Sunday, September 30, 2012

Yo! Tocqueville! Got A Moment?!

Professor McClay has this blogger at Tocqueville. [Full disclosure: one of this blogger's few publications was " 'I Been There Before': Huck Finn As Tocquevillian Individual" (1971).] If this is (fair & balanced) nailing jelly to barn doow, so be it.

[x WQ — aka Wilson Quarterly]
The Tocquevillean Moment . . . and Ours
By Wilfred M. McClay

Tag Cloud of the following article

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To say that we are living through a time of momentous change, and now stand on the threshold of a future we could barely have imagined a quarter-century ago, may seem merely to restate the blazingly obvious. But it is no less true, and no less worrisome, for being so. Uncertainties about the fiscal soundness of sovereign governments and the stability of basic political, economic, and financial institutions, not to mention the fundamental solvency of countless American families, are rippling through all facets of the nation’s life. Those of us in the field of higher education find these new circumstances particularly unsettling. Our once-buffered corner of the world seems to have lost control of its boundaries and lost sight of its proper ends, and stands accused of having become at once unaffordable and irrelevant except as a credential mill for the many and a certification of social rank for the few. And despite all the wonderful possibilities that beckon from the sunlit uplands of technological progress, the digital revolution that is upon us threatens not only to disrupt the economic model of higher education but to undermine the very qualities of mind that are the university’s reason for being. There is a sense that events and processes are careening out of control, and that the great bubble that has so far contained us is now in the process of bursting.

By harping on the unprecedented character of the challenges we face, however, we may allow ourselves to become unduly overwhelmed and intimidated by them. Although history never repeats itself, it rarely, if ever, presents us with situations that have absolutely no precedent, and no echoes. We have, in some respects, already been here before. “In times of change and danger when there is a quicksand of fear under men’s reasoning,” wrote the novelist John Dos Passos in the tense year of 1941, “a sense of continuity with generations gone before can stretch like a lifeline across the scary present.”

So let me propose, as a lifeline for our own era, that we consult a figure who has served Americans well in the past: the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–59), one of the most eminent European social and political thinkers of the 19th century, and still an incomparable analyst of the virtues and pitfalls of modern democratic societies. The first part of my title not only refers to the man and his unique biographical context, but also uses his name to label something more general: a particular kind of pivotal moment in human history, something that he both described well and experienced fully—a moment of profound social transition in which an entire way of life is in the process of being inexorably transformed, but in which the precise shape of this transformation is yet to be fully determined.

Tocqueville was the child of an aristocratic French family, many of whose members had suffered death or devastation at the hands of the French Revolution. As a consequence, he was haunted all his life by the specter of revolutionary anarchy, and of the tyranny such a sweeping social revolution would inevitably bring in its wake. But such fears never led him to advocate the wholesale restoration of the pre-revolutionary French social order. He was an aristocrat at heart, but not a reactionary. Instead, his apprehensions led him to examine intently the change that was coming, in the hope of directing it to a more felicitous end.

A concern with the characteristics of modern democracy is the guiding preoccupation of his Democracy in America (1835–40), the work for which he is best known among American readers. Tocqueville was only 26 years old when, accompanied by his friend and sidekick Gustave de Beaumont, he came to the United States in 1831. He was ostensibly traveling on official business for the French government, to study the American prison system. In reality, he was intent upon “examining, in details and as scientifically as possible, all the mechanisms of the vast American society which everyone talks of and no one knows.” Tocqueville intended to write a large and path-breaking book about America, which he hoped would make his intellectual reputation and launch him on a successful political career in France.

The resulting book, published in two successive volumes, turned out to be perhaps the richest and most enduring study of American society and culture ever written. Democracy in America envisioned the United States as the vanguard of history, a young and vigorous country endowed with an extraordinary degree of social equality among its inhabitants. In America, one could gaze upon “the image of democracy itself, of its penchants, its character, its prejudices, its passions”—and having so gazed, could perhaps take away lessons that would allow leaders to deal more intelligently and effectively with the democratic changes coming to Europe.

Tocqueville was firmly convinced that the movement toward greater social equality—which is what he meant by “democracy”—represented an inescapable feature of the modern age, a hard fact to which all future social or political analysis must accommodate itself. Indeed, one could say that the great recurrent motif in Tocqueville’s writing was this huge, sprawling historical spectacle, the gradual but inexorable leveling of human society on a universal scale. “To wish to stop democracy,” he warned, would be “to struggle against God himself.”

