Will Leitch, contributing editor at New York Magazine, "media" columnist for Sports on Earth, and editor emeritus of Deadspin, is filling in for Drew Magary on today's Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo. Leitch has written four books. Find more of his business at his Twitter feed.
Last month, New York Times food reviewer Pete Wells spent 1,057 words tearing apart Guy Fieri's Times Square restaurant Guy's American Kitchen and Bar. Wells went full-hog in the review, calling the watermelon margarita "some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde" and referring to his nachos as "unlovable." The review itself is more ranty than coherent or particularly sharp—Wells rips the menu as a place "where adjectives and nouns spin in a crazy vortex" which sounds like literary criticism as delivered by an eighth grader—but it did do an excellent job of further ensuring that I will never eat at Guy's American Kitchen and Bar. It was obnoxious and not half as clever as it thought it was, but you know, it did the trick. (Though there's still a little part of me who wonders if we're undervaluing donkey sauce as a potential global source of renewable energy.)
What surprised me, though, was the backlash to Wells's review. Fieri himself went after Wells on the Today show, which is fine; it's his restaurant, after all. What was strange was how many people thought Wells had unrealistic expectations for Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, that he was somehow at fault for actually eating the food and deciding whether it was good or not. This came out most clearly in an unaired Saturday Night Live skit, which seemed to imply that Wells was wrong to to think there was any chance the food would be anything but horrible in the first place. It's Guy Fieri, the mindset went, of course it's lousy. He's just a successful TV personality. But, uh, he's a chef, right? This is what he does for a profession, yes? Just because you imagine his chain restaurant is awful doesn't mean it's OK if it actually is.
I bring all this up because I think we're starting to care more about popularity and financial success than legitimate quality. All right, so that's hardly news; that's always been the case, as a general rule, for most of humanity's reign. But now the smart people are doing it: People who should know better. I'm talking about you, dear reader: You, me, all of us.
You see this everywhere, from box office results to online pageviews to Nielsen ratings to freaking Twitter followers. More people watch the NFL on television than any sport so therefore IT IS THE BEST SPORT. You have fewer Twitter followers than the person you're criticizing? YOU'RE A HATER. You don't like that album that went platinum? YOU JUST JEALOUS. BuzzFeed has put a bunch of pictures of kittens together in a way that is easily passed around by idiots? THEY HAVE FIGURED OUT THE INTERNET THEY ARE SUCH BRILLIANT PACKAGERS OF CONTENT THE FUTURE OF MEDIA. We have become a culture that, because we can quantify things in a way we've never been able to before, are acting as if those numbers are all that matter.
Because so much of our world has become niche, when something appeals to a large number of people, we just assume it's worthy of our attention. We see pageviews and ratings go up when we talk about Tim Tebow, or we put "MUST CLICK" in our headline, or we rely on whatever cheap trick we've convinced ourselves is somehow the price of doing business now. And we're in serious danger of turning the world into the front page of Yahoo. Just because a bunch of morons and teenagers are watching The Voice doesn't mean that the rest of us have to give a shit.
But we do! We play all the dumb games, from listicles to OMG CAN'T BELIEVE WHAT COLIN COWHERD SAID to "I Can't Stop Watching This Video Of A Dog Hugging A Cow." Because we can see the numbers, and everyone has collectively decided that this is what we should be doing, that this is the point of all this. The sad part isn't that so many people dreamed of telling stories and having their voices heard and now load in slideshows about "Strikeforce vs. UFC: Battle of the Ring Girls, who is sexier pound for sexy pound." The sad part is that we all reward them for it: We make them think this is what they should have been doing all along.
ESPN has been doing this for years, of course: Once they became so saturated and indispensable to sports fans, the only way they could grow was by marketing themselves to people who don't care about sports at all, therefore directing their editorial coverage through a series of keywords and search functions. But we've all caught up with them now. We have all lowered the bar for ourselves. There was a time we didn't give a shit how popular something was, by the way; there was a time that "selling out" was considered the worst thing you could do. Now, we were all pretty stupid about that back then, too—eventually, it turns out, money does in fact come in handy—but there was at least a principle behind it. There was a recognition that you should at least try to follow your own muse. But why would anyone do that now? The pageview counter and Twitter followers and Nielsen ratings tell what is Working, and what isn't. Quality and passion, there's nothing wrong with them, necessarily ... but they're sort of beside the point.
