Archive for September 9th, 2009

How do you watch football on TV?

American Football, of course. The college season has already begun, and the NFL is following close behind. I feel unprepared. My fandom and viewing skills have atrophied while in grad school. This is due to a variety of factors, namely that I felt like I didn’t have enough time to watch football, and I couldn’t watch my team, The Redskins, while living in Iowa.

But things are different now. For one, I’m not in grad school anymore; I’m unemployed. I have all the time in the world. Plus, I have decided, after another off-season full of Dan Snyder’s shenanigans, that I am renouncing Redskins fandom until he stops being the owner.*

*This could be a long time, although we’re inching closer to a crazed assassin scenario.

So anyway, I’ll be watching football again, as a liberated fan, and I need some tips. Not tips on who’s the Team to Watch, but tips on watching teams. What do you do with your eyes and brain as you watch a football game? Do you take it in as gestalt? Do you prioritize watching certain players, certain positions? Or is it simply a matter of keeping your eye on the ball? It just seems like there’s so much information in each play, too much to really process. Basketball seems barely manageable, but football has more than twice as many players to follow!

1. On broadcasts, you can’t really see downfield. Doesn’t this drive you crazy? How do you deal with the missing information? I think I tend to undervalue the contributions of receivers/cornerbacks because I only see bits and pieces of their struggle.

2. How do statisticians keep track of football? I understand what items they record and why, but how to they maximize their efficiency? How do they manage their focus?

3. I feel like I don’t have a very good understanding of O-Line and D-Line, even though they’re right in front of me on the screen. I blame this, again, on paying too much attention to the guy with the ball. At what point do you switch focus from one element of the game to another?

4. What do the O- and D-Line players do after the play goes deep downfield? Are they basically standing around? Are they following, huffing and puffing, in case there’s a fumble recovered by the defense?

5. What kinds of trends do you look for in the early parts of a game? When I watch college basketball, I like to keep track of points in the paint, because they seem like a more reliable indicator of future success.

Mad Men 3.4, “The Arrangements”

In this episode: Peggy attempts a move to Manhattan; Pete Campbell secures a wealthy, stupid client, to Lane’s delight and Don’s chagrin; Gene kicks the bucket, sparking some prime rebellion by Sally.

This week asks, what do children owe their parents? By extension, the show suggests that we may owe some sort of debt to the past, to tradition, that we’re ignoring. Gene, uncharacteristically lucid, lays out arrangements for his will with Betty, just before his death at an A&P. Meanwhile, Sterling Cooper lands a young, wealthy client, who, as it turns out, is burning through his father’s hard-earned cash. This causes Don to reflect a bit on what he might owe his own parents. Even Peggy, in her wish to live in Manhattan,¬†seems to be dodging some sort of obligation to her mother, supplying a new television as “hush money,” only to see it backfire.

Gene takes up the bulk of this week. I’ve always thought of Gene as more of a plot device than a fully fleshed-out character; he makes Don and Betty feel out-of-sorts, supplies a few entendres for the viewer, and doesn’t really rise to matter on his own. I don’t think he transcends that use here–Gene is an Exploding Plot Element. Don’t get me wrong. In many cases, I love Exploding Plot Elements (my favorite show, The Wire, was able to use them to enhance realism, not detract from it). And just as I’ve enjoyed the way Don bristled at Gene, I’ll probably enjoy the ripples Gene’s death will cause. But his death here, in the same episode as he lays out his will, feels tawdry.

Sally’s reaction to all of this is the most interesting, even though it’s expected. She’s devastated, but she rebukes her family for falling into defense mechanisms, like laughter, which for many of us define adulthood. There’s a meta-critique being proferred: we might find it easy to laugh at the kinds of things that the characters in Mad Men take for granted–smoking, drinking, sexism, racism–but that’s not the emotionally honest reaction.

Mad Men makes us nostalgic about terrible things. It can be easier to laugh than to tackle that ambivalent feeling head-on.

Peggy’s business is better. Her plotline threatens to fall into cliche at every turn, but it’s saved by sudden twists. Joan helps Peggy advertise for a roommate, and it works–but it’s the kind of roommate that Peggy will despise. Peggy has to break the news to her mother that she’s moving, and is surprised by the strength of the reaction, if not the tenor.

The Sterling-Cooper business with Horace Jr., the Jai Alai proponent, also feels a bit unnatural, but it yields such wealth! Lane is defined more closely than ever before, and we also get that great shot of the Ant Farm’s destruction. The show indulges in some on-the-nose symbolism again, this time about Bert’s role in the organization, but at least it looks spectacular.


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September 2009