Hoosiers Hokum

Firstly, let me acknowledge that most people don’t give a damn whether an inspirational story they liked is actually true or mostly bullshit. Personally, I don’t see anything inspirational about stories that have to lie to you to convince you that the inspirational behavior actually results in success.

In the case of “Hoosiers”, we’re supposed to be inspired by the example of the 1954 Milan basketball team: if you really work hard and show determination and try your best you can overcome incredible odds and win championship basketball games.

PBS ran the movie tonight, uninterrupted by commercials or facts. Now, there are one or two facts. The school upon which the story is based, Milan, actually did shock a much larger school by winning the state championship in 1954. And they did win the final game in the last few seconds.

Most of the other stuff in “Hoosiers” did not happen in real life.

  • they won all of the games leading up to the final by lopsided scores, sometimes in double digits, not with last second comebacks.
  • the real coach didn’t work them particularly hard: he liked to just play with them at practices; no big inspirational speeches either. In fact, these scenes look a bit cheesy in the movie.
  • the team didn’t have six players, they had ten.
  • the coach was 26 and married, not 40-something like Gene Hackman, looking for redemption, and looking silly hitting on Barbara Hershey.
  • the team manager did not come into a game and drop two “granny shots” in the last minute for a stunning victory– oh please.
  • Milan had been to the quarter finals the year before, so the whole season was not quite as shocking as the film made it seem. The movie didn’t show that. Why not? Every ask yourself, why not? Because that would indicate that what the Milan team had was talent and skill, already. The hard work and determination helped, but it’s not quite as inspirational if you know that they were born with it.
  • and I repeat: the last six or seven games were not close: not a single last minute victory among them.
  • one of the teams Milan beat was Montezuma High which had an enrollment of 79! Who was the underdog? Even so, Milan used the “cat and mouse” or chicken-shit strategy (see below) against them in the fourth quarter. Excuse me? Against a team with about half your enrollment? What is inspiring about that?
  • the Dennis Hopper character did not exist
  • it was not the first time Milan had played in the Butler Fieldhouse, so they were not likely to be intimidated by the large venue as they are depicted in the movie, with Gene Hackman melodramatically showing them that the court was exactly the same size as their home court, and the hoops were exactly the same height.

Now, I guess most basketball fans don’t have a problem with the strategy of getting close or ahead of your opponent and then dragging the ball for four minutes. I’m not exaggerating: in the final game, Milan was trailing Muncie at 28-26 and their star player, Bobby Plump, held the ball for four minutes before taking a shot. Coach Marvin Wood, in fact, admitted that he thought they would lose if they simply played basketball against Muncie. He didn’t think they could hang on. He didn’t think, in other words, that there was anything particularly inspiring going on out there on the floor.

So he had his team hang on to the ball. Just stand there, holding it. Then he had Plump take a shot… which he missed. Brilliant strategy!

So Muncie, now in possession and leading 28 to 26, did not go the chicken-shit route. They played the game like you are supposed to, like athletes with class and integrity.

They did the honorable thing.   Was there ever a more monumental fuck you to the idea of integrity and honor in sports than the decision to erase this fact from the story?

For that, they are treated as the villains in this story.

And they shot. And they missed.

Milan regained possession and hung onto the ball again until Plump was fouled. He sank both shots to tie the game. Muncie, of course, took possession.

And then, inexplicably, miraculously, Muncie gave the ball away. They ridiculously gave the ball away with two minutes left. They handed it to Milan. Milan then killed off the clock and scored and the game was over.

That’s inspirational?

It’s exciting and dramatic, like the a baseball through the legs of the first baseman, but it wasn’t the particularly brilliant play of Milan that won the game for them: they actually lost the game, in terms of strategy and play. They won it back on sheer preposterous luck, a gift from Muncie, who had the game in their hands.

The strangest thing of all, to me, is that what actually happened is a far more compelling story than the Hollywood version– it gets a bit tiresome watching all the boring speeches and the last second come-backs. Bit what really happened had drama!

I grant you that “Hoosiers” tells you up front that it is a fictionalization and does not claim to tell the accurate story of the 1954 Milan.

That’s in the details and they understand perfectly that most of the audience will fixate on the “true story” part of the tagline and believe that the story told in the film is “reasonably” accurate.

I don’t blame the movie makers for the fact that audiences routinely embrace these kinds of distortions and dishonesties.

Other Hollywood True Stories and Lies

Partisans of the movie will tell you that they had to fictionalize the movie because that’s just how they do it and otherwise it wouldn’t be a good movie.

Of course they do.  That’s not the issue.  The issue is when they change facts that are absolutely germane to the appeal of the story, like when they make the people who captured the Enigma machine in World War II American instead of British, to cater to the vanity of American audiences, or when they show Nash’s wife being loyal and still married to him at the time of his Nobel Prize so they can have her shedding tears in the audience.

It amazes me that anyone accepts this logic. Nothing is more interesting than honesty, and the the only reason the film is at all suspenseful is because of an infinite supply of self-delusion.

Laura Ingall’s Doctor

When the Ingalls family came down with malaria, they were treated by Doctor George A. Tann, who may have saved their lives.

