Why Don’t I Like Grantland?

Every now and then I see a link. Every now and then there’s a redirect. And the title is exactly what I want to read, by an author that I’m more than willing to give my time to. Here’s a essay about current sports trends using movie tropes as a discussion device. Here’s a review of David Bowie by Chuck Klosterman, or even better -- a conversation about Bowie's legacy that's framed in the emotions that happened on the night when people thought he was dead.

Grantland.com is kinda like the sports version of McSweeney's Internet Tendency -- they're equally as eager to discuss Metallica and the finer plot points of Point Break as they are to break down zone defenses and the moronic way that pro athletes misuse twitter.

So why do I prefer SBNation and Uproxx?

Is it the ponderous writing? The goddamn footnotes in a blog post style? The rambling way of “would you get to the goddamn point already” discussions that never seem to go anywhere? How could I hate on that – that’s half of what I do all the time?

And yet more often than not, whenever I dig into something on ESPN’s microbrew of a sports blog, I find myself checking out halfway through.

I remember first hearing about Bill Simmons -- the ESPN “sports guy” writer who basically cooked the thing up as a frequent name-check and guest on Adam Carolla’s radio show and later podcast. There was something refreshing about the way that Bill was a superfan but didn’t seem to be an over-hyped asshole about it, but now that I start to really think about it what I really enjoyed in that setting was the way that Carolla and Simmons sorta balanced each other out. Carolla might be a sports superfan, but his normal M/O is discussing pop culture – so in a way having someone like Bill Simmons around gave him an excuse to talk football without making his show too lopsided. While in equal measure it seems like Simmons (at the time, pre-Grantland) loved to talk crappy movies and terrible trends, which Carolla enabled him to do.

But the fact that it was two people talking to each other gave it that limit. That to and fro that kept it from getting too awful. 

Plus there were those terrible commercials that they aired on ESPN to help launch the site, which made it feel like some uber-secret club that only certain kinds of eggheads were allowed into:

Yeah, maybe open with a joke next time.  Oh, that was one?

I like my sports. I have that genetic code in my guy DNA. I will watch hours of football if given the chance. March Madness is coming up, and thus I will transform into a pseudo-college basketball genius within a week or so (only to let it all drop about a month or so later when it’s Stanley Cup time). But I don’t live it anymore.

I used to watch a loooot of ESPN. Sportscenter had a vibe once upon a time that I enjoyed. It got too full of its own crap after a while and became a testosterone variety show, and I kinda left it behind. Not so much that my love for sports changed, but that Sportscenter wasn’t really sports anymore. It was some sort of bad-catchphrase theater production with athletics as the backdrop (something I’ve written about many times before).

I do still listen to sports radio to and from work, which is an easy way to make sure I still know what’s happening in that world (which is a funny thing to say, because twitter) – but what I find myself listening more for than anything is the way the yokels who call in act. Local sports fans are still hilarious to me, because you can’t tell them anything.

But my connection to sports as a whole is something I’ve noticed waning.

It’s kinda like a discussion we were having on OHN the other day about celebrity. About this idea of a “Universal Tax” that famous people seem to be blind to, wherein they bemoan the endless presence of paparazzi and their own inability to easily “live their own lives” without prying eyes when they were the ones in the first place who made the life choices to have publicists, agents, and attend press junkets with red carpets.

Do we focus too heavily on celebrity? Well of course we do – the zeitgeist of our times is the overworship of anything that more than three people know about at the same time. But in an era of social networking and internet over-saturation  the one thing I think people discount is that in order to get that video game on the screen on your phone or your laptop or your desktop computer in front of you all day to work is a token.

Celebrities, sports, fashion, pictures of cats – these have become cultural currency.

We trade in the stock of the things we know about like we used to discuss the weather. Whether it’s going to rain or not is so 1998. Now we need a topic with some real meat, so here’s a dog that snores like Daffy Duck.

Put the quarter in, hear the beep, press 2 player – discuss.

Maybe that’s part of the disconnect for me with sites like Grantland. Because if there’s one thing the writers on that site don’t do – it’s wink at their audience. And I bet someone out there going to take issue with that, because it seems like the whole idea of the site is to do articles that feel like total inside baseball.

Discussing Hollywood trends on a sports commentary website is an utter niche, how can that not be winking at the audience?

But to me that’s sort of the whole thing – a blog post fettered with footnotes that you feel compelled to scroll around to read, because once you look at it the footnote is almost as long as the article isn’t a wink at me the reader, it’s a wink at the writer himself. It’s the whole David Foster Wallace Infinite Jest thing -- assuming I can’t get the subtext myself, or that I’m not intrigued enough by the discussion to go look it up and act like I knew it all along.

Or to put it another way, in 1980 Sting wrote a song called “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” that included the line “Just like the old man in that book by Nabokov.” – And I know I wasn’t the only one who eventually used that as springboard to find out what he was talking about.

I first read Lolita because of Sting.

And there weren’t footnotes in the liner notes of Zenyattà Mondatta telling me what it was. There was me, a kid with earphones getting his intellectual curiosity sparked.

But now that I’m older.. or well, old – with a completely different sense of “I already know everything I want to know” than when I was a teenager, it confuses me sometimes that a sports and music and movies based website that’s basically written by a bunch of other guys basically like me feels like such a collection of pretentious windbags that I can hardly stand it?

Is my money no good in this arcade anymore?

Recently I wrote a bit about my lack of guy friends, and how I had trouble making new male buddies. About how I’d reached a point in my life where connecting with dudes was in a lot of ways an exhausting exercise because of all the matching up you had to do. If you wanted to make friends with a guy who was deep into sports and you’re not – that becomes a hurdle, some sort of knock against your sense of authenticity as a “guy” – when all you really are is just a “different kind of guy.”

