Tomorrow morning Lincoln in the Bardo, the debut novel from George Saunders, goes on sale. I’m #10 on the list for one of the 17 copies coming to our city-wide library system, but it probably won’t get to my local branch by tomorrow, so there’s a copy on hold for me at a local bookstore. More on this process in a moment …
Though I don’t usually buy books anymore – and when I do, I prefer buying them from independent bookstores or my former employer, Half Price Books – in this case, I want to read it as soon as possible and so the corporate behemoth will take my money. I hope at least some of it ends up in George Saunders’ account.
On three occasions, when I lived in New York, and in D.C. and in L.A., as a member of the press and publishing industry, I had access to advance copies. It was exquisite. To have your hands on a novel before everyone else, before it can be reviewed, critiqued, analyzed and translated, before society gets its grubby fingers all over the way reading a new book feels, that’s a great thing. I miss that.
I wish I could tell the novelists that; how excellent it is to connect with their work unencumbered.
In my reviews, I struggle to avoid giving away plot points or spoilers. My reviews are more about how a book feels, how the words are cast. I am trying to discuss tone and quality of writing without giving away anything because I revere the feeling of getting into a book without knowing where it will take you.
I suppose e-readers get early access nowadays, but I still can’t get comfortable with them. They still come nowhere near the lovely feeling of a book in my hands. So …
PLEASE SEND ME ADVANCE HARD COPIES OF GREAT NOVELS.
A Word On Libraries
I’ve traveled a lot, and not like a tourist. I have moved to places to live there in order to honestly experience them. My plan was to feel what a full set of seasons in a place feels like before judging it. If, after a year, I felt it deserved more of my time, I’d stay longer. By this method I have lived in Austin, New Orleans, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, Taiwan, Japan and India for many years.
The very first thing I do when I get to a new place is get a library card and like most, my greatest experience with a library system was in NYC.
For more than a century and a half writers have gone to New York City drawn by the virtues of the New York Public Library system; its depth and efficiency. With the publishing industry right there, new books make it into the system quickly.
When I was in Brooklyn, if I wanted a brand new book that I read about in The New Yorker or the Times or the New York Review of Books, I could simply ask my librarian to get it and have it sent to my local branch. For fifty cents I had my hands on the latest, hottest shit. I took full advantage of it.
There was nothing like that where I grew up. When I left San Antonio, Texas, at eighteen it was a cultural backwater and a cowtown. There were few libraries and they certainly had no such service.
But fast-forward 32 years and the SAPL system has caught up. In fact the system is all online and I can order books directly to my local branch without ever speaking to a librarian.
Still, lately, if I’m at the grocery store or bank or somewhere and I open my wallet to get my card or I.D., people have noticed my library card. These are actual responses:
Is that a library card?
Do libraries still exist?
Who goes to the library anymore?
Dude, the Internet.
or words to that effect. Often.
I cringe, smile a tight smile and reply: it’s still a great resource.
Despite that there were few branches when I was a kid here, and none nearby, my mother took us to the library like clockwork every two weeks in the summer and during the school year as necessary. My sister and I would load ourselves up with books on these trips – usually ten to fifteen each at least – and take them home and plow through them.
One of the most attractive things to me about the mother of my child, the last great love of my life, was that she had this habit herself. She always had a library card, always pushed us to get them as soon as we got anywhere we were to be living. She went regularly herself, and when our son was old enough, maintained this precious habit as a parent as much or more even than I did. I love that about her.
My old college classmate Siva Vaidyanathan writes about the crucial need for libraries and their changing role in society. He is one of the most sensible academics I know and it comforts me to know he at least is attempting to help maintain this cultural resource in a society fast becoming illiterate.
From Mark Twain:
“The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.”
To say we are becoming illiterate is no exaggeration. Videos, audio and memes of the shortest textual length are how most people consume information today.
Do yourself a favor. If you do not have a library card, google your local branch, figure out how to get there and sign up. Trust me, you will be amazed at what you find there for free. You can get movies, music, novels, instructional coursework … all for nothing.
GO TO THE LIBRARY!
Well, just counting down the hours now til I get my hands on Lincoln in the Bardo.
In San Francisco, in the Mission District, between 1993 and ’95, I read Haruki Murakami’s A Wild Sheep Chase, Hard-Boiled Wonderland at the End of the World, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Norwegian Wood. He was then only recently translated into English and popular in San Francisco.
Those early novels were unpredictable, well crafted and defied genre. Murakami’s talking cats, imploding houses, slight shifts in perception of reality – and his cool characters’ natural acceptance of deep, scalar trips through levels of that reality – became a genre of their own.
His characters and prose paralleled in literature the malaise, disaffection, vapidity and bored waiting game of the end of the 20th century and then transcended it with fantastic departures from the world. The ride was like manga without the images or a purely textual Miyazaki Hayao animation epic just for single, young adults.
I first read A Wild Sheep Chase, Murakami’s third novel, written in 1982, in San Francisco when I was 25. It remains my favorite. I remember feeling incredibly small in the face of the universe as his characters were pushed around.
I have a reverent fascination with Japan and a profound respect for her people. In my lifetime Japan was the most Americanized among all Asian countries, so growing up in the US, I was allowed slightly greater exposure to her writers.
Among Japanese novelists, I’d read Kawabata since I was a teenager, and in university covered Mishima and Akutagawa. I hadn’t yet read the post-war existentialists, when I picked up Murakami. Banana Yamamoto’s Kitchen was the hot new wave hitting California from the land of the rising sun.
Murakami was immediately different: pop synthesis of West and East through a contemporary urban Japanese socio-cultural lens.
Haruki Murakami began writing novels at the age of 29, in 1978, and has told Bomb Magazine, “Before that, I didn’t write anything. I was just one of those ordinary people. I was running a jazz club, and I didn’t create anything at all.”
Wiki states he had a sudden epiphany during a baseball game:
In 1978, Murakami was in Jingu Stadium watching a game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp when Dave Hilton, an American, came to bat.
… in the instant that Hilton hit a double, Murakami suddenly realized that he could write a novel. He went home and began writing that night. Murakami worked on Hear the Wind Sing for several months in very brief stretches after working days at the bar. He completed the novel and sent it to the only literary contest that would accept a work of that length, winning first prize.
