How we may very well explain Brett Favre to our grandkids

Oh man, well, hahaha, Brett Favre was this guy they used to call “The Ol’ Gunslinger,’ hahahahaha, because (snort) he’d just rifle it in there no matter what. He could throw it (snort) like a thousand miles an hour, and he didn’t care if there were defenders in the way. It seemed, hahahaha, like he thought he could break off a cornerback’s hands with his passes.

Oh yeah, he threw an insane number of interceptions. I’m pretty sure the most of anybody ever. You could always tell when he was getting ready to throw one too. You’d be sitting there going, “Here it comes. The Ol’ Gunslinger’s feeling pretty heroic,’ and, boom, intercepted.

Yes, it was incredibly hilarious.

No, absolutely not. That was the weird thing. Favre was probably the most popular player of his generation. People loved this guy. And he was totally deified by the sports media of the day. You have to understand that in the 1990s people still looked at athletes as heroes. At least some of them. You had Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods was still young, Favre. People used to see these guys as something superior to normal humans, or at least as admirable.

You have to remember, there was no such thing as a sports blog in 1996.

Well, it’s weird, but I almost think people liked Favre because of the interceptions. People seemed to consider it endearing that there was an NFL quarterback who was the equivalent of your idiot “hold my beer and watch this” friend. It was very easy to imagine that very thing happening on the Packers’ sideline. Favre shotgunning a Keystone Light and going “Check this out. I’m about to throw a 60-yard laser across the field off my back foot,” and some teammate going, “I’m not so sure this is such a good idea, Brett,” and Brett going, “Oh don’t be such a Nancy, it’s going to be awesome.” I think people really took to that. Plus, he was impossible to knock out of a game. One time he played with a broken thumb on his passing hand. Can you imagine that? There were all kinds of stories like that. He set a record for consecutive starts.

Well, I don’t think anybody ever suspected he was using steroids, but he did become addicted to prescription painkillers at the height of his career. We were all shocked at the time, but in retrospect that had to be one of the most obvious athlete addictions of all time. I mean, like I said, there was no injury that could keep this guy out of a game.

Uh, it was pretty much all the media, but in particular was this meathead of a color commentator named John Madden.

Well, no, he wasn’t a video game creator. When that game first came out, they decided to name it after a color commentator for some reason.

Madden was known for being extremely easy to please as a broadcaster. He would get so fired up any time a player got dirt stuck in his facemask. To John Madden, that was evidence that the player was playing exceptionally hard or playing (air quotes) smashmouth football (air quotes), whatever that means. And he’d make the most obvious comments. He’s say stuff like (in Madden voice), “If the ball crosses the plane of the goal, that’s gonna be a touchdown” and everyone would be like, “Thanks, John.” He explained football in a way that any idiot — literally any idiot — could grasp what was happening.

Anyway, Madden loved Favre so much, because Favre was the kind of guy who’d end up with dirt stuck in his facemask a lot, and he’d do this reckless, childlike stuff. He threw a behind-the-back pass once. … Actually, that might have been Jake Plummer. I can’t really remember, but it’s beside the point. Whether or not Favre ever did throw a behind-the-back pass, throwing a behind-the-back pass was totally a Favre sort of thing to do. You can take it to the bank that if it was Plummer and not Favre who did that, Plummer did it because he was 100 percent inspired by Brett Favre.

No, generally speaking, people hated Jake Plummer.

Anyway, announcers loved to say that Favre was “like a big ol’ kid out there,” and it was clear that Favre was always the guy having the most fun. Every now and then they’d put a mic on him and he’d spend the whole game making jokes with defensive linemen and things like that.

He was from this small town in Mississippi, and I really do think that helped his popularity. He had this great southern accent and he’d do commercials for Wrangler jeans. I mean, you look at some of his contemporaries … Tom Brady was practically a movie star. Drew Brees always came off like he was running for Senate. Joe Montana was the ultimate “calm, cool, collected” guy. Dan Marino had this great tan and played in Miami. Peyton Manning was kind of a successful dork. I think people saw Favre as sort of an antithetical figure to all that. He was all these things quarterbacks were not supposed to be. He had this unique way of seeming like a regular dude and a mythical creature at the same time.