It’s like this idea of cultural currency I was talking about. It’s like you meet someone who’s so into something that all his money has pictures of Petyon Manning on it, and when you try to ante up on the table and all your money has pictures of famous guitar players on it you can’t figure out the exchange rate.

And in the end, I think that’s sort of my issue with Grantland.

There’s something about the discussions there that by and large doesn’t seem to desire the influx for new and different money. It’s their bank of ideas and they don’t seem to want to open the door to anything else. As much as I enjoy Chuck Klostermans voice as a writer, what I’m always struck by when I read him is how he never seems to change his mind on anything. How much the premise of what he writes is “this is what I think, and here’s an article where I prove that it’s the only way to think about something.”

I suppose there’s a value to that in writing, but whatever happened to an evolving viewpoint? What’s the point of commenting on an article or opening a discussion with someone who isn’t even open to the concept of new interpretation? It’s like talking to a republican – there’s literally no opening anymore for the idea of arguing a topic. It’s all talking points and absolutes, and if you don’t see the logic in that then you clearly side with the terrorists.

I like discussion. I like reading stuff on the web where the comments are as much fun (and many times just as enlightening) as the article.

And I kinda hate your footnotes, nerds.
Stop it already.

[Now Playing:  David Bowie - "Boss of Me" ]


Matthew said…
It's like when you go on reddit and 90% of the comments are sarcastic jokes that don't actually move the conversation along the way it should go. You get sick of it after the tenth guy trying to prove how funny he is rather than contributing to the post. And I find my interest in sports waning too as I get older. My interests and hobbies have changed so only do cursory info hits like watching NFL pregame and halftime highlights rather than watch games.
Hex said…
Matthew -- Almost like you're saying that Grantland is so motivated to show itself as smart or "in-the-know" that you can't help but feel like an audience in a show?

I think that's a big part of it, like there's a posturing there that I can't help but see, but perhaps even more that I feel is unnecessary given the people involved and the original aim of the place, you know?
Darth Hulk said…
I like this piece; good writing! The only thing I wanted as a reader was an early, concise, explanation of what Grantland is. Maybe everybody knows, and I'm just out of the loop. But chances are that some other readers don't either. I could figure out what it was by you follow-up associations about what it is. Maybe I'm a lazy reader. But, my thoughts are: when you go to the expense of giving specific examples and commentary about the subject, you should take the 1 or 2 sentences to explain to the reader your perspective on what exactly this service is. Like I said, other than that, I loved reading the piece! It gave me new insights into how I read my own news services / commentary and what I really want out of them. Even with a salacious headline on HuffPo (where the articles are mostly brief, with little analysis - but there are some good, more insightful ones on there occasionally) ... I'll read half way down sometimes and tune out. They've extrapolated too far beyond what I came looking for. (I usually read the environmental and social justice articles.) (Of course, I still get sucked into those horrible slideshows of dresses and upset couples...)
Hex said…
Darth -- Sorry for the confusion. Grantland is sort of like an online magazine that offers all sorts of articles and essays loosely tied to sports and movies. It's kind of an ESPN thing, but it's also something more like what Salon or Gawker does.

That's the part of it that appeals to me, especially given the subject matter -- but there's something in the delivery that turns me off. And what I'm trying to work through in this is more like, what am I missing? Shouldn't I love all this?

But it's a frustrating read sometimes, and I find myself not finishing articles, just getting burned out halfway through. Not really sure why.
Matthew said…
Actually I think it is more of a dick measuring contest. Boys growing up do the 'who knows more' or 'who's more down' contest in trivia about music, sports, movies, comic books, etc. Like going to s concert and seeing which guy has the most obscure band tshirt because in his mind that makes him the coolest guy there. (Usually it's a guy in a Rudimentary Peni tshirt.) Or the comic book store owner on the Simpson's who attempts to be the arbiter of taste for all things when he's only knowledgeable about two subjects. When we reach adulthood we still continue these games, greater in escalation and one-up-manship in regards to obscure references; in essence, knowledge junkies measuring to see who has the biggest dick of trivia. Dennis Miller took five minutes to get to his punch line because he threw 10 pop culture references to let the audience know that he was prince of pop culture trivia, eventhough it was his joke writers and not himself who were the geeks. ESPN's anchors have long been about themselves more than reporting the news, creating catchphrases or player nicknames to their on air personas as brands. It is the same thing we did as kids except now it is on larger scale and in a 24/7 news cycle, and across all digital media and the expectation placed upon themselves now is that you have to hit it out of the park every at bat or blog posting, all in the name of hits, likes and shares spread across all social media platforms. I like to drink wine and know a lot about it. I search out different labels of varietals that I like, hit up different shops, ask others what they like. But can't stand drinking with a wine geek because he's more about flavor profile descriptors and vintages that are more obscure and expensive rather than about the enjoyment of whats going done his throat. Although I must admit to engaging in a knowledge competition with a friend who likes to keep score about which one of us is right and wrong because it matters more to him than it does me. Or does it?
polkatronixx said…
I agree about Sports Center. I remember thinking that Chris Berman was funny. Then I thought he as just a smug asshole who thought he was really clever and had lots of cute catchphrases. And then every other pundit decided to try and become Chris Berman.

Sweet sassy molassy!
Matthew said…
To make my point more succintly and not be as obtuse, maybe as you've gotten older your tastes have changed and what you used to see as part of the entertainment of the message delivery system you now see as a distraction.
Marc Isikoff said…
It's partly because Simmons is a douchebag and partly because the site doesn't let people comment, so it comes off preachy.

I block Grantland from appearing on ESPNs site and now I'm a happier camper.