Thursday, February 23, 2012

Desymbolizing Linsanity

This whole thing started because someone played a good game of professional basketball, then another, and another, and so on. Someone was named Jeremy Lin, who incidentally holds an economics degree from Harvard and is an Asian-American. As the points and assists and victories (and yes, the turnovers too) piled up, those two facts started an avalanche. The sports media, and by extension the parts of broader media that become tangentially involved in sports whenever there's a "good story" afoot, went, in professional parlance, totally bats$%t.

Set aside the Asian-American community, who are justifiably ecstatic and proud to have a representative and role model in an arena where they formerly had none. Their reaction is rooted in something tangible and beautiful, and they should continue to be as Linsane as the want to be. It's the rest of the world that turned this into a conflagration. Everyone else involved was suddenly in a race to find ways to talk about Jeremy Lin. A lot of the early coverage was of the relatively innocuous "hey isn't this cool?!" variety, and that's fine, because yes, yes it is cool. And since it's New York and the Knicks are the Knicks and The Garden is The Garden, there was the attendant hype that goes along with all of that, raised to whatever factorial you use when you're calculating the odds of someone being a potential Savior Of The Franchise. Which is how New York rolls, so we can dig it. The rest of us? We've become completely unhinged in the most incorrigible fashion. First, the ridiculous Tim Tebow comparisons started, but that was a strong probability from jump, and a given the very first time Lin openly thanked God in an interview. It's a grating and sophomoric angle since the apt comparisons between them pretty much begin and end with that shared faith, but at some point you just have to grimace and bear it. Not a lot of real harm to be done aside from weapons-grade annoyance.

The problem is that the crazies came out of the woodwork with a vengeance and turned this from a great basketball story or even just a great underdog story into a story that is supposed to have some sort of larger meaning. Jeremy Lin and what he's accomplishing on that famed parquet floor has been transfigured in something that apparently resonates with profundity for someone, somewhere. Several different profundities for a myriad of someones and somewheres, in fact, if you read every available scrap of opinion on the subject. He has been draped in symbols and iconography like a Christmas tree, tinseled and bedecked with a truckload of highhanded nonsense. I imagine even Jesus tired of people following him around because he had all the answers and stood for something, and he was about as serene as they come and felt he had an obligation to be those things for his people. For a 23 year-old kid who's been blindsided by the whole world elevating him way beyond the realm of mere athletic fame and accomplishment and into the world of diaphanous significations, this must be a hell of a ride, but also just plain hell.

I'm not the first person to point out the absurdity of all this, obviously; I'm a little late to the party, truth be told. The point is, we're seeing a reaction to the reaction to Jeremy Lin now, and those with something more than codified, gussied up drivel between the ears are a little offended at all this overwrought symbolism. Multiple writers have used the word "hijacked" to describe what has happened to Jeremy Lin's life, and it is saddening to note how raw and accurate that term is. The problem is, this is one of those machines that isn't going to stop until it's good and ready. Eventually, as the next whoever/whatever eruption of hyperbole dethrones Linsanity, Jeremy Lin will be considered just another good NBA basketball player. If the mantles being thrust upon his shoulders don't crush him in the interim, of course. Unfortunately for him, there's no opt-out clause for this situation, but it occurred to me last night that in a perfect world, there would be an easy remedy, one which I took a heavy dose of as I watched Jeremy Lin play.

The Knicks were facing my beloved Atlanta Hawks last night, and so for the first time I tuned in to a game in which Jeremy Lin was playing and did not root for him. For the first time, Linsanity was not something I wanted any part of. (I'd like to think I've been less guilty than most and that my interest and feelings have mostly been confined to basketball fandom and wishing Lin well, but I'm sure I've strayed into needless overreaction once or twice.) Last night, for me, Jeremy Lin wasn't a symbol or a metaphor or a great story or an underdog or anything besides the opposing team's starting point guard. He was the enemy, and I wanted badly for the Hawks to shut his ass down. Which, of course, did not happen. Along with his New York cohorts, Lin shredded and humiliated Atlanta all game long. He finished up with 17 points, 9 dimes, 2 steals, and kept his turnovers down to a manageable 4. The damage probably would have been greater had Mike D'Antoni not pulled him early in the 4th quarter as the Knicks ran away with the game. All of which is to say, there is nothing to sour you on a player like watching him beat the crap out of your team. I will continue to wish Jeremy Lin well, both in the NBA and in dealing with this chaos he's surrounded with, but the fervor and jubilation have pretty much evaporated. Defeat does that.

As I said earlier, there is no way out for Lin beyond weathering the storm, but if I could bend reality a little, the exit strategy would look like this: round up the fools responsible for all these purportedly important thoughts on the deep significance of Jeremy Lin and inculcate them into rabid, unequivocally devoted fandom of any NBA team not named the New York Knicks. Then, ensure that the Knicks play those teams in rapid succession. You can bet that no journalists in Utah or LA were eager to make Jeremy Lin a godhead/symbol/myth after their ignoble dust-ups. These people would disembark their personal little crazy trains right quick if Lin was lighting their beloved teams up on the regular. So if I could, that's how I would put an end to Linsanity, or at least the elements of it that seek to turn Jeremy Lin into some grand, hollow stand-in for Other Important Things. I promise you, he's a much less appealing signifier of anything at all after he's ripped through your entire defense on the way to the rack.

No comments:

Post a Comment