A leveling democratic regime would have sweeping effects in every facet of human life: not merely in politics and institutions, but also in family life, in literature, in philosophy, in manners, in mores, in male-female relations, in ambition, in friendship, and in attitudes toward war and peace. Tocqueville was interested not only in the outward forms of democracy but in its innermost effects, the ways in which a society’s political arrangements, far from being matters that merely skate on the surface of life, have influences that reach deep into the very souls of its members.

He accomplished this analysis, mostly in the book’s second volume, by contrasting the form that each of these facets of life take on, first in aristocratic societies, then in democracies. The result was a coherent and memorable image of a strikingly middle-class society: feverishly commercial and acquisitive, obsessively practical-minded, jealously egalitarian, and restlessly mobile. Tocqueville saw many things to admire in this energetic, bumptious democracy—but also much to fear.

Chief among the dangers was its pronounced tendency toward individualism. The various bonds and structures of authority that had knit together an aristocratic order were absent from a democracy. Consequently, Tocqueville saw in America the peril that citizens might elect to withdraw from involvement in the larger public life, and regard themselves as autonomous and isolated actors, with no higher goal than the pursuit of their own material well-being.

In aristocratic societies, powerful structures of authority—ecclesiastical, cultural, political, economic—had been closely woven into the social order. Families remained in place for centuries; men and women remembered their ancestors and anticipated their descendants, and strove to do their duty to both. Citizens occupied a fixed position in the social pecking order, with tight bonds to those in their same social niche. So enmeshed was the individual person in this comprehensive order that it was nonsensical to imagine him or her apart from it—as implausible as swimming in the air, or breathing beneath the waves.

In democratic societies, however, where the principle of equality dictated a more fluid sense of connection, such duties and fixities were lost. Tocqueville described the new condition thus:

In democratic peoples, new families constantly issue from nothing, others constantly fall into it, and all those who stay on change face; the fabric of time is torn at every moment and the trace of generations is effaced. You easily forget those who have preceded you, and you have no idea of those who will follow you. . . . As conditions are equalized, one finds a great number of individuals who . . . owe nothing to anyone, they expect so to speak nothing from anyone; they are in the habit of always considering themselves in isolation, and they willingly fancy that their whole destiny is in their hands.

Furthermore, there was a danger that this atomized condition, in which families, neighborhoods, communities, and other intermediate forms of human association were rendered weak and listless, would lead to democratic despotism, an all-embracing “soft” tyranny that relied upon the dissolution of the bonds among its members, and their consequent inability to act together as citizens, as means of smoothing the way toward a massive bureaucratic state that would rule over every feature of their lives. Unchecked individualism could lead to something very nearly its opposite.

How does a democratic society in which all the formerly reliable defenses against anarchy and anomie have been lost still find a way to order itself, and produce the kind of virtuous behavior and commitment to the common good that is required for it to be cohesive, successful, and free? Can a society in the grip of massive change still find ways to import into the new order some of those things that were most estimable in the old?

These are the questions at the heart of “the Tocquevillean moment.” It is the moment when an old order becomes conscious of the imperative need to give way to a new one—and becomes conscious, also, of the particular dilemma that this change presents to thoughtful individuals, such as Tocqueville, whom history seemed to have destined to ride the crest of such a monumental transformation, carrying a full awareness of both sides.

Many of Tocqueville’s contemporary readers failed to understand this balancing act at work in his writing, and he was stung by their incomprehension. A letter Tocqueville wrote to an unfavorable French reviewer is worth quoting at length. We do not know for certain whether this letter was ever received, or even sent. But it is as clear a statement as Tocqueville ever provided of precisely what he was up to:

I had become aware that, in our time, the new social state that had produced and is still producing very great benefits was, however, giving birth to a number of quite dangerous tendencies. These seeds, if left to grow unchecked, would produce, it seemed to me, a steady flowering of the intellectual level of society with no conceivable limit, and this would bring in its train the mores of materialism and, finally, universal slavery. . . . It was essential, I thought, for all men of goodwill to join in exerting the strongest possible pressure in the opposite direction. To my knowledge, few of the friends of the Revolution of 1789 dared point out these very frightening tendencies. . . . Those who saw them and were not afraid to speak of them, being the sort of men who condemned in one fell swoop the entire democratic social state and all its elements, were more likely to irritate people than guide them. The intellectual world was thus divided into blind friends and furious detractors of democracy.