Yeah, this girl who worked for the Jets said he sent her photos of his penis. Nobody ever really figured out of that was true or not, but most people seemed to believe it. There was quite a bit of cynicism about the whole thing because of who his accuser was.

Her name was Jen Sterger, and she basically became famous overnight. She showed up to a Florida State football game in a bikini top, got picked up by the cameras and became this sensation. It was totally ridiculous. She ended up working for Sports Illustrated because of that. I mean, she wasn’t out there writing 5,000-word takeouts, but still. Sports Illustrated.

(Sigh). Sports Illustrated was a magazine. For about 50 years it was The Place To Work for anybody in sports journalism.

No, they printed it on glossy paper and delivered it to your house every week.

Well sure, the information was several days old by the time you got it, but that really wasn’t a big deal at the time. I mean, I found out the Kansas City Chiefs had acquired Joe Montana by seeing it on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Oh nevermind.


Has pop music evolved?

Pictured: Evolution?

In an issue devoted to things that are impossible (some of them tongue-in-cheek), Esquire Magazine wrote this month that “It is impossible that popular music hasn’t significantly progressed or even evolved in the last 20 years.”

Throwing the word “significantly” in there complicates the answer, but I think we all have some idea what would constitute a significant evolution in pop music. Motley Crue to Guns N Roses to Nirvana, for example, was a significant evolution that occurred within a 10-year period. The rise and fall of disco was significant, as was the invention of hip hop.

So what say ye?

If you want to be real precise, Nirvana released “Nevermind” in 1991, and I think any reasonable person would agree that Nirvana a) was popular, and b) represented a significant evolution from the way rock music had been played in the 1980s. But that still leaves 19 of the last 20 years and, I’m no rock critic, but I’m not sure rock has significantly changed since then. And we’re not even talking about bubblegum pop yet, although I’m not sure we really should be. That stuff never changes.

I would argue hip hop has changed a great deal, but whether it has evolved or progressed, I’m not sure. The method of music making (sampling and beat writing) hasn’t changed, the lyrical content (primarily about money or life in ghettos) hasn’t changed and the general posture (aggressive, mean, thug-like) hasn’t changed, either. There are exceptions (rap has gotten more cerebral), but Kanye West is basically doing the same thing Puff Daddy was doing in 1993.

So I guess my answer is that pop music has evolved in the last 20 years, but barely. Just barely, and probably not in the last 15.

90s Week: Trucks as luxury vehicles

In the 90s, this was a family car.

In the 90s, this was a family car.

For all of history, pickup trucks were functional vehicles only. They were for farms, lumber yards and rednecks. In the 1960s, for example, it wasn’t unusual for a truck to not have:

  • Carpet
  • Seatbelts
  • Air conditioning
  • Power steering

These were unnecessary frills. First of all, the carpet was pointless because if your truck had carpet, you wouldn’t be able clean the floorboards with a garden hose, so that’s out. If you needed power steering or air conditioning, you were a pansy, so those are out. And seat belts were kind of a new idea at the time.

In the 1960s, the kind of people who were buying trucks weren’t the kind that would have worn seat belts anyway, and there’s no way they were paying extra just to have air conditioning or power steering in a vehicle they were going to be using to drag cow manure from one edge of the farm to another.

Although seat belts became standard in the mid-1960s, and power steering quickly became inexpensive and, therefore, standard, that was about all that changed in the truck world, right up until the late 1980s.

And suddenly, for difficult to ascertain reasons, it became cool to take your kids to school in a Chevy truck rather than a Chevy car.

There are some obvious conditions that had to exist for this to be possible. First, gasoline had to be inexpensive, and it was. In the late 80s all the way through the late 90s, the price of a gallon of gas hovered around the $1 mark, occasionally dipping below 90 cents. Secondly, there had to be room for these vehicles in driveways, parking lots and roads. This sounds silly, but in many places around the world, including some of its biggest, best cities,  it would be terribly impractical to own a vehicle the size of a Ford F-150, because it would hog most roadways and would be difficult to park, both at home and about town. Finally, the vehicles had to be comfortable for women, children and pansies.

This is where the auto makers had to make some changes.

