Monday, November 03, 2008

Choose Your Own Myth

My brother is reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman and has passed a few sections by me that he thought I would find interesting. As he was a Lakers fan while he lived in LA in the 80’s and 90’s, and I a Celtics fan, the section on their rivalry in the Magic-Bird era was interesting. Klosterman contends that all conflicts ultimately break down to the symbolism of that conflict, as if God Himself had taken an interest in the NBA for ten years. He riffs off the usual stereotype of modern, graceful, LA versus lunchpail, racist Boston, expanding that to claim that this also symbolized the Democrats versus Republicans of the era.

For those who don’t recall, the Showtime Lakers had all elegant fastbreaking black guys playing, while the Celtics played a lot of halfcourt sometimes started three white guys. This proved to basketball fans everywhere that the Celtics appeal was racist. No matter that the Celtics had been the first NBA team to start 5 black guys or have a black head coach. No matter that Kupchak and Rambis were white, lunchpail types (and AC Green was hardly a Showtime style) while the Celtics had many fluid black players. LA even had a white coach, Boston a black one – that would seem ripe for the reverse stereotype. It made no difference to the myth. Boston as a city had to be seen as racist, thuggish, plodding. How the 80% Democratic capital of the nation’s bluest state for forty years got to be a symbol of the GOP may seem boggling, but that’s how mythologies work when people need them to be a certain way. The facts no longer matter – they can be massaged or ignored.

Were there some basketball fans in the country who liked the Celtics better because they were whiter? Sure. And people who hated them for the same reason.

It is fascinating in light of this to read Klosterman’s explanation of why there isn’t media bias: journalists are a little lazy, working under time pressure, and tend to rely on whoever calls them back first. This seems at first glance a pretty good argument that they aren’t trying to slant the story, but a second look reveals it to be evidence against his case. If you can write your story with only a few helpful facts, then it’s clear you have a schema already in place, a default narrative you are drawing on for the rest of it. The laziness of journalists is central to the conservative evidence that media bias exists. They don’t pursue stories they should, trusting the general feel of what other journalists think for their instinct of what is news. They leap to unwarranted conclusions.

Klosterman is a funny writer, by the way. I won’t take that away from him.

Sigmund Freud became the symbol of sexual license in the early 20th C. People started finding sex everywhere, believing our whole personalities were ruled by it. Sexual babies, sexual grampies. Freudian as an adjective still carries strong sexual suggestion. Freud himself is rather an unusual foundation for this myth. That association is another example of people wanting a mythology so badly that they will take whatever is at hand and make it fit. Dear Siggy did bring it on himself to a certain extent, refusing to change his terminology in calling all pleasure-energy sexual. But even when he used libidinal the popular imagination soon made that sexual in the genital sense as well. Freud didn’t believe that all pleasure was essentially genital or a disguised form of it – that idea got attached to his theories, permeated the culture, and is still taught in some schools of developmental psychology today. Freud thought that all drives for pleasure were related, but specifically denied that some were genital. All the Oedipal and Electral Crises he thought were pre-sexual, not disguised sexuality. He believed their resolution allowed adult sexuality to develop – quite a different kettle of fish. He was no libertine himself either, having no sexual relations before marriage, and none with his wife after the birth of their last child. He was immensely proper in all his dealings with women. He thought sexual license quite dangerous, and never encouraged others to step outside the bounds of the strict morality of the times.

We create our myths because we want them, then go find the best available example to shove up on the pedastal as god or goddess. We believed Margaret Mead and Kinsey because we wanted to – the details did not matter.

It makes you wonder what things that everyone just knows in our own era are only half-true, or less.

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