Fine: So I sound like that McSweeney's parody of "Howl," and also like I am 90. But the more we define "success" as that which appeals to as many people as possible, the more we forgive dumb things because they went "viral," the more we monetize stupid bullshit because we're at a brief, fleeting moment in our culture where we've convinced ourselves that's what matters ... the more we forget what was initially so fun about the Internet in the first place. The beauty of the Web is that it belongs to you, and me, and to each of us, individually. What are other people doing on the Internet? Who the hell cares? I'll just find people who like doing what I'm doing and talk to them. Is that the best way to make money on the Web? Probably not. But that's their problem: Not ours.
But no. We're lowering the bar. We're being distracted by shiny objects. We need to stop it. It is letting Rovell win. We're assuming a huge restaurant in the middle of Times Square is supposed to be terrible—of course it is! tons of people eat there! it's by design!—and any cries that should we expect better are deemed jealous carping or, worse, elitist. It's OK to want more. It's OK to demand it. Only you can.
All games in the Jamboroo are evaluated for sheer watchability on a scale of 1 to 5 Throwgasms.
Cowboys at Redskins. Whoa, that one got away from me a bit. Anyway, point is: ME WISH WE ALL SMURTER BUT MOSTLY JUST ME WISH ME WERE SMURTER. So: Hi, everybody! For the second year, I'm filling in for Drew on his week off from the Jamboroo, and I obviously won't do it as well as he does. But I'm honored nonetheless. It's nice to cameo back on the sports side of Deadspin one week a year. I suspect this will only be 31 percent less hated than the movie reviews. Anyway, I loved Koblin's piece on Sunday Night Football last week—Koblin's such a terrific secret weapon for this site to have—but you will never convince me that a producer as smart and experienced as Fred Gaudelli isn't cringing every time Bob Costas does his halftime "commentary." Forget that gun-control business of a few weeks ago; I'm talking about the 60 seconds of whatever Bob has decided to verbally blog about that night that has nothing to do with the rest of the broadcast. I still like Costas, in spite of everything, but honestly, at this point, is there anything NBC wouldn't let him do if he asked? If he started reciting The Canterbury Tales, how long do you think it would take NBC to cut away? My over/under is 20 minutes.
Packers at Vikings. Another thing Drew has been good about: Not discharging too much of his loins about the Vikings and Adrian Peterson. I've hated the Vikings most of my adult life—it's not the team so much as the fans; I used to go to a sports bar every weekend here in NYC that Vikings fans flocked to, and the bar game everyone played each week was guessing which siblings would have sex with each other by halftime—but I love Peterson and love this particular Vikings team. I want him to run for 4,500 yards this Sunday.
Texans at Colts. I know Drew has gotten into this already, but it's a goddamned travesty that the Colts had to suffer through only one lousy season in the middle of what looks like will be decade-plus-long runs with superstar quarterbacks. One last place season, and it's Manning and Luck over 20 years. Meanwhile, my team's quarterback for three years was Tom Tupa, who is a punter.
Ravens at Bengals. The Classical's three-part oral history on Fire Joe Morgan last week was fantastic, wasn't it? When I look back on all that, it still strikes me as absolutely batshit that the guys behind Fire Joe Morgan ended up making Parks & Recreation, which might end up being my favorite sitcom of all time. That's about as lasting an impression as I can imagine a sports blogger making in the world. They could have been TV writers, any TV writers, but no: They were those TV writers. This is like that nice kid you knew in kindergarten but never saw again growing up to be the guy who shot bin Laden.
Chiefs at Broncos. All right, so I'm not sure that bin Laden analogy made sense. I was just trying to avoid some sort of "that girl you had a crush on in grade school turning out to be Scarlett Johansson" line. Felt Simmons-y. Throwing in bin Laden made it feel grittier. Probably should have just worked out something else though, tossed out the construction altogether. Gave it a shot.
Eagles at Giants. Thirteen years later, and I'm still not ready to say goodbye to Andy Reid. It's amazing what 13 years of not winning a Super Bowl in Philadelphia can do to a man. Here's Reid in 1999:
And here he is now:
The wonder isn't that he's been coach this long. The wonder is that he's still alive at all.
