Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Turning Out the "Friday Night Lights"

In principle, Friday Night Lights was a show about high school football in Texas. Communities in the Lone Star State see Friday night football as a social bonding ritual, the secular version of Sunday morning church services.

Football matters because it builds character. Like all sports, football teaches young people the values of hard work and discipline, or teamwork and sportsmanship, of honor and pride.

As Hanna Rosin remarked in Slate, Friday Night Lights has been called a typical red stage show. In fact, it could have been the ultimate red state show.

Anyone who was watching closely, should have known better. In the first game on the first show of the first season the star quarterback was paralyzed. That should have told you that the show’s subplot was male vulnerability, or the wish to cause same.

Thus, Rosin is correct to say that the show’s  producers turned it into a “blue state fantasy” of life in the red states. Rosin is a nicer person than I, so I would add that the producers used the backdrop of Texas high school football to peddle their own version of feminist propaganda.

For that we are all the poorer.

Last Friday the show aired its last episode, and while it was, as always, very good television, it also submerged the football story in a romantic comedy.

Coach Eric Taylor has led his ragtag bunch of East Dillon Lions to the state championship. In the real world this would have been the event of the decade, an occasion for an outpouring of civic pride.

In Friday Night Lights this extraordinary moment is drowned out by a series of romantic comedies. Couples couple up; couples get engaged; couples seem to reconstitute their marriages.

The show ends with all of the happy couples stepping forth into a bright new future. It’s the stuff of romantic comedy.

I was reminded of an idea I once heard in a college course on Shakespeare. The professor observed that Shakespeare’s great comedies always end with a group of newly engaged couples looking forward to their new lives after they get married.

Of course, he added, Shakespeare’s great tragedies almost always begin with a marriage.

It’s something to keep in mind.

Friday Night Lights does not just transform a show about football into a romantic comedy; it is also diminishes men in favor of women.

Again, in Shakespeare’s great comedies, the central character is usually a strong woman, a strong woman who is in charge.

The show is markedly opposed to traditional male pursuits. The subplot of the last episode is: diminishing the American man.

For example, the coach’s 18 year-old-daughter, Julie,  becomes engaged to a former high school football player who has become an aspiring artist. Apparently his new values do not include asking a woman’s father for her hand in marriage.

So when Matt Saracen asks Julie Taylor to marry him, he is taken aback when she declares that she assumes that he has asked her father. He replies that he has not done so, does not want to do so, and considers the exercise empty.

When Matt does screw up his courage to ask Coach Taylor’s blessing, the Coach responds that he is strongly opposed to the idea. The respectful Matt then says that it does not matter what Coach thinks; asking him was just a formality.

Also worth noting is that Matt tries to explain that he will always be able to take care of Julie because he is now working in an art gallery and has received a promotion or two.

Of course, Coach Taylor will eventually succumb to pressure and change his mind. He is living in a world where a man’s word counts merely as a symptom.

And let’s not forget Tim Riggins, the former star fullback, a tough, hard drinking and sexually liberated man, a man who is tough enough to do hard time. In the last episode, Riggins becomes a babysitter, taking care of his baby nephew while watching football practice..

Or else, we can look at the last episode from the perspective of geography. In the last decade large numbers of Americans have migrated from the North to the South, especially to Texas. Northern states have been losing Congressional seats while Texas and other Southern states have been gaining them.

In Friday Night Lights, however, Coach Taylor and his wife Tami, migrate from Texas to Philadelphia. Are they reversing the trend, or are they showing the bias of the producers?

In truth, the producers care so little about the football that they obscure the outcome of the state championship. (I suspect that East Dillon won.) They cut from the last and decisive second of the game to Coach Taylor’s new job in Philadelphia, where he is hard at work with his new high school football team.

You see, the show’s feminist message involves whether or not Tami Taylor should take a job as dean of admissions at a suburban Philadelphia college called Braemore, thereby forcing her husband and family to leave Texas.

No one is going to miss the fact that the name echoes that of the great woman’s college: Bryn Maw. Of course, Bryn Mawr is not located in the city of Philadelphia; it is in the very wealthy suburban area called the Philadelphia Main Line.

At first, Coach Taylor is strongly opposed to the move. Eventually, he caves under the pressure, allowing the show to hand out a very bad piece of advice.

Just before he succumbed to feminist fantasy, Coach Taylor had been offered a job at head coach of next year’s super team. Given that the school district had decided that it could only afford to support one team for its two high schools, the new team will comprise the best players from the Dillon Panthers and the East Dillon Lions.

He turns it down, because, after all, he can get a coaching job anywhere, and besides, as the show’s mantra tells us, it’s his wife’s “turn.”

Tami Taylor's self-assertion is apparently the ultimate feminist fantasy. Reviewers have been thrilled by the move. It shows us what feminists really, really want. Apparently, they want to see the alpha male, the man who is at the top of his game, give it all up so that his wife can become a college diversity officer.

After all, don’t American colleges suffer from a lack of diversity officers? And don’t they go to Texas high schools to find their new diversity officers?

And, yes, I know that a dean of admissions is not a diversity officer, but its a difference without a distinction.

Tami Taylor was hired to be dean of admissions because of her great commitment to multicultural diversity. She will now work her hardest to admit more underqualified students, and that that will mean that the college will have to hire more diversity officers.

