Dear readers, I do not spend all my time watching sports and making notes on consumer amenities, ones that huge corporations have so graciously bestowed upon me, ones I ungratefully grouse about in this column. My side project, my secret passion, is writing about movies. (I review films for Gawker and Deadspin, my old stomping grounds, with my high school best friend, and vice president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Tim Grierson.) I got into the writing business to become a film critic like my childhood idol Roger Ebert, and even though sportswriting ended up becoming my career, I’ve never lost my obsession with writing about movies. It’s an indulgence, but it’s my indulgence.
I spend almost as much time consuming media and writing about film as I do about sports, and I’ve noticed that while the two fields are both ostensibly about entertainment and diversion and escapism – the primary reason I enjoy writing about both so much, I suspect; the real world is too scary and complicated for me to handle – they couldn’t be covered more differently. I think the primary example of this is Armond White.
Now, this is a sports site, so you probably don’t know who Armond White is. Lucky you. He’s a film critic, formerly of the New York Press, now with something called “City Arts.” (Here’s a friendlier-than-I-might-write-myself profile of him in New York from a few years back.) Armond White is a film critic in that he watches a ton of films and writes about them in a semi-scholarly tone, but that’s not how he’s thought of by other critics. Other critics consider him a troll. I happen to agree with them.
In case you’re not as steeped in internet lingo as me and my sad little friends, a troll is someone who says something purposely outlandish and ridiculous, just to draw attention to him/herself (almost always himself, though). They are aggressively contrarian just for the sake of contrarianism; every one of his reviews should come with the headline, “Look at me! Look at me! You won’t believe the wild thing I’m saying this time!” It is exhausting to sit through.
The most recent example was when he attempted to “argue” that Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master” was “embarrassingly banal” while “Resident Evil: Retribution,” the quickie, hackish fourth franchise sequel, was “the work of a true cinema artist.” But White is most famous for his defenses of Adam Sandler. He’s not arguing that Sandler is great the way normal people might argue that Sandler is great, claiming that critics are snobs and movies are supposed to be fun and Adam Sandler is funny. No, he says Sandler is a cinematic genius. Here he is on “Jack and Jill:” “It looks at sibling rivalry without that acrid love of dysfunction now so popular on TV and Broadway.” On “Grown Ups:” “The insistence on friendship resembles Leigh’s insight and Renoir’s grace … a humanist work of art.” Even Sandler doesn’t think these things about his movies. White just wants your attention. He is trolling.
He is, essentially … Skip Bayless. I’ve written about Skip Bayless before, and I promised that would be the last time, but I’m trying to make a larger point here, so just this once … more. Skip Bayless’ job is to say the craziest thing he can possibly come up with -- the most contrarian, illogical, “Look at me! Look at me!” indefensible statement available -- and then “defend” it. He loves playing the clown, the heel, the grotesque, worst-case personification of the way athletes and fans perceive “media” because it gets people to look at him and talk about him. (It’d be foolish to ignore Bayless’ subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle, race-baiting techniques either. And yes, I just recommended something written by Luther Campbell. Desperate times, people.)
White and Bayless are different in some ways -- White is able to put a sentence together, for one thing, and I’m pretty sure he sometimes even convinces himself he believes what he’s spewing, unlike Bayless’ more cynical take -- but at their core, they’re the same: They’re showmen posing as journalists. (Or “journalists.”) The goal is not to enlighten or inform or even to persuade; the goal is solely to draw attention to one’s self.
There is one key, critical difference between them.
When White dutifully goes through his shtick, he is ignored. Oh, sure, when he says something particularly nutty (like the comparison between “The Master” and “Resident Evil”), a few critics and movie writers note it and chuckle, mostly to make fun of him. No one takes him seriously, and no one pretends that anyone else has to somehow “respond” to the loony things he says. He writes for a tiny paper that no one has heard of, and the only time anyone ever talks about him is to point out the most recent crazy column. He pretty much has the career a troll deserves.
Bayless? Well, Bayless is frighteningly well-compensated, has two hours of television daily to say whatever he wants and has become one of the centerpieces of promotion and, in fact, news judgment and commentary at the largest sports media enterprise in human history. When a major sports figure in on the verge of a championship he’s been toiling for his entire life, there is Bayless, making national headlines for claiming he’s still not “clutch,” whatever that even means. After Derek Jeter was informed that Bayless had told the world he was suspicious that Jeter was using HGH, he said, “You can say whatever you want to say now, huh? There’s no repercussions.” To paraphrase myself: The repercussions are national headlines, and a raise, probably.
White says purposefully incendiary things so people will notice him, and he is ignored. Bayless does the same thing, except stupider (somehow), and ends up owning every sports cycle, and also driving the entire “Crossfire” -- ONE GUY YELLING AT ANOTHER GUY -- industry of sports coverage that even political wonks rejected years ago. We reward him. This is on all of us.
I am not saying this is a sign that the world of sports is covered in a profoundly dumber way than the movie industry. No, wait: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
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Darn it, I PROMISED myself I wouldn’t write about Bayless again. All right, this time I REALLY mean it. Thoughts, concerns, grousing, future column ideas? Remember, this column is meant as a valve, a release, for when you’re yelling at your television during games, or, after reading a particular column, you’re pounding your fists into your computer. Obviously, I’ll need your help to do that. Anything you want me to write about, let me know, through email, or Twitter. I am at your beck and call.