We talk often about fearless writers. We use words like "brave" and "unflinching on book jackets and in glowing blurbs when the protagonists within enact dangerous behavior without moral-of-the-story appeals and sensationalized flourishes.
Steve Almond’s new book, Against Football, asks essentially the same question. How is it that a game which “in its exalted moments, is not just a sport, but a lovely and intricate form of art” also legitimizes, as he says, “a tolerance for violence, greed, racism, and homophobia”?
Everyone knows something about the power of things, how they remind us of our actions over time, how they have the power to delight or disappoint us. I’m referring here to what Katy Simpson Smith calls “oddments”—the items we don’t mean to collect, that we can’t quite bring ourselves to throw away, that we put on a desk in a spare room and forget.
As a black man with a predilection for the Southern white woman experience, Als can write about white girls in salacious, exploitative detail like Freud writes about Dora. He knows our every move, and everything wrong with those moves, and he appreciates that we make them anyway.
One of the strange things about reading this book is that you become increasingly both enamored with the cultural moment and confused as to what it meant. It was a raucous lapse in traditional Southern conservatism, but also largely a branding strategy. This is partly why “progressive country” always sounded like an oxymoron, but then, if anything, the paradox is what gave it its power.