Since the late 1970s, the Big Three American auto makers had been getting their butts handed to them* in the car markets by Asian companies, who made cars that were superior in every conceivable way. Naturally, the Big Three decided it was fruitless to just make better cars. Instead, operating on the “Americans will buy anything as long as its bigger than another thing” theory of economics, they just started making big cars, i.e. trucks with air conditioning, carpet and CD players.

* I know a writer who would have used “getting their tits waxed” here. Mentally insert this phrase above if it makes you happy.

It worked out great for the auto makers because all they had to do was add some bells and whistles to vehicles they were already making, which is a completely different process than coming up with entirely new vehicles to satisfy the public’s demand for wasteful driving practices*.

*Probably one of the most hypocritical things I’ve ever written. Until lameness forced me into a Toyota Corolla, I had spent my life among the most wasteful drivers you’ve ever known. I had owned five cars before the Corolla. Three had V8s, two had V6s, one was an SUV.

Whats so creepy about El Caminos? I dont get it.

What's so creepy about El Caminos? I don't get it.

And I did not drive any of these lightly.

I nearly got a detention in high school for doing burnouts in the school parking lot after football practice. In college, I once did donuts in the parking lot, in the middle of the day. I used to drag race one of my cars on a flat stretch of road out by the jail in Hutchinson. I drove one of my cars 134 miles per hour, which helped turn a 16-minute trip from Burrton to Hutchinson into an 11-minute trip from Burrton to Hutchinson. In my SUV, I drove out to Clinton Lake near Lawrence and rather abruptly went off-roading.

I am not the king of conservation.

Thus, at about the same time Americans were Super Sizing everything and walking around with 44-ounce foutain drinks for no discernable reason, they gobbled up these high cars with big tires like handfuls of french fries.

SUVs were already popular in the 1990s, too, but it wasn’t until late in the decade that Americans finally got honest with themselves and said, “You know what? This business about needing the bed to haul things is pretty much bunk. What I really need is more seats to haul the kids I don’t have.”

Which is why today we celebrate the mid-1990s phenomenon of trucks as luxury vehicles.

90s Week: Surge



As readers of this blog — thanks to all six of you, by the way — you know that I usually try to find some meaning in the seemingly meaningless stuff I write about.

Well, it doesn’t get much more meaningless than “Surge: Fully loaded citrus drink,” except that Surge was a triumph of viral marketing, before viral marketing even really existed, and proved that humans are total suckers.

As you’ll see in this ad, Surge is the only soft drink ever created and specifically marketed to one person, that person being Merritt Schenk. If you don’t know Merritt Schenk, don’t worry about it. You know someone exactly like him, who most likely has had a run-in or two with the police and loves Pabst Blue Ribbon.

As all failures do, Surge (made by the Coca-Cola company) originated in Norway, where it was called “Urge,” giving it a vaguely sexual connotation that Norwegians loved. Surge enjoyed a nice run from 1996-2001, when Coca-Cola stopped its production in every country that matters (the U.S., Denmark and Sweden).

Norwegians love sexual connotations in their soft drinks.

Norwegians love sexual connotations in their soft drinks.

Now, believe it or not, one can of Surge is worth at least $27.

So that’s all well and good, proving that nostalgia, no matter how meaningless, has real value to people.*

*I have to wonder, though, does the person who wins that auction plan on drinking the can of Surge, or do they actually view this an some kind of an investment? Is the value of an unopened can of Surge from 1998 expected to rise?

But I think the most significant thing about Surge is the way it was marketed. The commercials made it seem like drinking Surge would turn you into some kind of urban warrior. It specifically targeted pre-teen and teenage boys,* on the assumption that they daydream about tearing the crap out of things for no real reason, which is exactly right.

*Although the ads depict teenagers, everybody who’s ever sold anything knows that you sell things to pre-teens by using teens, and you sell things to teens by using adults. The magazine, “17,” for example, is really for 13-year-old girls. No 17 year olds read 17. They read “21,” which is actually called, “Cosmopolitan.”

The genius of it was that, especially when you’re dealing with adolescents, the product doesn’t have to actually do what it suggests it will do. It can thrive on urban legend alone, because teenage boys want the ads to be true, they will set about proving them to be true. Scientists have studied this same effect by watching the behavior of two groups of young adults, one given actual alcohol, and one given what they only think is alcohol. Even the ones drinking the bad-tasting water will exhibit drunken behavior almost immediately, not because they’re getting drunk, but because they want to believe they are.

