Friday, May 14, 2010

If LeBron stays....

With the unexpected (especially by me) departure of the Cleveland Cavaliers from the NBA playoffs, the next two months will be dominated by speculation about LeBron James coming to New York to play for the Knicks. Without making any basketball-related predictions, I am intrigued by what it will mean if LeBron ends up staying in Cleveland. If he goes to NYC, of course it will mean that once again an athlete has gravitated to the Big Apple not so much for money (the money would be more or less equal anywhere), not even for supplemental advertising revenues, but for fame--witness the famous Reggie Jackson quote, ca. 1973, "If I played in New York they would name a candy bar after me", which, when Jackson ended up playing in New York in 1977, they did, although both Jackson’s stint in New York and the marketability of the candy bar were slightly shorter than was once thought, Jackson was not talking about money from the candy bar; he was talking about fame. 
     But can LeBron be any more famous? If they named a candy bar (or, given our more health-conscious era a granola bar or sports drink), could he be any better-known? And can anyone be more famous in their field than Michael Jordan, who never played in New York, and Wayne Gretzky, who did only late and inconspicuously? And does this matter less in basketball, a more compact sport with smaller teams, a shorter schedule, so many of whose games are nationally televised? Even more so, is the centripetal assumption behind the "I can only make it big in NYC” scenario still valid? Has cultural pluralism, the dislocation of conventional scenarios of place made possible by the Internet and other forms of virtuality, hybridity, diaspora, migration, all those critical buzzwords, made where one works, in any profession, less central? After all, I am typing this in the heart of Manhattan, but for this to reach the person reading it now I could as well be in Cleveland gazing upon the (hopefully) blue reaches of Lake Erie, no? If LeBron stays, it won't be just a matter of "local boy wanting to stay in hometown". We will then know the postmodern communications revolution has succeeded to the point where the big city cannot automatically claim the sort of cultural hegemony--in the arts, sports, learning--that it enjoyed during the era of High Modernity, where glorious athletic careers could be totally unknown nationwide if the athlete had the bad luck not to play in New York…

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Wycliffe to Wyclef

At yesterday's final event in the spring Lang faculty reading series. my colleague Henry Shapiro mentioned having attended Balliol College, Oxford, one of whose early graduates was the Lollard Bible-translator John Wycliffe...later on, my colleague Ferentz LaFargue mentioned a possible project on Wyclef Jean, who needs no identification--Wyclef Jean was apparently named after John Wycliffe (I don't know why I never put this together before, but I didn't) which makes a neat symmetry! And of course both of their careers raise issues of expanding literacy, new modes of verbal expression, and crossing linguistic boundaries...that would make a trendy course, "From Wycliffe to Wyclef: Vernacular Sampling from the Fourteenth to Twenty-First Centuries." Someone else would have to teach it though!