Grantland, the sports/culture website with all the big names, has been a must-read since this Penn State business began, and I’ve been stopping by daily. Yesterday they posted yet another Michael Weinreb essay on State College, his third since the scandal broke and, for the record, the one that finally broke my patience.
Weinreb is a good writer, and I appreciated his pieces on what it’s like to grow up there, and another on the riot, but with this one, on going home for the Nebraska game, is one mournful sax solo too far:
In State College, we liked to think we looked after each other, and then we found out that some of the most prominent members of our community had failed to look after helpless children, and because of our lifelong emotional attachments we now feel like we are being branded as complicit in these crimes.
“It’s like people are on the outside, saying, ‘You don’t get it,’” I heard a man say. “And we’re on the inside, saying, ‘You don’t get it.’”
May I just say this? I get it. We get it. Everyone gets it. And by getting it, I’m sorry, but maybe it’s time you faced the truth, Weinreb and Eavesdropped-Upon Man and everyone else there who might be monitoring their shock and dismay and sense of loss. Ready?
YOU’RE NOT SPECIAL.
Sorry, but it’s true. No one thinks you’re complicit in evil, but maybe, by promulgating this myth of Happy Valley and Success With Honor and all the rest of this Big 10 bullshit, you’re a tiny part of the problem.
That’s what I think is happening here: It’s not that we are condoning child rape, and it’s not that we don’t recognize our obligation to the victims above all else. It’s that we are condemning all that Jerry Sandusky is accused of and trying to make it right while also dealing with this involuntary response to the death throes of a way of life.
“You have to live in the middle of this contradiction,” a Penn State sociology professor, Sam Richards, told a class that Lori Shontz of the Penn Stater magazine sat in on. “You have to live in this zone where both [situations] can be true, and it’s very, very, very difficult. But part of becoming a thinker is to sit with two contradictory thoughts in your head and see them both as being true. And not go crazy. And not immediately try to resolve them. And so we’re offering that to you. Sit with that. Because this is big. That’s big.”
Oh, please. Did that statement really require three verys? It’s not big. It’s not big at all. It’s not so hard to understand, either. Ask any Catholic who’s been paying attention in the last decade or so, and what’s more? It’s a lesson they should be learning in college anyway: The arrival of Columbus in North America was the beginning of a genocidal disaster for native populations, as well as a march toward freedom and wealth not only for the Europeans who followed, but for the rest of the world as well. Discuss.
What exists in State College exists in many, many other places. Columbus and Ann Arbor, to name but two of my immediate experience. Let’s think of some more, starting with the easy ones — virtually any city with a Big 10 school in it, with the obvious exception of Bloomington, although if you’re talking basketball, that’s another story. Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Tallahassee. Wherever Texas A&M is. Oklahoma. Et-freakin’-cetera. All have vigorous football programs and devout fan bases, and aren’t so different from central Pennsylvania. Maybe they don’t have coaches they refer to as Pop-Pop or Baba or Gramps or whatever, but the depth of feeling for the team and the experience of going to the games? The same. Your stadium’s smaller than Michigan’s and less grand than Ohio State’s. They party hard elsewhere, they have beloved rituals and favorite chants and jeez, have you even been to a football game elsewhere? Ever met a Notre Dame fan, a Domer? They’re as bad as you guys. I’m sure you’d get along like aces.
All this you-don’t-understand-stuff is part of the collective defense mechanism. Every 19-year-old kid who had a mic stuck in his face in the last week and said, “It’s different here,” needs to learn it’s not true. Because while it’s benign coming out of his mouth, it’s only the flip side of the justification that allowed everyone who participated in this coverup to do so in the name of the special-special Penn State football program and special-special-special State College, which must be preserved at any cost.
It’s hard for younger people to get over themselves. Most of them haven’t been beaten down by life yet (except for the unlucky ones in Jerry Sandusky’s Second Mile program), and they’ve grown up watching themselves on TV, of seeing their fifth-grade soccer team preserved between the pages of a book (custom-made by the clever mom with the Shutterfly account), maybe in a video (made by the same Mom, the one with the iMac) with slo-mo effects and the “Chariots of Fire” theme music.
And they’re enabled by pieces like this. Why don’t we stop? It’s a special place, State College and Penn State, but it’s no more special than any other, and if it’s a rude awakening for everyone who loves it to learn it has rot at its core, then it’s time to learn, and stop writing this self-indulgent nonsense.
I think that’s why that Charles Pierce column the day before was so bracing. It’s nice to hear from someone who doesn’t speak with the alma mater playing softly in the background.
So, then. Bloggage? Hmmm…
I see Florida finally executed Oba Chandler. I couldn’t remember why the case rang a bell, until I read the details — Chandler killed a mother and her two teenage daughters, who’d lived in Willshire, a tiny Ohio town I used to drive through between Fort Wayne and Columbus. It was a ghastly story that got a little more play in our part of the world than yours, most likely. The Ohio women were vacationing in the Tampa area, and apparently met a nice guy who offered to take them all on a boat ride. All three were raped and strangled before he dumped them in the bay. I recommend this story about Hal Rogers, the husband and father who survived them. There’s a note of bleak November in it:
The first snow of the season fell over Van Wert County late last Thursday afternoon, not long before dark.
Hal was busy inside a drying bin, shoveling corn toward an auger that ferried the grain into wagons waiting outside. When the snow came blowing in, it swirled with red chaff from the corn and engulfed the wagons in a cloud of white and maroon.
A strange and beautiful sight, but Hal had no time to notice. Already a month behind schedule, he was lost in concentration.
“I haven’t shoveled corn this wet in thirty years,” he said.
Lighten up with a brief roundup of three Mrs. O looks, detailed by T&L. I liked the first and last, meh on the second, but she certainly looks presentable in all three. I especially like the pink-and-gray dress, probably because it’s a look I couldn’t work in a thousand years. Or a thousand shoulder presses.
Online slide shows are cheap eyeball bait and this one — New Gingrich looking at people condescendingly — isn’t even funny, but there are some closeups of his horrible mug that sort of made me barf a little.
Office hours today, gotta run. Happy birthday to Adrianne, my husband and daughter. Not to mention Elvis Whitehead, r.i.p.