carles loves to generalize, to employ theory, to deconstruct, to talk about “memes,” etc. While Phillips often stresses the need to treat athletes as human beings, Carles is happy to turn them into cultural content. As ugly as that is, the biggest difference between Carles and Phillips is that Phillips wants to tell you what he thinks, while Carles wants to tell you what YOU think. (Any successful post includes YOU in all caps at least two (or three) times, blogging 101, guys.) One day the two of them will realize that this conflict exists and something amazing will come of it, though I guess acknowledging this rivalry would spoil the fun I have in pretending it exists.
Anyway, in today’s piece Phillips discusses “The case of the ‘crazy’ athlete,” bringing up folks like Mike Tyson, Metta World Peace/Ron Artest, and Mario Balotelli. His coverage of these sporting personalities is very good, but for the purposes of cyberspace consideration the insights along the way are even more valuable:
“One consequence of [the access to content provided by the internet] is the tone of burned-out overstimulation that, for no particular reason, I’ve taken to calling ‘whaff.’ Whaff, in its simplest form, is semi-sarcastic exaggerated praise for the bizarre, the cute, or the stupid. If you’re on Twitter, chances are you’ve encountered whaff within the last 10 seconds. ‘OMG THIS IS THE GREATEST THING EVAR,’ followed by a link to an animated GIF of a baby owl falling into a hot tub, is the elemental template of whaff.”
If that excerpt and the fear of being left in the dark when I start referring to “whaff” in this space aren’t enough to entice you to read the rest of the piece, know that Phillips goes on to make some very compelling points about internet culture and news reporting, sprinkle in some choice Mike Tyson quotes, and mention FDR spending $2 million trying to weaponize bats. ‘Nuff said, go read it.