Now I’m 45 and Murakami’s 65, so we both remember 1984, the year in which his newest novel, 1Q84, is partially set. We have also both lived through an era that has seen the realization of some of the socio-cultural horrors described in George Orwell’s prophetic novel, 1984, which 1Q84 uses as a sort of launching point.
My loudest use of Orwell’s work was on the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks, in 2002, as a performance element of the art installation US=THEM, in Los Angeles, I read Orwell’s 1984 aloud in its entirety in a book store gallery, beginning at 5:35am (the time the first plane struck WTC2) and ending just as the sun set on the corner of Sunset and Alvarado. I printed slap tags that read 2002=1984 and stuck them everyplace.
I was excited to hear Murakami was using Orwell as a point of reference, and assumed the work would have socio-political overtones. I hoped 1Q84 would be more openly political and less personally intimate than the love stories he’d been writing. I consider Orwell to have been ahead of his time, so I was biased by the title’s obvious reference.
The particularly Asian coolness and practicality of Murakami’s characters in every day life is inspiring. But from the first, I felt his work was limited by the use of first-person narrative, usually with a narrator who seemed very much like himself: a middle-aged Japanese man living in Tokyo and underwhelmed by normal existence.
Murakami’s male narrators, all roughly his age, made the work light-weight. His contemporaries in late-20th century fiction writing in and translated into English: Garcia-Marquez, Eco, Kundera, Bowles, Ondaatje, Atwood, Boyle, Kureishi, DeLillo, Roth, Rushdie, Oates, Bolaño didn’t succumb to this basic approach.
As a writer, I’d come to the conclusion that my fiction suffered from my inability to write effectively in third person. I was biased by instructors and Modernism away from the trend toward first-person narratives written for the Me Generation. Murakami had no such bias, and neither, it turns out, did the publishing industry.
Murakami was young when he began and was thrust into the international limelight very quickly because of the accessibility of his work and his remarkable imagination. He was rewarded for making it easy to read. He was rewarded immense audiences for his references to Western pop, to “classical music” and to the boozy freedom of post-modern urbanity.
Haruki Murakami’s narrators’ exceptional breaks from the normative were what thrilled – these crazy trips into the unreal experienced coolly by his characters.
As a straight, booze-drinking, single, urbanite in my twenties (pre-metrosexuals) Murakami’s meals, drinks and one-night stands were a blast, in some cases a relief from the moralizing of political correctness.
I have sometimes felt targeted by novelists. Some just succeed in getting it. I wouldn’t discover Pepe Carvalho until a decade later, but Spanish readers will appreciate the comparison to Montalban. We used to joke about a drinking game in which you take a drink every time a Murakami character does. It gets harder to finish the book.
I only begrudgingly got into Murakami’s use of Western cultural tropes as described within an East Asian urban society, which Murakami was “first-to” in terms of crossover, and which he uses abundantly like a signature.
As an Indian living in the U.S. and Asia, who studied Ronald Takaki then, this was unappealing, I hated what post-post-modernism was becoming. But by the late ’90’s crosshatching Asia and the West had flooded the field. Murakami and Jim Jarmusch and Quentin Tarantino and Miyazaki Hayao made it cool. Sensible. At last, Asians outside London and New York were exhibiting what Hanif Kureishi knew, was called insouciant for writing.
It was inevitable at the dawn of the Internet and the globalizing 21st century. Haruki Murakami, the runner, from the longest US-occupied part of Asia, Japan; the novice writing in Japanese, first-person about being single, urban and sexually liberated was the first high-reaching Asian to just go ahead and run with it. Straight into the 21st Century.
I’m generalizing, but proposing Murakami was the best-seller who embodied the literary trend toward first-person narrative form and made it cool for Asian writing to love the West. Rushdie’s Ground Beneath Her Feet, must’ve been influenced in some small part by what Murakami was carving out.
Initially turned off by the brazen professing involved in it, I began to embrace Murakami’s careful choices of European orchestral music and western movies, TV shows and pop songs appropriated to both metaphorize, translate and drive narrative on multiple tiers. But creatively it always struck me as an easy way to force structure.
I was least impressed by Norwegian Wood. It struck me as a soap opera written for a specific audience of romantics. So after finishing it, I passed on a few of Murakami’s books and embarked on other, pretty heavy, post-war Japanese novels: Dazai Osamu, The Setting Sun and No Longer Human; Kobo Abe, The Woman in the Dunes; and Saiichi Maruya’s contemporary classic, A Mature Woman.
I returned to Murakami in 2005 with the publication of Kafka on the Shore, which was my summer read while living on a Japanese shore, in Kamakura.
Again impressed by the proficiency with language, I liked the poetics and the magical, even spiritual, feel, but I remained disappointed by what struck me as basically a first-person, relationship story. Murakami was still pushing western tropes through to the title page and writing less political, getting more pop.
That’s my experience with Murakami’s work. I am not qualified to review 1Q84 as anything other than a reader of novels for 30 years. I do not pretend to understand him as a man, nor have I read much about him or his method, barring what’s been published in the New Yorker here and there.
In some small part this will also be a discussion of the state of the publishing industry in 2012 which has carefully produced ‘Murakami, the technically proficient, edgy yet non-threatening Asian romantic fantasist’ into an internationally best-selling novelist.
Though I’ve lived in Japan, I cannot read Japanese and so have experienced all the Japanese novelists only in translation to English.
1Q84 – translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel – was published by Knopf as a massive, 944-page, case-bound Borzoi, with a vellum slip cover designed by Chip Kidd that lightly masks close-ups of two Japanese faces, a female on the front and a male on the back, on October 25th of last year (2011) and sold for $30.
I found one in great condition for $18 earlier this summer at one of the used book stores I help stay in existence. I finished it last week.
The paperback and e-versions have been available for some time now and I began to wonder whether this form of publication is ever really being read, cover-to-cover. The thing is a doorstop, a bookcase brace, a coffee table weight, but reading it’s awkward, heavy and very hard to conceal.
Lugging this anvil around the past few weeks, I was stopped and asked about it many times in the street. One guy stopped pedaling his bike, going up a hill to stop me and ask, “Is that the new Murakami?’ Is it good?” Waiters, bartenders and waitresses at all my local coffeeshops, bars and restaurants asked and showed anticipatory excitement about this big, pretty thing.
I was sure the novel was being read … but figured the vast majority of that reading was happening in multiple parts as separate books in paperback, or in a digital format. I’ve never wanted an e-reader more than in these past few weeks lugging around 1Q84, with its slippery vellum cover.
