I've been living in NYC over 20 years, but I still root for the teams of the town where I grew up: Chicago.
Some would call this evidence of the "tribal" aspect of fandom. It's easier to switch the city you live in than your sports allegiances.
So I was happy to see my favorite player, Derrick Rose, featured on the cover of ESPN, the magazine. And as a fan also of media studies, I was just as taken with the way the image of this about-to-superstar is being created.
Writer Ric Bucher's piece on Rose (with the star's name over the cover headline of "The Rebirth of Chicago Style,") sees him, more than just an individual, as the personification of a town. And a believable one -- as Rose grew up in some of the city's (and the nation's) roughest neighborhoods.
And just as the best ads nowadays often grab your attention by referring to other ads, so this personification of the city gets some of its power by its relation to the town's other personifications. The image of the President, for example. Bucher writes:
"The same springboard of big-city aggression and heartland work ethic that launched the first black man to the White House has now catapulted [MVP candidate] Rose to the highest office in the NBA. 'Chicagoans appreciate Midwestern values,' President Obama says, 'Like hard work, humility and giving back to those around you. Plus, it doesn't hurt if you're playing MVP quality ball.'"
This substance is expressed in an understated style. A thin "Jazz Age mustache", and a few tats (none near the face) Bucher notes, "are his lone accessories. No iced watches or gold ropes. That would be akin to claiming a gaudy nick name, like the City that Never Sleeps or the City of Angels, rather than, say, the City of Broad Shoulders."
All this is said to carry over into his style of play. "Rose owes Chicago for making him the player that he is: short on flash, long on dash."
It seems Rose's style was shaped by participating, early in his career, in a Chicago program where he played small, exceptionally fast players. This discouraged any frills. As Bucher puts it:
"It becomes all about getting a step, protecting the rock like a football and getting to the rim. A fancy dribble will likely get swiped by one of those mighty mites. So while New York point guards are known for mesmerizing dribbling and L.A.'s 1's for dazzling passing, Chicago point guards simply put you in the rearview mirror. 'Derrick grew up playing against those little guys, ' says former Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong. 'That's why he plays just like them. He just grew to be 6'3"."
All-in-all, it's an intriguing picture. And certainly one that makes a former Chi-town native, via our inevitable tendency to identify, feel positively cool. But one thing that keeps me from totally buying into Bucher's portrait is Rose's play itself.
Check out this clip on his "crossover" move. As much as Rose himself describes it as "basic", it seems pretty dazzling to me:
The Authentic Chicago's Phony Double...
The sort of blue-collar (super)stardom Rose's image projects, is, of course, incredibly appealing. As Bucher points out, "his first signature shoe outsold Lebron's." It proposes a brand of style ruled strictly by substance, offering a sharp contrast to the over-the-top flash of the previous generation of NBA stars. Rose is something new.
At the same time, this portrait heightens the paradox of Chicago's national image. For is not this most authentic of towns, with its modest, hard-working folks (and sports stars), often portrayed as also the phoniest? Doesn't Chicago own a place in the popular imagination as the home of con artists, corrupt politicians and the mob? What about Rod Blagojevich?
Here's a personification of that other side -- in the form of Richard Gere as the sleazebag laywer (Billy Flynn), and master of rhetorical bling, in the musical film, Chicago:
What gives with such contrasts? Is popular culture inherently schizoid in the way it imagines its things?
Literary critics trained in deconstruction might argue that such wildly opposing views of a city, an object, or even a person, are more normal than neurotic. Meanings only achieve solidity, they might insist, by their contrast to other, opposing meanings.
In other words, the idea of the honest and incorruptible is most convincingly (if problematically) brought to life when it lives next door to a rotten-to-the-core image of a "cynical Other."
But I wonder if such dichotomies also express a sort of uncertainty or undecideability. But about what exactly? Chicago? City life in general? Belief vs. cynicism? Political views? Thoughts?