Since today’s American universities seem less to be in the business of educating students and more in the business of engineering a specific kind of community organization, they have become choked with an excess of diversity staff, to the detriment of education.

The glut of university administrators is one the the great problems in the American system of higher education.

Let’s turn back to reality.  In small town Texas, the high school football coach is the alpha male. Coach Taylor is a god among the citizens of Dillon. Having worked a bunch of lackluster football players to the state championship, he is at the top of his game.  

As I mentioned, now he has been offered the opportunity to coach the Dillon superteam next year. Inexplicably, he turns down the offer.

To be blunt about it, no alpha male turns down that kind of opportunity. And no man worth his alpha maleness turns it down to allow his wife to act out her politically correct fantasies.

The show tells us, however, that he has not lost very much. In its mind,  coaching one high school football team is the same as coaching any other high school football team. That is one thing that makes the show a “blue state fantasy.”

It also makes the show into science fiction. .

In small town Texas high school football is the only game in town. In suburban, or even urban, Philadelphia, it is of little or no consequence.

Coach Taylor is moving from a situation where he held a position of high prestige and status to one where he will, in relation to his new community, hold a position of minimal prestige and status. He will be moving from a community where everyone looks up to him to a community where no one knows who he is.

The role of high school football coach on the Philadelphia Main Line or in central Philadelphia represents a major step down, a significant loss of respect, status, and prestige, a social crash. You don't have to know to much to know that Coach Taylor will not fit in on the Main Line or in the faculty spouse's club.

We have seen these stories before and we know that they turn out badly. An Eric Taylor, or any man in his position, will suffer emotionally and psychologically from his new circumstances, and he will either take it out on himself, take it out on his wife, or walk away from his marriage. The only unanswered question is how long it will take Coach Taylor to go back to Texas.

The gauzy feminist dream that ends the show, the dream of Eric and Tami Taylor walking happily into their new life, is a lie.

It represents the blue state fantasy of the ultimate defeat of the American male. It shows us the kinds of pressure that American alpha males are subjected to. It is not a hopeful vision for America’s future.

I would quibble a bit with the idea that the show is a fantasy. It seems more to be a game plan than a fantasy. Liberal elements in America have already succeeded in foisting their ruinous policies on large segments of America. They are enraged that they have not succeeded in Texas. Thus, Texas, with its thriving economy and its masculine ethos, remains an offense against everything that American feminists hold to be sacred.

Feminists crave the opportunity to bring their brand of social dysfunction to Texas. As they did in many families on the coasts, they want to  undermine patriarchy one family at a time, not by attacking alpha males, but by tricking them into abandoning their power, their prestige, and their status in order to live out what is promised to be a romantic comedy.

If you were wondering why the nation is in trouble, why there is too much drama and not enough consequential action, why there are is too much narcissism and not enough character... well, now you have a better idea of how the culture has contributed to our current predicament.


The Ghost said...

I think I watched 5 minutes of Lights years ago and something told me to avoid it ... I guess my spider sense must have caught a wiff of the propaganda ...

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Mine did too, but somehow I kept watching it... I guess that someone had to do it... to see what is going on on the other side.

David Foster said...

Huh. I thought it was very good. Definite soap-opera aspects, of course, but I'm pretty sure that Red State people watch soap operas, too.

I reviewed this and several other series here.

Dennis said...

Never watched it and after reading I am glad I didn't waste the time There was a time when my daughters were growing up and they liked to watch soap operas and I would sit down an watch them with them. The plots seem to center around, Jane sleeping with John, John sleeping with Diana, Diana sleeping with every other male on the show, et al. And everyone was mad because everyone was sleeping around. Nobody seemed to have to work for a living.
The hospital shows were even worse. There was so much sleeping around one had to wonder how they found time to see to the patients needs much less practice medicine. I can see why a significant number of people thought Doctors and Hospitals deserved to be sued for malpractice.
"Babylon 5" was my kind of soap opera?

Joe said...

Great analysis. Let me add my voice to those who say I picked up this vibe from early on.

So no, I didn't watch much of the show. Oddly, I've been obsessed with another show that moved in the opposite direction, NBC's Chuck. I'll not bore you with details, but it starts with an unmotivated "nerd" who's working in a dead end, minimum wage job who gets figuratively struck by lightning. She's a "hot superspy" who can do it all.

Turns out he's got strength (most notably, strength of character) and she has been allowing herself to be used as if she has no soul, because she's forgotten she has one.

They each learn to be better from each other (and yes, the nerd gets the girl, it's very touching, really).

A show that gently promotes good character, ethics, loyalty, friendship and family (and even, indirectly, martial virtues) is as red-state as you can get. Yet it does that with grace, humor and subtlety.

And I'll stop before this becomes too much of an ad.

Michelle said...

I disagree with a decent amount of what you said, but this part actually struck a chord with me:

The role of high school football coach on the Philadelphia Main Line or in central Philadelphia represents a major step down, a significant loss of respect, status, and prestige, a social crash. You don't have to know to much to know that Coach Taylor will not fit in on the Main Line or in the faculty spouse's club.

I never thought of it that way, but you're absolutely right. And I agree that the romantic comedy-esque ending makes you think nothing of the ramifications of it, you're just glad they're seemingly happy at the end.