Which brings us to the design by Chip Kidd and to why it was sitting pretty, marked down 30% at the used bookstore within eight months of publication.
“But Knopf, which published the title late last month, has not only turned the book into a bestseller, it’s also managed to reverse another trend: it has made the book more popular in print than in digital.
“According to numbers released by the publisher, the novel, which was at #2 on the Times bestseller list on November 13, has sold 75,000 copies in hardcover, and 25,000 in digital. Those impressive print sales are thanks, in large part, to an extravagant package that Knopf put together that has made the book the kind of object–beautiful and collectible–that readers want. And, more than likely, non-readers also want.”
The design is horrible.
The lettering of the title is put on two lines so that the 1Q is above the 84, rather than written like a year: 1Q84. The result is that everyone who knows nothing about the book thinks its title is I.Q. 84 – which is hilarious and sad.
The vellum cover and the bold, sans-serif font make it worse. It’s so done-already. The design completely fails to help make Murakami’s connection between 1984 and 1Q84. (oddly, so does Murakami within, so perhaps it’s a case of too-good design)
The faces on the cover aren’t the author but face-models, and the vellum Kidd asked for that’s received so much praise, serves to mask their Japanese-ness, while retaining the sexy – fashion! haute couture!
The endsheets and chapter title pages continue the idiocy of separating the numbers of the title out, making it more disassociated than ever from Orwell. These pages are all black and white photographic backdrops of twilight and of the moon, which plays a significant role in the book, but though highly-stylized, they’re cheaply produced and the graphic elements aren’t even like the descriptions by the author within, which are specific about the appearance of the moon. Design sensibility invades literature again.
ugh. It’s whorish and stupid and has received nothing but praise and exaltation for Knopf and Chip Kidd for 8 months.
“the kind of object–beautiful and collectible–that readers want. And, more than likely, non-readers also want.”
In the late-’90’s when I was working as a low-wage proofreader, fact-checker, jacket-designer and researcher in the New York publishing industry while trying to get published myself, at nights and on the weekends I also worked to help found a non-profit artists book organization in Brooklyn.
It was bizarre: by day, I’d be using new digital tools to make mass-produced work flashier, more-designed, more image-oriented, less text-heavy, while at night and on the weekends I helped produce fine art books with traditional materials in limited edition.
The turn of the millennium in New York City brought the consolidation of publishing and birthed the end of the book as we know it. What happened with 1Q84 last year was that it was sold as a sculptural object to great success. They made it into something you could market at Xmas whether anyone read it or not.
But appreciating the work within is made more difficult by the immense distraction of these new marketing methods, which crowd the work with the gushing sycophancy of non-readers buying sculpture.
END PART ONE
PART TWO: 1Q84, Murakami Tries Third Person
1Q84 is Murakami’s first novel in third person. It succeeds in reaching for high ground, but weaknesses are revealed by the more difficult form. Some of these may be solely a result of translation issues, but whatever made it happen, at points it’s unbearable.
1Q84 is overwritten. It could easily be two-thirds the length. There may be perhaps no single person or department to blame for this.
It could be issues of translation. Having two different translators may have contributed to the repetition of ideas as each attempted to infuse their read. Throughout the work slipshod word choices are not just used but repeated awkwardly.
I hated the choice of the word “jacket” rather than “sleeve” for record covers. It isn’t wrong but it just sounds clunky in repetition – and the term is repeated within a paragraph without replacement when “sleeve” or “cover” would work so much better. The translation seemed rushed and simple. I presume this added pages.
It could have been a bad editor at Knopf, unwilling or unable to realize that when you publish three books in the same series from another language into one book sometimes there will be an absurd number of repetitions of basic points because when the work was originally published, these points were repeated to bring in new readers at each stage of publication.
I haven’t read any other reviews of this book, but I gather from the PW clip that this was the NYT’s problem.
It could be the fault of Knopf, itself, which seems to have rushed to shove the book out the door fast for Xmas season of last year, using cheap, flashy design to create a book to be sold as a sculptural object. They didn’t care what was in it as much as what was on it, what it looked and felt like. It could easily have been rushed for sales and cheated of the requisite time and effort required for editing and translation.
These possibilities notwithstanding, the responsibility for quality of the work lies with the author and Murakami’s attempt at third person results in common problems for anyone embarking on the daunting task of writing a proper novel: you must get inside the characters to let them live, but you mustn’t show you are inside the characters for them to live.
One sophomoric method used to achieve this for several decades is italics to represent the thoughts and inner monologues of a character. If it absolutely has to be done, then this is the accepted practice. Oh, I’m getting pedantic!I hope they’ll understand what I mean, that you should be able to write your characters into what you’re trying to convey and not have to rely on italicized font to tell the reader something important, oh, maybe I’m just nitpicking. M.T., you’re such an oppressive rationalist.
But just like the flashback has become nauseatingly common to drive narrative in movies since Pulp Fiction, usage of italicized thoughts has become standard in novels in third-person in this, the era of the first-person narrrative. It’s a failure on the writer’s part, or at least a CYA move. If you have to do it as a writer, you make it count.
Not so in IQ84.
Murakami’s discomfort with form leads to an unending parade of italicized thoughts. No character goes mentally uninvaded. Like the first-person narrative before, Murakami is shaking off rules again in this attempt at third-person narrative. This could be considered bold, I suppose, but not by me.
What was bold was the whole new dimension added when Murakami decided to have these characters thinking in italics about quotes. These sections are actually italicized and bolded. I don’t mean once or twice at climactic moments, but throughout the entire novel; nearly every character.
Murakami has characters read a number of different texts aloud to each other. This is in and of itself bizarre because references to existing texts, like Chekov could have been made “off-the-page” rather than being read aloud between two characters.
The point of using the Chekov could have been made in action, or through literary tactics, leaving the text itself as a support floating in literary space. In some cases these non-fiction texts are literally the full repetition of historical data as bedtime stories, simply so they can be referred to in future chapters – clunky. It’s also demeaning to readers.
In the case of notes read aloud between and within the minds of characters, Murakami doesn’t even let the note exist as the exchange. The note is quoted by a character within his or her own thoughts! Murakami and the translators use bold text within the italicized thoughts to display the character working out the meaning in their own thoughts. It’s either genius beyond me or annoying filler because you can’t convey what you mean.