So it was with Surge, which wouldn’t do anything that a cappuccino wouldn’t do, of course.  But that didn’t stop 14-year-old boys from downing a six pack of it and crashing shopping carts into the light poles at Wal-Mart.

Nobody wanted to hear this at the time, but Surge actually contained less caffeine than Mountain Dew. That nobody ever realized this, despite the information being available on the back of the cans themselves is one of the great triumphs in marketing history, and also completely terrifying. If the power of suggestion is that strong, and humans are that capable of being that disinterested in the truth, then there would seem to be no limits on what we could be easily duped into believing.

As it turns out, it wasn’t the Surge that was dangerous, it was the people drinking it.

90s Week: NBA Jam

Any time a video game developer feels an urge to create a game like, “NFL Head Coach,” he should first flick himself in the balls with a ruler, then play NBA Jam for 10 minutes.

He would then re-realize the most basic, fundamental, yet easily forgotten rule of games — they should be fun to play.

NBA Jam was fun to play.

Being fun to play was, of course,  the only thing NBA Jam was. It was intentionally absurd. Guys could jump so high they flew out of the screen. That was awesome. If you made three shots in a row, you were “on fire,” and your shots had flames coming off them. That was awesome. There were no fouls.  Again, awesome. If you entered the correct codes, you could assemble a team of Al Gore and George Clinton, which was off-the-charts awesome.

Money from the corner.

Money from the corner.

Like all video games from the 90s, there were some funny quirks. For example, Mitch Richmond was a total Zeus in that game. Now, Richmond was a fine player. Won the All-Star game MVP once. Great shooter. But on NBA Jam, he was Scottie Pippen’s equal.

Which brings up the NBA Jam rosters. They would be a trip down memory lane if these were real, 12-man rosters, anyway, but that these were two-man teams makes it extra hilarious to look back at the guys regarded as the two best players on their teams in 1993.

Minnesota — Christian Laettner and Chuck Person.

Dallas — Derek Harper and Jim Jackson.

Houston — Hakeem Olajuwon and Vernon Maxwell.

Chicago — Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant*

*Obviously, this should have been Michael Jordan, but Jordan wasn’t in video games because securing the license to his likeness was too expensive. To my knowledge, the last game in which Jordan appeared as himself was in “Bulls vs. Blazers and the NBA Playoffs”, which was stupendously awful.

Usually the games tried to creatively include Jordan. For example, early in the NBA Live series, a random player nobody knew would show up on the Bulls’ roster. If you were inclined, you could just “create” Jordan yourself, and replace this throwaway player with your created Jordan. Not only was this a pain in the butt, but, because Jordan was a myth, it felt stupid to go in there and ask yourself to rate Jordan’s skills on a 50-100 scale. Nobody wanted to say to their digital MJ, “You’re passing is really only about a 79 and you can’t jump like you used to.”

Point is, can you imagine this happening today? Imagine if you bought NBA Live 2k9, and LeBron wasn’t on the game. You’d be outraged. The game companies and the NBA would do whatever was necessary to get LeBron in the game, because it’s too important as a marketing tool. In the early 90s, nobody understood this.

Another point of intrigue about NBA Jam is that it really wasn’t much different than the other SNES/Sega Geneis sensation, Mortal Kombat. Both were, at their essence, cartoonish fighting games. NBA Jam had no rules (except goaltending), no teamwork and a rapid pace, which made each game seem more like a street fight than a basketball game. And because both games moved so quickly, they functioned well for the kind of tournaments you’d have at a sleepover. The only difference was that in NBA Jam, you did flipping dunks whle consumed by flame and in Mortal Kombat, you ripped out your enemy’s spine.

As all gimmicks do, NBA Jam tried to resell us what was essentially the same game with NBA Jam Tournament Edition*. There were some new features you could turn on and off, like six-point shots, and they updated the rosters. Some people liked this version, but I didn’t think it made the game any better. The brilliance of NBA Jam was its simplicity, which the new features undermined, I thought.

