September 19, 2007

Reframing Our Franchise Nicknames

I was recently on one of those long drives you take periodically if you live in California, on a north-south axis appropriate to the overall shape of the state, in an inland valley of the kind that marks the topography of this corrugated land. Rolling through town after town of prefabricated recognition, the roadside towers announcing you are about to pass the same exact set of retail outlets you passed ten miles ago. A college buddy and I hitchhiked this route nearly forty years ago, south from Berkeley into the Salinas Valley, past San Luis Obispo, through Santa Barbara, all the way to the desert/sea confrontation of Southern Cal. Things were different even then, towns had what we called "character," and one burg was somewhat distinguishable from the next. That's all gone, of course. And it made me think, while I was driving, of the ideas of one of the more illuminating thinkers of our time, George Lakoff of my very own Berkeley, a polymath who has combined the disciplines of politics, neuroscience and psychology into the concept of "frames" or "framing," with the powerful insight that humans tend only to see what is included in a narrative frame. It is the way we organize our thinking, consciously or not.

If you are a Baby Boomer, like me, I would surmise that you walk around in modern America with a very distorted view of the country you live in. Your frame was established long ago when America was very different, and you are probably taken by surprise every day by some new and distressing development that sounds so foreign to your concept of this nation. So, chaotic thinker that I am, I began to realize that the names we assigned long ago to our sports teams really originated in a different America, and while for historical purposes, out of a respect for tradition, we stick with these names, they too are misleading. Take an example: the Pittsburgh Steeelers. We don't really have a steel industry anymore. There was a time when Pittsburgh, with its access to coal and iron ore, and its three rivers for transporting them, was an ideal place for steel milling. But like most smokestack industries, that's gone overseas. The name, however, suggests some robust commercial activity that has in fact vanished. This confuses and retards, in its own small way, our coming to terms with ourselves. Not fatally, but every little bit hurts. I suggest a new name: the Pittsburgh Mortgage Brokers.

Similar thinking can lead to a rebranding of all the New York teams, the Yankees, the Mets, the Knicks, the Jets. How about -- the New York Hedge Fund Managers? Moving down to Houston, home of Enron, and Vinson & Elkins (which gave us, in a way, Alberto Gonzales) and Arthur Andersen's most notorious field office -- I suggest the Houston Assholes. Given our militaristic tendencies (also a leading industry, and we need to cherish those), we could change the Golden State Warriors to the Golden State Preemptive Warriors. A warning to those who think the oil under their soil belongs to them and not to us. San Diego Padres -- cute, historical, but not au courant. Let's go with the San Diego Illegal Immigrants. Given the national mania for caffeine, and Seattle's somewhat dubious claim to preeminence, I would suggest the Seattle Baristas. The Washington Nationals - almost, but better, in honor both of warrantless surveillance and Larry Craig's restless foot syndrome, is Washington Tappers. Green Bay Packers - do we actually pack anything anymore? Instead, more descriptive would be Green Bay Call Center Operators Are Standing By. In honor of the shuttered industries of Motown, I would rename all the teams, the Tigers, Pistons and Lions, the Detroit Layoffs. Not neglecting the perfervid, crazy South, and all it's done to completely fuck up America, how about the Atlanta Evangelical Whacko RightWing NutJobs? A more colorful boxscore than "Braves" or "Hawks." Dallas & Fort Worth, which used to have some Southwestern charm, but have mutated to a blobby metroplex with all the bail-outs from the northern rust belt: I would go with the Texas Displaced Northern White Trash.

It's easy once you get started. Lighthearted, yet also deeply informative once you're into it. Where do I live, really? What in hell, really, is going on here?

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