The repetitions continue, almost as though when ‘occupying’ one character or another, Murakami has forgotten that another character has made a point … and so he repeats that point. At first, I thought this was because the book, like works of Murakami’s in the past, was going to get fantastically multi-layered and these would echo. But that never happens. It’s just repetitive.
1Q84 is also a little predictable, despite it’s imaginative elements. I saw the intersection of the lead characters Tengo and Aomame coming long before it was clear they were intertwined. I wondered if Tengo was authoring Aomame into existence, so I could see clearly through to Murakami himself.
I lay all of this at the feet of the shift to the third-person narrative. It’s hard to do. That is why I think Murakami is at mid-career despite having written so many novels and achieving such success. Murakami strikes me as a hard-working perfectionist who will likely tackle third-person narrative form again rather than shy away from it after a first-rate attempt. I look forward to his progress, and as usual, will be among the millions reading his flights of fancy.
I enjoy Murakami’s precise, technical prose, like describing a meal or a piece of music. I admire what Murakami does well: creating translucent, shimmering waves of realities that both define and filter how his characters perceive of reality.
I enjoy his detailed descriptions of events of the past – like war and post-war conditions, laden with contemporary attitudes about those events. Certain simplicities like descriptions of the natural world, Murakami just nails – his cicadas take me to Japan in summer:
Haruki Murakami continues to display a brilliant imagination and wild ideas. He weaves his plot streams together beautifully. Though some of the unpredictability has gone as a result of our familiarity with his tactics, Murakami has invaded our consciousness with his genre.
Unfortunately 1Q84 as it stands is too long, in parts very repetitious, somewhat clunky, and as a result, boring. I give it a 3 out of 5.
In Conclusion: The NY Publishing Industry’s Horrible Now
As I write these words from my home in California, the Nobel Committee prepares to announce its highly political and socially-influenced choices and the New York publishing industry is preparing to launch any number of new 1Q84s to push forward their bottom lines in this year’s Xmas season – some new sculptural objects whose contents are mostly recycled scraps and cardboard, rather than goose down and gold. Orwellian indeed.
For people living in California and Asia and with concerns about the works from these places, these two events in Scandinavia and on the East Coast of the US have little bearing. They have proven themselves wholly out of touch. While here and in Japan we fight to author a new world.
We must bring ourselves up out of what post-post-modernism and its failed capitalist globalism has wrought.
Read, read, read. Think, think, think. Enough with the gushing sycophancy – the world is headed down a dark road by our ignorance and selfishness.
As readers, we must demand better product; better editors, translators and deciders of what gets put into our hands.
Seek out authors from independent publishers, read blogs, comment.
An Interview with Norman Siegel, Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union Sunday, February 11, 2001. At an “Open House” for an office on 72nd street on the upper west side of Manhattan run by an organization called, Friends of Norman Siegel, where there are documents that read, in part, “Norman Siegel for Public Advocate 2001” and a petition for the same at the door.
NORMAN SIEGEL: … it’s exciting. I’ve never done this before. You read about people running for office. You see films about it … and the balloons, and the people, and here it is. I’m in the middle of it. So often I think, “How did I get here?” But I’m excited.
MTK: But this shouldn’t seem foreign to you insomuch as you deal with politicians all the time.
NS: I deal with politicians all the time but the implication here is now I’m becoming one and that kind of concerns me on one level because I’ve always been critical of politicians myself. The main thing is politicians generally don’t answer questions. They’re disingenuous. They’re delusional at times, and I just have to make sure that I remember who I am; what my roots are, what my principles are, and try to answer the questions even when they are difficult ones. Generally speaking I’ve done that all my life as an advocate and in fact I think I’ve been the private advocate and now I want to be the public advocate.
MTK: But couldn’t you be losing power in a way (given that the position is weak)? If not, do you think of yourself as a progressive candidate, and if so, how do you think you will evolve the office if elected Public Advocate?
NS: Well the first thing .. I don’t think I’m, quote, “losing any power.” I mean, I think that I had these yearnings to take what I did at the Civil Liberties Union in Legal Services for the last 23 years in New York and apply it in a larger setting. Perhaps a less supportive ideological setting and test to see whether or not what I’ve been successful at with the Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services can be applied in a larger setting. What that means is I can now take on issues like education, immigrant rights, health issues, housing issues. The number of issues is going to expand substantially. I mean at the Civil Liberties Union we always had to deal with constitutional rights and, “Is it a test case.” Here, any issue is up for grabs. Which is the transition to the second part. I think Mark [Green, current and first elected public advocate] did a relatively good job. I think I would like to continue what he did but expand it. I’ve never been an “in the box” personality. And I don’t think I’ll be an “in the box” personality here–I’ll stretch it. I’m an activist. I am a progressive. I better be able to continue my activism and my progressive views. I’m assuming that that will happen. If it turns out that that doesn’t happen then I better take stock because that’s part of my assumption. I’m 57 years old now. I’m kind of silently proud of who I am, what I’ve done, the people I’ve represented. I’ve been tested a lot of times, and I’ve generally done OK. And that’s in a private way, when I go home at 11, 12 at night and I gotta look in the mirror, I gotta be OK with me and, generally speaking, I am. So knowing that, I want to enter this other arena which has a lot, a lot, of problems. When I watched what was happening in Florida and the betrayal of democracy in America, watching young people becoming more and more cynical, more and more alienated, it occurred to me that maybe I have to step into this arena and try to inspire and motivate young people. That it’s not all that way. In a lot of speeches I’ve been giving I’ve been telling people, “We need to dare to continue to dream about how it should be rather than how it is.”
MTK: I’m very fearful that this kind of a message is fading in importance. When you are out talking to people do you think there is a renewed feeling for public service there?
NS: Not yet. Not yet. And what I am hoping is that I can succeed in doing it in a nontraditional way–putting together the multiracial coalition of New Yorkers that I’m convinced want to come together across racial lines, but haven’t had the opportunity yet to do that because the failure of leadership to provide the climate, the atmosphere, the opportunity so that people from the black, the brown, the red, the yellow the white community can begin to learn about each other. We all stereotype each other because we don’t know each other. And we continue to do that because no one is prepared to take on this radioactive issue. One of the reasons I run? I want to begin a citywide dialogue on race. I want to begin to talk about it frankly. Racism in New York is not like it was in the deep South when I went there in the sixties. Racism in New York is subtle. It’s sophisticated. But it exists.