*In early versions of the Tournament Edition, according to Wikipedia, you could enter codes to play as characters from Mortal Kombat. The NBA soon vetoed this, not wanting to be associated with ripping out people’s spines.

More so than with any other form of entertainment, video games have to be evaulated in context. Nobody would argue that NBA Jam is a technically better game than almost anything available today. The graphics are bad and the controls are jerky and there really are no features.

Not many people would even argue that NBA Jam is better than NBA Live 95, which pretty much changed basketball video games for good. But NBA Jam was the first basketball game that was any fun to play.

And that’s the point.

90s Week: Rap

The two most delicate musical genres on earth are these:

1) Rap

2) Christian rock

So far as I can tell, these are the only two genres that seek to satisfy two separate and distinct, if not diametrically opposed, interests. Rap music is made primarily by (previously) poor, black people, primarily about poor, black people. Yet its greatest audience is middle class white people. Without them, rap is a commercial failure, and therefore something all the “hipster” kids would absolutely freaking love.

Bitches aint shit was such an amazing record, man. You totally wouldnt get it, though.

"'Bitches ain't shit'" was such an amazing record, man. You totally wouldn't get it, though."

Christian rock faces a similar quandary. It has two goals, 1) to worship God, and 2) to rock your face off. Which goal gets priority depends on the band, but either way, the ultimate problem is that the music just doesn’t make any sense. The best Christian bands are the ones that write silly songs — the entire MxPx catalogue, for example — that aren’t overtly Christian, but aren’t about sex, either, so what’s the point? Essentially, the only decent Christian rock is really just what punk rock would have sounded like, lyrically, if it had existed in the 1950s.

Rap’s problem was much easier to reconcile when it became obvious that white kids were actually pretty curious about life in the ghettos. And its importance was that this was stuff people needed to hear, whether they wanted to or not.

It all started in 1988, when N.W.A. released “Straight Outta Compton,” which at the time was the most terrifying thing recorded and capitalized on since the Zapruder film.

It was a subtle album:

When I’m called off I got a sawed off
Squeeze the trigger and bodies are hauled off


A young nigga on a warpath
And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath
Of cops, dyin’ in LA

At that point, it became official. “Straight Outta Compton” could never be topped on the scale of public outrage, proving the great irony that all publicity is good publicity, especially if that publicity involves the F.B.I. and the Secret Service sending letters to your record company.

Nobody wanted to hear about the ghettos. It was too uncomfortable, especially to the government, which through the housing projects and the intentional distribution of crack cocaine*, was largely responsible for producing them.

*Author speculation.

The album got  no radio play, N.W.A. made no major tours, and “Straight Outta Compton” went double platinum.

This was the catalyst for the golden age of rap, but the age didn’t really begin until 1992, when former N.W.A. member Dr. Dre unleashed “The Chronic,” which is still widely regarded as one of the five or so best rap albums ever. This age died in 2003, when Nelly won a Grammy for “Hot in Herre.”

Wanted: For the murder of hip hop.

Wanted: For the murder of hip hop.

But what came in between “The Chronic” and “Hot in Herre” had to be — and I’m biased here, because I love the genre — as good a 10-year period as any genre has experienced in music history. I would think, relatively speaking, it was as good as the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s were for rock & roll.

Here’s what we got:

  • “The Chronic,” Dr. Dre  (1992) — Introduced the world to Snoop Doggy Dogg.
  • Doggystyle, Snoop Doggy Dogg (1993) — “Gin and Juice” and “What’s My Name?” are two of the most recognizable songs of the 1990s.
  • “Ready to Die,” Nororious B.I.G. (1993) — Top to bottom, the best rap album ever, in my estimation. Lyrically, only Eminem challenges it.
  • “Illmatic,” Nas (1994) — Not my style, but any rap historian will laud it.
  • “36 Chambers” The Wu-Tang Clan (1993) — Some get it, some don’t.
  • “(The Chronic) 2001,” Dr. Dre (1999) — I guarantee you know at least three songs off this album.
  • “Reasonable Doubt” Jay-Z (1996) — It’s Jay-Z.
  • “All Eyez on Me” Tupac (1996) — Broad, mature, and awesome.
  • “The Slim Shady LP,” Eminem (1999) — Often lyrically nonsensical, yet brilliant.
  • “The Marshall Mathers LP,” Eminem (2000) — Only album to ever challenge “Straight Outta Compton” on the public outrage scale.