Bears at Lions. I thought the Lions were supposed to be the NFL's version of the Moneyball A's or the Houston Rockets? Didn't Jim Schwartz write the intro to a Football Outsiders book at one point? The Lions' surge sure turned out to be a memorable moment in NFL history, didn't it?
Rams at Seahawks. Why I don't write about music: When I was home for Christmas, my mother turned on "Call Me Maybe," that song everyone was listening to over the summer. I realized with a start that I had never actually heard the song, like, ever. I hadn't tried to avoid it: I just never came across it. I need more friends, I think. (Also: I'm going through the "get this fucking song out of my brain" business right now that you went through around August.)
Dolphins at Patriots. I love it when teams change their logos. It's like Sports Face/Off. I AM CASTOR TROY!
Browns at Steelers. Why is Spencer Hall the best at Twitter? (And he is.) Yesterday, just in the course of a regular day, he compared Central Michigan's playbook to a Melville short story, told the truth about Bill Hicks, and, oh yeah, absolutely destroyed Seth Davis. And then it was time for supper, I guess. I'm so terrible at Twitter. By the time I get caught up with what's going on, everyone stopped talking about it hours ago. Shame too: I just came up with the best "Call Me Maybe" joke.
Panthers at Saints. When I was home for Christmas, I found myself watching far more morning television that I ever have. This is going to shock you, but it's pretty terrible. At one point, the Today show sourced an entire segment on Caroline Wozniaki's "impression" of Serena Williams with Facebook comments. They know that's airing live, on television, to the whole country, right?
Cardinals at 49ers. I watched every minute of that 58-0 loss to Seattle. This is what it's like to be personally violated by Matt Ufford. Well, it's not exactly like that. But the sensations are similar.
Jets at Bills. Maybe it's because I've had to write about them at New York all year, but honestly, it feels like this Jets season has lasted about 48 months, hasn't it? Also: Not to sound all "Happy birthday, Timmy!" about this ... but it is weird that the Jets have refused to start Tebow even once all year, right? I mean, I don't think he's good either, but he did make the playoffs last year (and won a game) and, more to the point, the Jets have the worst quarterbacks in the NFL outside of the Pink Taco. Tebow might have been worse, but to never actually try the guy? It has struck me as strange all season. But no, keep putting Sanchez out there, lemme know how that works out.
Buccaneers at Falcons. Once again: I am reminded why Drew doesn't write about every game, and why it's stupid of me to try to.
Jaguars at Titans. OK, here are pictures of my kid then.
Raiders at Chargers. It was hilarious seeing Matt Leinart starting again last week. It's sort of like seeing Jason Priestley show up on a current sitcom or something.
Pregame Song That Makes Me Wanna Run Through A Goddamn Brick Wall
"Street Spirit (Fade Out)" by The Darkness
I have no idea why I love this so much, but goddamn, I do. I think it's the first riff after the "Fade ouuuuuut" bridge, five seconds where Radiohead and Megadeth meet. (By the way, that Megadeth purposely—I assume—misspelled "death" in their name has always made me love Dave Mustaine unconditionally.) I want to see The Darkness try to turn all Radiohead songs into metal. If they can pull that off with "The King of Limbs," I'll follow them into Hell.
Nazi Bill Simmons Lock of the Week!
Lots of sports sites, to demonstrate the arbitrary nature of gambling, like to have animals and random celebrities pick games to see if they can outwit their expert counterparts. There's no reason we at Deadspin can't also get in on the fun. So we've asked a fictionalized, Nazi version of popular sportswriter Bill Simmons to pick one game a week for us. Take it away, Nazi Simmons.
I know Drew killed him last week, but for my cameo, I'm bringing Nazi Simmons back. I'm not going to try to impersonate the voice: I just wanted to see Jim Cooke's art again. You know you've made it when they're making a fake Nazi out of you.
Chris Johnson Memorial Fantasy Player Who Deserves To Die A Slow, Painful Death
Going to be really fast about this, but I've been running my own fantasy league for 14 years (Drew, Daulerio, Shanoff, and Grierson are in it), and I've lost in the championship game three times. I made it again this year after winning 11 in a row to end the year ... and I faced a team that had Ray Rice, RGIII, and Reggie Bush. I'm the Buffalo Bills of my own league. I hate this stupid game. I can't believe the Duplass brothers do a show about this dumb hobby.