MTK: Do you think it’s institutional?
NS: Oh, sure. Oh, yeah. There’s a legacy of racism in many of the…just take the NYPD, who I’ve been battling for years. That’s an institutional problem, it’s not just an individual problem. It’s systemic.
MTK: So don’t you think there’ll be a great deal of resistance to what you’re saying?
NS: Of course, but you see, I think post-Louima, -Diallo, and -Dorismond … and Bush. I’ve been at many, many community meetings … Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Bronx. I think there’s a majority of New Yorkers, across racial and geographical lines, that want to come together on racial lines to develop a common agenda to take on certain issues like at the Police Department, at the Board of Education, Housing … I mean, all of these–Housing, Education, Police–they all have enormous racial overtones. A lot of it stems from stereotyping. So if you begin to talk about it, if you begin to address it and identify people across racial lines who want to talk about it and want to realistically ameliorate it, I think we can do it. We haven’t had our civil rights movement here in New York, we had a southern civil rights movement but we haven’t had one here. So if I become the public advocate, I have an enormous bully pulpit, and as a white guy, I can be talking about race issues. It shouldn’t only be blacks or Latinos talking about race. White folks, it’s our problem too. So I want to use the position as a vehicle, to kind of shake it up. I was kidding when we just cut the ribbon out there that I got the “Shake it Up” party endorsement this afternoon. We want to try to excite young people, yet we also want to reach everybody so that people begin to realize that we don’t have to accept the status quo. Even on the most transient issue, which is race, in my opinion. I think we can make progress. And I think there are so many people in New York who want to come together, but when you’ve got a mayor like Rudy Giuliani, you can’t come together. In fact, he divides people. Here’s a guy who doesn’t even feel comfortable with blacks and Latinos in the room. Well, I’ve had many African-American, Latino, and Asian clients and I have become educated and sensitized for 35 years of being with people of color and white folks. And I like when there’s a mix. If it’s all homogenous, I’m not comfortable. New York is not homogenous. It has diversity and we should build upon that and realize the pluses out of that. Now, is it hard? You bet, it’s hard. It’s hard, first, because people have already given up. But I’m young, I’m energetic. There’s a lot of other people. I’ve got the black and Latino police officers with me. I’ve got the cab drivers who are with me. Those are powerful people.
MTK: I think the census results in April are going to show us remarkable numbers in the electorate.
NS: Sixty percent are people of color, at a minimum, maybe a third. Well, on the police, two thirds of the cops are white. And I’ve got statistics from a couple of years ago: 5.7% of the captains were people of color. And that says it in a nutshell. Three percent of the fire department is African-American. People don’t even know this kind of stuff. It’s gotten to the point in New York where people don’t even know what to do about race. I think the reality is we’re all prejudiced. We have to acknowledge that and then begin to deal with it. What equality is about is that you treat people equally. And we don’t know how to do that in New York. And so I want to try to do that. How are we going to do it? We’re going to try to create independent neighborhood councils where people will come together and they will begin to talk to each other, learn from each other. What their cultures are, what their mores are. We have cab drivers who are Sikhs, and people don’t know why they wear a turban. If you explain to people why they wear a turban, then they will understand what that is. If people understand what people’s customs and religious practices are, they might be more tolerant and respectful of that. But if there’s no one who’s trying to create that dialogue, is it any wonder that we continue to stereotype each other? So one of the most important things I want to do is exactly that. I can’t do that from the ACLU. So I take the risk. I leave something that I love, that I do very well at and take this plunge to kind of see whether or not this can work. What I think–and so far it’s only been five weeks that I’ve been doing this–but people are receptive to it. But I don’t want to be delusional or misleading myself. This is hard. This is a cynical town. This is a tough town. But being the public advocate, in my mind, is being the people’s lawyer. I’ve been doing that all my life. A lot of people—thank God–trust me, and I think if I can take that and parlay it into this new arena, it could be special and it could be exciting and, most important, we might make a difference. If I can do it, then maybe other people will step up to the plate and do it as well. You shouldn’t have to be rich to run for office and you shouldn’t have to know all the people in power to run for office. I’m still the outsider. I’m running against five people, four of whom are kind of insiders. Three who are career politicians. But the Office of Public Advocate, it seems to me, is unique, and it seems to me I’m a perfect fit for it. So I try it, and if we win it’s great. We’re gonna have fun. We’re gonna be witty, we’re gonna be irreverent. We’re gonna be very activist, and if we raise enough money we’ll be able to get our message out and if we get our message out I think we’ll win.
MTK: And what about the mayor’s office? A progressively minded candidate relies on a person being in the mayor’s seat that is at least not opposed to that and, at best, welcomes it. Who among the candidates do you think you’d work well with and, conversely, who would you say might create a problem like the one we’ve had, if we do have a problem between the offices of Mayor and Public Advocate?
NS: Well, it’s a no-brainer: Any one of the four Democrats–Ferrer, Hevesi, Green, and Vallone. No one will be as bad as Giuliani was. So that’s a no-brainer. I think that any one of those four could win and–in an ironic way–I’ve gone after a lot of politicians, been very critical of them, and for whatever reason, all these four, I get along well with. So from my perspective I can work with any one of them. Assuming they want to work with the public advocate. And obviously that would be the ideal situation. But I also think the public advocate should be independent of the mayor. For example, I will not endorse any of them. Because I think the public advocate should be the monitor of the mayor. If you have a cozy relationship, and you endorse one of them to win, I’m not sure you can have that independence. If you know the person and you’re friendly with the person and you work with the person, generally it’s hard to be critical of the person. And I think the public advocate has to have good working relationships but has to be separate and independent. I believe independence is the key issue in this. So I will not endorse any of them. I will be friendly with all of them. I will encourage them to do progressive, inclusionary things, but I won’t endorse any one of them at this point.
MTK: It’s very early.
NS: It’s very early. I haven’t even declared yet.
MTK: When I rang, I was calling to find out if you were going to.