But as we went careening toward “Hot in Herre,” things started to get complicated. With the exception of the Eminem stuff above (he is probably best evaulated as his own sub-genre), all of the music centered around the same “rags to riches” theme. Some focused on the rags (Dre), some focused on the riches (Jay), but it’s the same story over and over again. Which is fine, except that the story has to be believable.

No genre depends as heavily on the credibility of its artists to write their songs as rap does. So when people start to find out that, for example, Tupac had studied at a performing arts school in Baltimore, he starts to feel an extra burden to remind people that the stuff he’s rapping about is his own.

And when we start to hear that, well, maybe Biggie’s songs about slinging crack weren’t, technically, about him, he then feels that same compulsion to prove his credibility.

Next thing we know, they’re both murdered in an almost identical, and very public way, and the genre’s popularity explodes as life imitates art.

It didn’t happen all at once — there are still banal rap albums about thuggery flooding the shelves — but the genre started a slow turn at that point, and eventually most of the content was about sex and money, spawning the totally hilarious Cash Money Millionaires and, in turn, the most annoying phrase of the last 10 years.

Above: The Cash Money Millionaires teach us about fiscal responsibility.

Rap has mostly devolved into self parody since then. Nobody takes the street life albums seriously anymore, which is a good thing for the rappers — Jay-Z, Kanye West, Lil Wayne —  who are creative enough to take the music in their own, original directions.

The music is always going to have its roots in what’s known as “the struggle,” but rappers don’t need to tell that story anymore. We’ve heard it. That’s what the 90s were about in rap — telling the world, in graphic detail, the story of life in the ghettos. It needed to be told. And it needed to be told in that unsanitary way.

In that regard, it was like the Vietnam War, which was the first war that the American people could watch, raw and uncut, unfold before their own eyes. Before then, war was all about fighting the good fight, shown in blatantly propagandistic news reels. People knew that men died, but they imagined it happening cleanly and righteously, not by bleeding to death with no legs. The coverage of Vietnam made it real, and horrifying.

And that’s what gangster rap for the inner city. It was the 90s, man, and it was awesome.

90s Week: Michael Jordan

This is going to be problematic, because I think the mere act of writing about Michael Jordan is plagiarism. What can possibly be written about MJ that hasn’t been written before?

This is the challenge.

There will never be another Michael Jordan. And by that I don’t mean that there will never be another player as great at Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant might be as great. LeBron James might be, too. But I don’t even care to argue about that. What difference does it make?

What I mean is this: Jordan was the last superstar athlete to enjoy a reverent, genteel media environment. His career largely predated the Internet, camera phones and even, to a some degree, sports talk radio.

Michael Jordan, as we know him, is a myth.

Whether this is good or bad depends on whether or not sports are important. If they are, then it’s important that we have myths like Jordan. If our professional athletes are hosers just like us, then who cares? If these are just tall men making widgets, then does anybody really care that Karl Malone missed and Jordan hit? Of course not.

This should have been the last shot of his career.

But if these people are something more than hosers just like us, if we can believe that there is some manner of good and evil at play, or that there is something inherent in certain athletes that allows them to do heroic things, and if we can believe that this is metaphorical to life, then we can believe that we, too, might have something inherent within us that would allow us to do heroic things. Perhaps not on the basketball court, but maybe in a courtroom or a singles bar or in World of Warcraft.

If sports are important, this is the reason why. They aren’t important the way that government is important. We don’t need our politicians to be mythical, because there is too much at stake. We need them to be real and accountable. We need them to be dispensable.

With athletes, it’s different. We need the generational Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi and Michael Jordan to cling to. We need them to endure. We need a superhero.

I don’t know that it matters to me, now. But as a kid, I needed the Michael Jordan myth. I needed to believe that he was super. I needed him to be a hero. Because if Michael Jordan wasn’t heroic, then who really was? And what was the point of life? If Michael Jordan wasn’t good and right and true, then basketball wasn’t good and right and true, and I was a fool for liking it.