Gregg Easterbrook Is A Haughty Dipshit
It's a week off for Gregg this week. It must kill him when this column pops up as a Google alert in his mailbox every Thursday afternoon. Time for the Boss Button!
Suicide Pick Of The Week
We pick three teams for your suicide pool and something that makes you want to commit suicide (NOTE: Please do not commit suicide). This week, the picks are San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and people who use double spaces after each sentence. I've been working off Drew's template in this column, and I find it astounding that in the year 2012, there are humans who still use the double space after a period, let alone Drew. I had an argument with my friend Jami Attenberg—whose new book The Middlesteins is really freaking great, and you should buy it—about this 12 years ago. Every time I see a Drew double space in here, I want to stab myself in the neck with one of those old iPhone chargers that are useless now if you have an iPhone 5. Which might be the stupidest way to kill yourself on earth.
Fire This Asshole!
Is there anything more exciting than a coach losing his job? All year long, we'll keep track of which coaches will almost certainly get fired at year's end or sooner. And now, your potential 2012 chopping block:
• Norv Turner
• Mike Munchak
• Chan Gailey
• Rex Ryan
• Pat Shurmur
• Romeo Crennel
• Ron Rivera
• Andy Reid
• Dennis Allen
• Jim Schwartz
• Ken Whisenhunt
• Lovie Smith
Seriously, you guys: BLACK MONDAY IS JUST four days away. So many firings coming on Monday. You are absolutely not escaping Adam Schefter on Monday.
Gametime Snack Of The Week
Oyster crackers! I have no idea why people even bother with the soup. If you put oyster crackers in a vending machine, I would replace all my meals with them. For whatever reason, cutting regular crackers up like that makes them irresistible. ENTER THE OCTAGON.
Gametime Cheap Beer Of The Week
Just like last year, I'm devoting this section to quoting from the old Black Table beer runs (co-written by Jim Cooke!) to which I believe Drew owes some inspiration. They were so mean and scary. So here you are:
In the Roaring Twenties, Bix Beiderbecke was the Eminem of jazz, the first white musician to crack the black musical form. But his success as a cornet player was extremely short-lived, because Beiderbecke drank so much. By 1931, when he was just 28, Beiderbecke's liver was on the verge of collapse, triggering an outbreak of.delirium tremens. This bout with DT killed Beiderbecke, who took his final breath from a death bed in a New York rooming house, convinced that Mexicans wielding daggers were hiding under his bed, waiting to strike.
Rating: Crazy tasty.
Call me Ishmael. No, no, call me "Dorothy." Fuck it, call me whatever. This beer is that great unattainable whale, calling from the cold black ocean, empty, mocking. They say that whales are mammals, and I believe it; this beer is covered in hair and seems to have opposable thumbs. In fact, this beer might be the third from the left on the evolutionary chart. Its knuckles are scraping the ground, its forehead is about four feet too wide and it's smacking you over the head with a club and dragging you behind it by your hair. But it's slowly moving up history's chart. It just learned to scrape two rocks together and set fire to your colon. Fire bad!
Honestly, please, tell us more about your summer abroad. Yes, yes, it was time to get away from academia for a while, a way to really figure out who you are and what you're all about. Oh, you grew your armpit hair out that July: What self-expression! Well, heavens, no, we had no idea that Europeans had such different views on monogamy? Oh, that? Don't mind that? That's a skull-fuck: If you had made it until September, you would have been around for the historic Amsterdam Cranial C—t Festival. They take little 22-year-old blonde girls and puncture their orbital bones with elephantine phalluses imported from Burgundy. You would have loved it. Should have stayed. Great way to get to know yourself a little better.
Rating: Tell us all about the youth hostels. Please.
Robert Evans's MVP Watch!
I'm a little worried the intro to this Jamboroo sounded like Robert Evans without all the sex.
Sunday Afternoon Movie Of The Week For Chiefs Fans
Looper. It's out on DVD this week. You'll love it. I promise. (Also: I'm sorry I only hang out here during movie reviews anymore. I know not everybody likes them. I'm just doing a little side hobby and trying to have some fun. I hope we can still be friends.)
Gratuitous Simpsons Quote
"Do these sound like the actions of a man whose had all he could eat?"
Enjoy the games, everyone.