NS: We opened this storefront because we want a visible place. We want it accessible; people have been coming in all week. And then, I have to figure out … I’m on leave from the Civil Liberties Union so between now and March I’ll have to decide whether or not I’m going to resign and then, if I do that, then I’ll declare and then I’ll get out there and start the campaigning and I’m looking forward to the campaigning because it’s basically interacting with people and that could be fun. I’m aware that some people see me as someone who could be different than any other politician. And I like that perception, but being realistic and thoughtful about this, I gotta make sure that I can be different. I don’t know exactly what that means. I’ve been at a few events so far and, for example, a lot of the candidates get up and they talk about, “I did this, I did this. I’m on this committee, I’m on that committee.” I get up and I just talk about the issues, and the message I’ve been mainly telling people is that no one, no one should ever accept anything short of full and complete equality, justice, and freedom. And this is a town that hasn’t done that for a lot of people: racial, gender, sexual-orientation, economics. So I can be a vehicle and a symbol and a catalyst to try to address the inequalities that exist in the city and not just, you know, about a pothole or a streetlight, although that’s important to people, but we’re talking about institutional racism. We’re talking about institutional discrimination based on socioeconomic status. And I want to take that on.
MTK: With term limits there are lots of seats available; something like 46 seats are coming up. Are you encouraging other people who are, as you say, outsiders, to participate?
NS: I am doing that. There’s a guy, Hiram Montserrat, who is the first elected Latino official in Queens. And he got elected as a district leader recently and he is running for city council. I have personally given him a check, and I’ve gone to a couple of events, and I’ve endorsed him. Friday night, Adonis Rodriguez, who is from the Dominican Students Union, whom I represented. He’s decided to run for city council. I went up there, gave him a check, and made a speech for him. There were 300 people Friday night in a church in Washington Heights. I bet you two-thirds of those folks have never participated in electoral politics. And we were talking about a progressive coalition of people who are going to run and are going to try to make history in New York. So that’s starting to happen right now. My criteria is: Are people social justice people? Are they people that I’ve worked with before and can I trust them? And finally, are they the only one in the race that meet those criteria? If there are two people I won’t choose one over the other. But I will try to help and encourage people not only to run but to help some of the people win. And finally, in the Democratic party–there’s no reason why a Democratic party where the registration is like five to one, should ever have someone like a Rudy Giuliani ever get elected in the city of New York again. So what happened to the Democratic party? I would like if it all works with new people, new blood, new vision … rejuvenate the Democratic party. On the other hand, as I say, I have to be respectful of my elders, people who are experienced, to make sure they don’t think I’ve been disrespecting them. Now it seems to me and I’ve said to some of the Democratic leaders, “You should open the doors and welcome us in.” Now if they don’t open the doors and welcome us in, then you have to figure out alternative structures. But I would like to work with people rather than have to create alternative structures, but if you have to create alternative structures in order to deal with social justice issues, as we’ve done before in movements, we’ll do that within electoral politics as well. And the last thing, as I mentioned before, is the young people. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t lose because of cynicism.
With this storefront, on Sundays at 3 o’clock we’re going to have speakers come in. And we’re going to try to attract young people so that they learn about issues–and that they can make a difference. Young people have made a difference historically. We’re going to have a lot of young people–high school students, college students–working with us, and trying to encourage them to be involved, and then maybe there’s a new generation of leaders to come … And–we gotta make sure–black, brown, red, yellow, and white, together. That’s my battle cry. We gotta include everybody. This has to be inclusionary. New York is great, but there are a lot of people who have been left out. And what we have to do, the people of my generation, now, is to make sure that we can assure people that they will be included more and that this city–it’s theirs as well as other people’s city. We don’t want to be excluding anyone, we want to include everybody.
MTK: That’s really exciting to me. That’s really exciting, what you’re saying, but—
NS: Well, we hope we can pull it off!
MTK: –I fear you’re being idealistic, but I think it’s really exciting..
NS: There’s nothing wrong with being idealistic.
MTK: There’s nothing wrong with it, but I think you need to be careful.
NS: This is the people’s arena. What politics is about is interacting with people, all kinds of people. Everyone has a vote. So if you’re a skilled pol, you make sure that in fact you listen to everyone, you touch everybody. That hasn’t happened a lot. Too much of politics today is on the TV ads and there’s no direct contact, there’s no street contact, there’s no grassroots development. We’re gonna do that. We’re gonna do it with passion, we’re gonna do it with excitement, and I think that by the time the primary rolls around on September 11, if we succeed, this could be the start of something very exciting.
MTK: Last question. If you don’t succeed, would you run as an independent?
NS: Oh, I haven’t even thought about that yet. I think that since this is all new to me, I’ll just take one step at a time and see what happens. And obviously the answer will be: Hopefully, I won’t have to get to that hypothetical because we’ll win. This is not quixotic. This is to win.
[in 2001, during the primaries, I began interviewing all the candidates for Public Attorney because it was a historic shift in power for the position, but, exactly seven months after this interview, on September 11th, election day was cancelled because two planes were flown into the two tallest buildings in NYC, contravening democracy at its most basic level.
In the aftermath, Norman Siegel and Scott Stringer was crushed by Betsy Gotbaum for the position of PA and Michael Bloomberg became Mayor, stealing the election from either Fernando Ferrer or Mark Green]
It was a bright spring day, and I was coming out the glass doors of my office building in the central village when I suddenly felt as though I had walked into a Woody Allen movie. Through the glass of the open door, I saw playwright, actor and artist Wallace Shawn coming down the street carrying a large, heavy duffel bag containing some odd-shaped things that looked like bowling pins.
It was 1997 and I had just seen The Designated Mourner, Mike Nichols’ film of Shawn’s year-old play first performed at the Royal National Theater, London. I was so surprised I nearly struck him with the door and so he looked up and caught my eye. I paused there in the middle of the sidewalk and just stared at him and he gave me a little smile as he continued down the block.
I came to learn later that the famously private Shawn often made his way about the island on foot carrying a heavy bag – as a kind of improvisational exercise perhaps, but described in one article as an eccentricity.
I told this anecdote over and again in my New York life until the summer of 2000 when it became appended, after I read a tiny theater listing in The Village Voice:
The Designated Mourner
Wallace Shawn’s wonderfully nasty and clever drama returns to the New York stage. This three character piece examines the aftermath of a war in an unnamed country in which notions about high and low culture have murderous consequences. In this incarnation, Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg. Andre Gregory directs. 21 South William Street, 21 South William,532-8887 (Soloski)
Louis Malle, Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn were at the heart of one of the most important movements in theater in New York in the latter half of the twentieth century. They took responsibility for the barbaric provincialism of the North and West more than nearly any white artists in the field and created storytelling of examined intellectual tenor.