I’m not sure if the Jordan Myth would have happened if his career had begun 20 years later. It might be possible to avoid the New Media pitfalls, but it’s unlikely. Tom Brady is about as protected as a professional athlete can be, playing for the most tight-lipped organization in professional sports and enjoying a level of hero worship that is rare anymore, but even the details of his historic run with the supermodels easily became a matter of public consumption.

Rape charge notwithstanding, Kobe Bryant’s image has been well-crafted, too, but other NBA players have been quoted (albeit anonymously) as saying he’s a “douchebag.” Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think this would have happened in 1995. I don’t think any NBA writer would have felt compelled to find out whether Michael Jordan was a douchebag, and even if he did, I don’t think he would have used an anonymous quote saying as much in some kind of slash piece. What would be the benefit? What difference did it make? He was still awesome. Even Jordan’s gambling problem went down historically as an anecdote for his competitiveness. The worst thing anybody ever really said about Jordan was that he was hyper-competitive. See, even his flaws were awesome.

As recently as the late 90s, beat writers were still routinely traveling with the teams they covered, on the team plane. These guys all have great stories from these trips, but there was a mutual understanding that what happened in private stayed in private. And since in those days there were really only  one or two or four writers, they effectively policed themselves.

But in the decade since, the proliferation of new media outlets has turned every little morsel of information into a story as they grapple for original content. Most newspapers still don’t bother with things like Tom Brady’s mistresses, but the bloggers and the celebrity TV shows and talk radio guys have a heyday with it. Worse, this kind of information is more often available than ever because, as Michael Phelps, Matt Leinart, Ben Roethlisberger and countless others have found out, anybody with a cell phone camera is a papparazzo.

The shirt is priceless.

The shirt is priceless.

There is something sad about this, even though as a journalist, I always root for the humanization of athletes. There is entirely too much hero worship of them, especially, I think, at the college level, where fans always believe their guys are the good guys. This causes a lot of problems. When a running back sexually assaults a girl at a party, sometimes it’s because he knows he can. In the back of his mind, he knows there will be 100,000 voices calling the girl a gold digger and cheering his name on Saturday.

But Jordan was different. He wasn’t a running back at State U. He was bigger than that, he was unreal, which was what we needed him to be.

90s Week: Boy bands

Hey, were just five guys of way different ages from five difference backgrounds and five different parts of the country who became really good buddies and, like, totally wrote all these songs and got famous. Oh, and Lance is totally not gay.

"Hey, we're just five guys of way different ages from five different backgrounds and five different parts of the country who became really good buddies and, like, totally wrote all these songs and got sickeningly famous. Oh, and Lance is totally not gay."

Musically, the 1990s were about three things:

1) Grunge (read: Kobain).

2) G-funk rap (read: Dre).

3) Boy bands (read: Lou Pearlman)

Pearlman was the manager and “creator” of N’Sync (please watch this) and the Backstreet Boys. According to Pearlman’s wikipedia entry, he “perpetrated one of the biggest and longest running Ponzi schemes in American history.” Also, he bilked investors out of millions by “investing” their money in a company that didn’t, you know, actually exist*.

*This false company, by the way, was a freaking airline. How do you get swindled on that? All you have to do is try to book a flight on Trans Continental Airlines and you’ll soon realize there is no Trans Continental Airlines.

It’s debatable whether this, or the Backstreet Boys, was the bigger crime.

Before we go any further, I think it’s important to mention that these bands didn’t totally suck. With the exception of Joey Fatone* and the tall guy in Backstreet, these guys could really sing (‘Nsync’s Christmas album is — and I’m not kidding here — the best Christmas album I’ve ever heard).

*What was Joey Fatone’s contribution to ‘Nsync, anyway? No girl I ever heard of thought he was good looking. He wasn’t a good singer. My sisters, 12 and 10 years old, would routinely lampoon his dancing. It’s like they kept him around just to rope in the New Jersey/Long Island demographic. It was kind of like McCain picking Sarah Palin for VP to get the women’s vote, except that it wasn’t like that at all.

The only megastar to come out of the Boy Band Era has been Justin Timberlake, who has had the greatest career possible for a Mouseketeer. He’s the ultimate. Think about this.

