Basketball versus bowling. Who knew it had such implications? I mean, seriously, when is the last time we talked about the Dream Team in the Professional Bowlers Association? Or even just saw bowling on television at a time other than 3pm on a Sunday? Turns out, this might be an important signifier in electoral rhetoric. How?
Well, now and again, when my sweetie is busy and the boy is in bed, I’ll turn on Fox News. I want to know what it’s really about, rather than work with other people’s impressions and stereotypes. It’s true, the stereotypes: they’ve lost their damn minds at Fox News. They really have.
I tuned into that Sean Hannity show, the one where some inarticulate loser plays the “liberal” role to Hannity’s rantings. It’s really ranty, to be honest. I’m not just saying that because I find his politics disgusting. It’s true. Funny. I remember the eighties, how “liberals” were painted as complainers for criticizing the government. The Right took that page and plays it so much better. What a complainer! That’s what I thought.
But there was an interesting segment dedicated to whether or not Obama is “out of touch” and “elite.” For some reason, the in-contempt-of-congress Karl Rove came on to talk about it. Surprisingly, ha, Rove agrees: the dude is an elitist, the arrogant type. There were some reasons, including having taught at U of Chicago (a notoriously conservative institution…alas). The centerpiece of Rove’s and Hannity’s list, however, was a strange one.
“Rumor has it” that Obama will replace the bowling alley in the White House with a basketball gym.
Here’s what Hannity said, with Rove nodding emphatically…
Now you were the first person to use the adjective arrogant to describe Barack Obama. We had the incident with the presidential seal. He’s going to replace the bowling alley with basketball courts. No TVs in the Lincoln bedroom.
(No televisions?! I thought conservatives thought television was trash and corrupting! I can’t keep up.)
So, is basketball elitist?
Of course it isn’t, because, let’s be serious, bowling is an occasional hobby of some people, whereas basketball is what kids and adults everywhere play, watch, and (most importantly) buy various expressions of in t-shirt, shoe, and poster form. If you really wanted to talk about elitism, then you’d have to have some basic numbers. If it’s elite, not that many people do it and you have to have some sort of capital – cash or cultural – that others lack. Sailing is maybe elite. So is reading highly theoretical essays on art. Most elitism is pretty harmless, truth be told.
But, basketball courts are elitist?
Basketball is such an interesting cultural site. Really. It is one of those ever-more-numerous places where black and white people meet up in conversation or play, where good and bad representations are battled over (the “thug” image of this or that NBA player, the saturation of national consciousness with multi-racial teams and fans). So it is obviously also a fraught site, a place where anxieties get played out. See the battle over how to represent the NBA. I’d go so far as to say that basketball is where a huge percentage of our racial anxiety as a nation is discussed, in however sublimated a form it might take.
Which gets me back to Rove. Like Satan (just sayin’), he’s clever. Building a court is “elitist.” That was such a strange thing to say, except when you imagine how difficult it is to call out racial stuff when you’re Rove (folks are on to you, dude) and the candidate is a pretty boring guy with (as luck would have it) a funny name. Elitism, I predict, will be our code for black in this election. Elite = not familiar, even when something like playing basketball is just so familiar.
Is “Barack Obama” an elite name?
I thought that remark to Hannity was strange and made no sense. It does, of course, because, like Satan (just sayin’), Rove is clever. This musing on the remark is kind of a prediction, but also a reminder to myself that racism in this election is going to take some strange and unexpected turns. Like basketball becoming the new elitism!
It’s also a question I ask myself: is such a desperately abstract a sign of how regular old racism is withering away – which requires a more nuanced idea of racism and anti-racist action – or is it just a sign of how nothing has changed except the code? I don’t know. A lot to be said in each case. I’ll leave it at that.