On the summer solstice of the year 2000, I took the 6 train down to Wall Street and walked to an old, crumbly house at 21 South William, at the base of the World Trade Center Towers. I was sitting on the warm stone steps of the little house – still in sunlight on the longest day of the year – when I looked up to see a small, slowly moving figure walking toward me. It was Wallace Shawn. He wore dark clothes and a light, thin scarf around his neck that he was worrying at a little as he walked. He seemed to be in a placid, meditative, pre-performance state. I was awaiting a companion and was the only person sitting outside the small theater when he arrived.
He nodded and smiled as he approached. I stood and quickly congratulated him saying I felt The Designated Mourner was one of the most important American plays of the era. He smiled, thanked me and asked if I had a seat. I told him I hadn’t yet, but hoped to by waiting list or if not, then at another performance that summer. He said he hoped so, too and went inside.
The show was sold out and when my friend arrived we went in to add our names to the waiting list – we were numbers 7 and 8. Ten minutes before curtain the stage manager came down a set of small stairs into the foyer to announce there were 6 seats available. There was a group of three atop the waitlist and two couples ahead of us and I assumed at that moment we weren’t going to be seeing the play that night but suddenly, there was some discussion at the stage manager’s podium.
The couple ahead of us was trying to decide if they wanted to be split-up for the evening as there was only one seat left after the first five guests were seated. They took what felt like an interminably long time to decide – curtain time had passed. Finally, they agreed they would go to an early dinner rather than be split up and gave up the remaining seat. My close friend Daniel encouraged me to go take it. I paid the $10 fee and ran up the stairs toward the performance space.
The stairwell and indeed the whole house was dark save for a line of yellow electric lamps with yellow bulbs meant to guide the audience to the room in which the performance was to begin. A wonderful old and musty smell hung in the air. I followed the lights slowly until my eyes adjusted and I had some grasp of which floor they were headed toward and then ran the last flight in order to get to the performance which I was sure had begun. At the top of the stairs I nearly ran into Wallace Shawn who was standing, holding a chair and waiting.
“Oh good,” he said, “You made it.”
He carried the chair to a place at the edge of the audience, set it down, gestured for me to sit and then made his way to the carefully lit back of the room that was the performance area. There was no stage between audience and performer, just a subtle line on the floor, created from where the chairs ended and the lighting began.
Shawn then turned and faced the audience. The lights were dimmed quickly and he struck a match and lit a small piece of paper on fire which floated as it turned into ash, slowly up to the ceiling, “I” he recited, “am the designated mourner.”
There was a lack of leadership at the end of the century. We were all waiting to see what would happen next.
I remember where I was the day of the announcement. I was living in Brooklyn and the Yankees were in the pennant race. I was thirty-one and trying to make it as an actor or a writer, I didn’t care which.
It was October after a full moon and the air in the city had become cool. I didn’t own a television then. Usually I got the news from looking over somebody’s shoulder on the train, but that day it was impossible not to know; so I was in a bar.
My job was in Manhattan but I had a pretty kind commute – on the 7 – each morning. In the evenings I used to drink a lot, so often I took a cab home. The announcement was made during prime time.
I had been in the west village near Chelsea, so I headed East until I’d found myself in a suitably quiet place for a drink.
There were three others in the bar on my side, all men. The bartender was about my age, too. We checked each other out when I walked in but she wasn’t interested. Let me know with a glance. She was attending to us and going back to the telephone where she was involved in a casual conversation. That’s how we heard. She told us.
She was on the phone with her roommate, I discovered later, who told her to turn on the TV. The television was off when I walked in, which is why I walked all the way down the bar and sat by it. I was putting room between me and the other patrons and the bartender on her phone call. I didn’t feel like talking to anyone, just wanted a drink or two before going home.
She walked down the length of the bar toward me, though my glass was still half-full. “Jordan’s on ESPN,” she said as she passed me with an air of excitement. She reached up and turned on the TV.
I moved over to get some perspective and ended up next to one of the other guys.
“Perfect timing,” he was saying to his friend, “It’s storybook.”
We were all looking at the television for a moment as we realized at our own pace it was a commercial. Then we turned away from the TV to notice each other. The guy to my left was a know-it-all. Cliff Claven-type. His Norm was an appropriately fat guy to his left, who was listening, bored.
“There’s not gonna be any basketball this year – the league’s locked out,” says Cliffy, “It’ll be the first strike in NBA history. And look at this – Jordan’s going to retire before it gets ugly.” He looks at the both of us, including me in their space. “Storybook, man! The guy’s all class. His entire career. C-L-A-S-S, class.”
It seemed about right. We had all been waiting for the announcement, fans and not fans. We had been well-prepared by the rumours and gossip for the last few months. The other guy, Norm, wasn’t so sure about all the “class,” but he had his “favorite Jordan moment.”
“My company’s had floor-side Knicks seats for years,” he began, “I had finished doing the numbers for the annual report a few years ago and so they let me have the tickets, as a kind of a bonus, you know.”
The ad was for Nike – a long narrative about a couple of guys buying sneakers with all these idiotic effects meant to be impressive. They were playing one-on-one at what was meant to be an inner city court, but that looked more like a Hollywood lot – an appearance by Tiger Woods – hits a three-pointer with a golf club or something – stupid.
“Jordan was off in the first half, shot maybe four-for-15 from the field … just didn’t have his rhythm,” continued Norm, “But during the warm-ups before the second half – the Bulls were down at our end so I could see him up close – he seemed so casual. He was joking around and chewing his gum. He stopped during the shoot-around to sign some kid’s little plastic basketball at courtside.”
Norm turned to face us – making a little circle. He glanced over his shoulder at the TV to make sure it was still a commercial, before continuing. “Knicks were up five at the break and the second half started with Jordan bringing the ball down.”
“Here we go,” chimed in Cliffy, “never let Jordan bring the ball down up five at the beginning of the second half,” he said, as if that made any kind of sense. The Nike ad was followed by an ad for the new BMW convertible. It was being featured in a movie. Hot Babe racing at speeds meant to appear saucy, around curves on the Pacific Coast Highway – but it was stagey and excessive – a patina of production slathered across it.
“And it wasn’t that the rest of the game was so impressive – ‘cause he went 12 for 18 in the second half and ended up with 42 points, 8 boards and four steals on the night-”
“Wooooah!” chimed in Cliffy, “See? See?”