  • At age, like, 14, he’s an international sensation, irrefutably the most desired member of the most desired group in the world.
  • In 1999, at age 18, he starts dating the most desirable woman in the world, Britney Spears, when she was in her absolute prime.
  • In 2002, just before Britney goes crazy, she (probably) cheats on him, giving him a get out of jail free card, which he cashes in immediately. He promptly writes “Cry me a River,” one of the most devastating revenge songs of all time, totally re-inventing himself with an R&B album that is universally loved.
  • From 2002-2009, becomes one of the top three or four R&B artists in the world, accepted by black people as one of their own and generally compared favorably to Usher, the most popular R&B singer of his generation.
  • Meanwhile, Britney begins dating perhaps the world’s most unlikable hanger-on, Kevin Federline, even bearing his children, then getting fat, shaving her head and checking in and out of various mental facilities in a downward spiral that bottomed out with comedians making jokes about her vagina.

Can we say round one goes to Timberlake?

The ironic problem for the rest of the boy-banders was that their audience — preteen to high school girls — doesn’t actually give a rip whether they can sing or not. Some scientists maintain that adolescent girls actually have worse taste in music than the Germans. Others disagree, saying that’s like saying something is colder than absolute zero. But you get the point. As we’ve seen in the 2000s, having actual talent is not a prerequisite for popularity as a musician.

Its more about wearing weird hats and being black.

It's more about wearing weird hats and being black.

The boy band appeal was mainly, as almost everything is, about sex. The interesting thing is that boy bands became wildly popular and girl bands never really caught on, even though the basic appeal should be the same, right?

The difference is in the way men and women (boys and girls) feel attraction. It is almost impossible to get any group of women to agree on which man in a particular context (the entire world, for example) is the most attractive. Their feelings of attraction are subject to so many different factors — personality, mannerism, social background, women they’ve been linked to — that you can’t have just one guy and expect broad appeal.

The reason girl groups generally don’t succeed is that men base their attraction — at least as far as people they’ll never meet is concerned — on almost purely visual information. And this isn’t nearly as subjective as you might think, meaning that men will almost always universally agree on which member of, say, Destiny’s Child, is most attractive, and ignore the rest.

Ask 10 different girls who the best-looking boy in their school is, and you’re probably getting six or seven different answers with huge discrepancies in those opinions (a boy one girl thinks is ridiculously good looking another will describe as “gross”). Ask 10 boys about the girls, and you’re probably getting two or three different answers, but even among those three, there will be a general agreement that “it’s close.”

So your best bet when concocting a boy band is to cover all your bases, even if one of those bases is the New Jersey demographic.

Honestly. Really?


This is why 98 Degrees was generally a failure. The other two hosers were so out of place that nobody thought Nick Lachey wasn’t the best-looking guy in the band.

Well, that, and their being a blatant attempt to cash in on a hot genre, which, regardless of the genre, usually works well enough to sell one mediocre album (read: “G Funk Classics, Vol. 1: Ghetto Preacher,” Nate Dogg) but not two (read: “G Funk Classics. Vol. 1 & 2,” Nate Dogg).

And it is at this point that the whole thing comes back around to Pearlman, the first guy to craft a reality show about the making of a band that nobody would ever like. He called this show, “Making the Band.”

They made the band.

They made the band, and also crappy music. (Guy in the middle: "I can't believe they're making me wear this.")

This show, producing the boy band O-Town, which would ultimately murder the boy band genre, was interesting at the time because our society wasn’t used to reality television yet, so we thought that the stuff that happened on the show was, like, totally organic and that the ultimate goal of the show was to actually create a band.

Now we know that the “Making the Band” shows have virtually nothing to do with actually composing  a band. The band is little more than a theme around which the producers can assemble crazy people and have them tear their each other’s clothes off and throw up on the carpet. Other such themes are “love,” “learning manners” and “having sex with Bret Michaels.” If they accidentally sell a few records at the end, even better.

Once we realized that nobody actually wanted to listen to O-Town’s music, the jig was up with the boy band genre. It became obvious that O-Town and ‘Nsync were just different flavors of Lou Pearlman’s ball sweat. And it was all over, conveniently, in the year 2000.