Forget all about him. In “Little House of the Prairie”, the Ingalls very, very kindly help the son of a former slave named Solomon find refuge and an education. Did that make you feel kind-hearted and virtuous? I’ll bet it did. I’ll bet you thought– those wonderful Ingalls– so progressive!

How would it have struck you if the African American had been the doctor who came to their house and actually lived with them for a time while treating their malaria? You would have thought– come on!

IN 1870!

Are you mad?

For those of you who can’t understand why some people just can’t love “wholesome” television or movie programs, this is why: TV refused to show you that Dr. George A. Tann was an African American doctor who treated the Ingalls for malaria.

It would have been disturbing in some way to a large portion of the audience. It would have been disturbing to a large number of potential customers of Wonder Bread to think that perhaps their attitudes towards race were not what they thought they were.

One of the most popular shows among the denizens of the Republican heartland.

So, is anyone surprised?

PBS’ Soundstage

When I was in college back in the 1970’s, the only decent music program on TV was Soundstage (earlier known as “Made in Chicago”), which presented relatively current, relatively serious artists like Harry Chapin, Arlo Guthrie, Gordon Lightfoot, and Emmy-Lou Harris, in a one-hour format, no commercial breaks, no light shows, no lip-synching.

Okay– so they also presented– geez!– Burt Bacharach and the Bee Gees. It absolutely blows my mind that the same minds that would put together a program like this for Emmy-Lou Harris would think it was a great idea to give the Bee Gees an hour of rapt attention. The Bee Gees were worse than mediocre. They were aggressively mediocre. Their mediocrity pounded you on the face and stuck it’s waxy fingers into your ears and wobbled your head from side-to-side to scream at you that there is not a single interesting thing musically or intellectually in any of this noise you are hearing.

But then again, in 1976 Lightfoot appeared on Hee-Haw to lip-synch “Sundown”.

Anyway, two or three of my favorite shows are on PBS: the News Hour which is about the only television news program that I watch without getting nauseous nowadays (I know I’m mean but even Peter Mansbridge looks and sounds like a pharmaceutical salesman– think about it– doesn’t he always seem about to ask, “and how often should the patient take this dosage, Mary?”) and “Frontline” (documentaries) and “Inside Washington”. And “Nova” can be pretty cool thought it can also get annoyingly breathless at times. And cheesy.

But mostly, when they need money, they present John Sebastian presenting endlessly recycled clips of “Do You Believe in Magic” or the Mamas and the Papas singing “California Dreaming” on Hullabaloo, in bathtubs, or Peter, Paul, and Mary doing their farewell concert to end all farewell concerts at Carnegie Hall. Over and over and over again. And over and over and over again. And over and over and over and over again. I don’t think they have done pledge week once in the last 20 years without showing Peter, Paul & Mary singing “Lemon Tree” or Pete Seeger doing “Turn, Turn, Turn” and John Sebastian strumming his autoharp and creeping me out with that harmless, aimless expression, grinning and looking folksy and trying to make you believe that the 1960’s was a happy place of delightful experimentation and joyful frolics in psychedelic meadows of unicorns and marshmallows.

When it’s not John Sebastian and the 1960’s, it’s Victor Borge, Perry Como, or Harry Belafonte. Who runs this network?

It doesn’t make sense to me. The average age of the PBS viewer must surely be sliding ever closer to the grave– they will, sooner or later, require younger viewers to survive the next round of Republican attacks. To attract younger viewers, they have to start bringing in musical artists like Leslie Feist, Arcade Fire, Royal Wood, Bon Ivor, Conor Orbest, Wilco, please, anybody from the last ten or fifteen years!

I am never not astounded that Lawrence Welk is actually still shown on TV, on Sunday, PBS.  Really?  Seriously?  Who is running this network?

“Game Change”: Sarah Palin and McCain

Just watched HBO’s “Game Change”, about Sarah Palin’s exciting tenure as John McCain’s running mate. Not bad. Not great, but not terrible. I can’t even really tell the politics of the makers– one tends to assume that a Hollywood film is made by liberals. In general, Palin is made to look like an idiot, but then, Palin really is an idiot and even some conservatives will admit that.

A competing conservative biopic, “Undefeated”, has a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and has been described as “Stalinesque”.

Someone on a message board on IMDB wrote– poorly– about the idea that in order to make a good film (or tv), you have to be able to empathize with people who are different from you.

The problem for conservatives is that the minute you do that, you become a liberal

“Game Change” paints a rather flattering portrait of John McCain in one respect: McCain (Ed Harris) is depicted as running a principled, honest campaign. He is clueless about just how incompetent Sarah Palin is, but he is “ethical”. So he rejects bringing up Jeremiah Wright. He remembers being smeared by George Bush in 2000 with a scurrilous claim that he had fathered a child out of wedlock with a black woman. (The photo used to “substantiate” this claim was of McCain’s adopted Asian daughter.)

That is a very, very relative statement, but yes, compared to the current Republican primaries, he was Florence Nightingale. He was also bitter after the election– in a way that Al Gore and John Kerry clearly were not– and I suspect he was somewhat delusional about just how much damage Palin did. The idea of blaming the media for denigrating the most incompetent personnel decision in modern presidential political history must have occurred to him in his sleep.

Did you know: a committee of the Texas Legislature rejected an amendment to a bill that would have required that public school sex education classes be “medically accurate”.