Norm continued: “But it wasn’t that. It was that first bucket after the second half started.” Norm looked at us both significantly. “He went coast-to-coast, juked twice and burned Starks and Oakley on the way to the rack for the slam. It was like he was waiting to turn it on and once it was on there wasn’t anybody to stop it.” We were all silent for a minute wishing we had that … when ESPN came back on.
“If the Yanks lose tomorrow, Joe Torre will have a decision on his hands – El Duque or Andy Pettite – but as Andy Schapp reports, the decision may have already been made.”
“Yanks better win the fuckin’ series,” I said. It was the first time I’d spoken to them and they noticed. I have a sort of a Mike Tyson voice problem. It’s sort of squeaky. I’m real aware of it now. I mean, at the time I hadn’t fully developed my speaking skills to use it to my advantage so there was always a minute or two when it freaked people out – a grown man. It’s really why I became a writer as opposed to going into say, radio … or television.
Cliff blew right by it. “Fuck yeah, the fucking Yanks better win the fucking series. Better win the world series, too. I mean, what the fuck? After the season they had? If they don’t win, heads will definitely roll.”
We talked about the Yanks for a minute as the time passed. I know, I know, it has to seem stupid now, but I mean, we had no idea what he was going to say. We were all just figuring he’d retire, we’d bullshit a bit and that’d be that … on to baseball. We were strangers in a shitty little bar in the East Village.
By now of course the video has been shown umpteen times. The stage set in Chicago and the introduction and all of it has been ingrained in our heads for as long as the little bitmaps will last in our memories. But let’s just review what he said, how he said it. I mean if we’re going to talk about a Legend, it’s good to be precise.
“Good evening, everyone. I’d like to make this as brief as possible, but there are many people to thank. I have played my entire career here in Chicago and I have always felt the deepest love for this city and the fans. It is without a doubt in my mind that these are the greatest fans in the world.”
He always had that sweet disarming way of saying something just a little – off – that still sounded so right and perfect coming out of his mouth. The man had skills.
“I have faced a lot of questions this past summer about my plans for the future and I have entertained all kinds of opportunities and thoughts on the matter of retirement. Frankly, I don’t want to give up basketball. I love this game.”
And that look, that smile, directly into the camera for the fans at home, for the commissioner of Basketball. It was perfect. He knew all along what he was doing. There was never a feeling of doubt that he was in control, only of wonderment that he was alive. It was like that on the court and afterward. He was a great leader.
“That is why I have to ask for your support at this critical and important time in my career. I need each and every one of my fans, everywhere in the world to know that I have enjoyed every minute of my career in the NBA. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. And now I need something back from you. I need your continued support.”
It was at this point that we, I, anyway, began to wonder if he didn’t have a surprise in mind. I had thought it before of course, he was famous for them. But that night, I mean, he looked to the right and left, and then for a second it seemed like maybe he was changing his mind right there. Before letting us all in on the biggest move of his career, it still seemed like he had something else in store.
I remember the announcement and the introduction perfectly.
“I am retiring from the National Basketball Association. [smile. flash, flash, flash, flash,flash, flash]
I would like to thank everyone, but of course that’s impossible. Let me just re-iterate my thanks to the wonderful people here in Chicago and to my fans around the world.” He said things twice his entire career to emphasize his point in a different manner to get it across to as many channels of media on the spectrum as possible and was misunderstood by many as, “just being a jock,” – like Coltrane, Jordan was ahead of his time with the media.
“Again, I hope you will continue to support my efforts as I move on, away from the NBA and into public life in other ways.”
This was the stumper of course. He had every free male in the nation caught on by then that it wasn’t your average resignation. Cliff said, “What the fuck is he talking about? Not baseball again, jeez, the guy was a sub-200 hitter on a farm club for God’s Sakes.” Fickle, that Cliffy.
Then, the introduction:
“I would like to introduce now, my first partner in my new life after the NBA.”
When he walked out I swear you could have knocked me off my bar stool. I was totally confused. I had no explanation for what he was doing there. I quickly tried to add up scenarios that would bring the two of them together, but never in my wildest dreams could I have figured what would happen next.
“Ladies and Gentlemen … a boxer, a pugilist of world-reknown,” he said ‘pugilist’ carefully and playfully, like he had looked it up for the event, toyed with it for a while and then decided to keep it for the fun of it, and he gave us a smile when he continued, “the world’s greatest fighter in my book, and I challenge anyone to deny it: Ladies and Gentlemen, President Nelson Mandela of the Republic of South Africa.”
The flashbulbs made it impossible to see for a moment. Everyone was standing. Jordan must have made arrangements for the cameramen to be positioned, though, because the television audience had a clear view throughout the proceedings.
Then, he appeared. Mandela. It was such an incredible feeling to be watching it “live.” Mandela walked with such cool grace – slowly and stately past the podium to his seat beside Jordan.
Michael had effectively taken the spotlight off himself at the peak of his most significant hour. The entire experience was like watching a game. He was masterful, in control. And nobody was stopping him.
“Mr. Mandela and I would like to announce that effective immediately, I will be player-coach of the South African National Basketball team to participate in the year 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. I hereby invite my friends, colleagues and players from all over the world to tryout for the team that we will field in summer of 2000.
“I would also like to announce the creation of a new line of shoes, clothing and athletic wear designed for the new South African team by my own designers and to be manufactured by textile workers throughout Africa. All proceeds from the sales of these products – that’s 100% of the proceeds – will go, in two equal parts, first to the United Nations and second to a non-profit organization begun by President Mandela and myself toward the creation of a free, peaceful, healthy and well-developed Pan-Africa in the next millennium.”
I was numb. My ears. My ears were filled with a dull sensation that removed me from my surroundings. I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t possibly sit. I stood. I hugged Cliff. I slapped Norm on the back. I pulled the bartender over the rail and kissed her full on the lips … and she hit me.
[I can’t even remember when Jordan retired now. He quit, came back, jammed again, quit, came back… managed the Wizards for a time, always plays great golf – a giant. I wrote this piece in 1998 after a conversation with a friend about why U.S. American sports stars don’t take more active political stances anymore (cf. Tommie Smith or Arthur Ashe or many others). It seems relevant today, but nostalgic, and weirdly attached to an era when television affiliates in every city in the USA was running simultaneous and continuous reruns of “Cheers!”- sometimes twice a day – rather than fill the spectrum with any diversity.]