My aim in writing [my] book was to point out these dreadful downward paths opening under the feet of our contemporaries, not to prove that they must be thrown back into an aristocratic state of society . . . but to make these tendencies feared by painting them in vivid colors, and thus to secure the effort of mind and will which alone can combat them—to teach democracy to know itself, and thereby to direct itself and contain itself. (emphasis added)

It would be hard to imagine a better expression of the Tocquevillean moment, when social change arrives at a crossroads, and awaits further direction. As Tocqueville expressed it at the conclusion of Democracy in America, “Providence has not created mankind entirely independent or perfectly slave. It traces, it is true, a fatal circle around each man that he cannot leave; but within its vast limits man is powerful and free; so too with peoples.”

The Tocquevillean moment involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.

How did Tocqueville believe that the Americans of his day managed to counter the dangerous aspects of democracy and create a free and vibrant society? He located a number of factors. He credited the pervasive influence of religion in American life, noting to his astonishment the ways in which religion served to support democratic values and free institutions. He applauded Americans for their talent in forming voluntary associations, and for their decentralized federal institutions, both of which tended to disperse power and encourage the involvement of citizens in the activity of governing themselves.

But more than anything else, Tocqueville praised Americans for their embrace of the principle of self-interest rightly understood. It was a foregone conclusion, in his view, that self-interest had replaced virtue as the chief force driving human action. To tell an American to do virtuous things for virtue’s sake, or at the authoritative direction of priests, prelates, or princes, was futile. But the same request would readily be granted if real benefits could be shown to flow from it. The challenge of moral philosophy in such an environment was to demonstrate how “private interest and public interest meet and amalgamate,” and how one’s devotion to the general good could also promote one’s personal advantage. Belief in that conjunction—that one could do well by doing good—was exactly what was meant by the “right understanding” of self-interest.

Hence, it was imperative to educate democratic citizens in this understanding, to teach them how to reason their own way to acceptance of the greater good. The American example made Tocqueville hopeful that the modern principle of self-interest could be so channeled, hedged about, habituated, and clothed as to produce public order and public good, even in the absence of “aristocratic” sources of authority. But it would not happen of its own accord.

“Enlighten them, therefore, at any price.” Or, as another translation expresses it, “Educate them, then.” Whatever else we may believe about the applicability of Tocqueville’s ideas to the present day, we can be in no doubt that he was right in his emphasis upon education. But not just any kind of education. He was talking about what we call liberal education, in the strictest sense of the term, an education that makes men and women capable of the exercise of liberty, and equips them for the task of rational self-governance. And the future of that ideal of education is today very much in doubt.

Which brings us back to the anxious and unstable time American colleges and universities are living through. Worries about ever-escalating costs and diminishing prospects for postgraduate employment have made many Americans question ingrained assumptions about the heretofore unquestionable value of a college education. Their concerns are entirely legitimate and must be answered.

Understandably, some academic leaders look to the new information technologies for a quick fix, hoping the vast economies of scale they offer will lower costs and improve access, while breaking down some of the insularity and impracticality of academic life. In his 2011 book, Andrew Rosen, chairman and CEO of the for-profit education firm Kaplan Inc., offers an argument that is winning a sympathetic hearing in many quarters: The model of a four-year residential college is doomed, and the salvation of higher education lies in radical institutional innovation, along with much greater use of technology. Online learning, skills-based training outside of traditional undergraduate degree programs, and tech-enabled community outreach through local colleges and community colleges—these and other more cost-effective expedients will eventually create a new model for higher education.

Such changes are of a piece with the ways in which the Internet has disrupted the well-established channels through which movies, television, recorded music, and news content are published and distributed. The near-irresistible tide moving in the direction of universal information dissemination and access through digitized media is itself a great and sprawling historical spectacle, as productive of awe and uncertainty as the one Tocqueville witnessed. Indeed, it is perhaps best understood as a continuation of the very same spectacle, the gradual but pervasive process of democratic leveling that Tocqueville described, now taking the form of a radical democratization of access to information. Like it or not, such a development is challenging the standing of nearly all traditional institutions of formal education and those who work in them, not to mention other institutions, such as the great newspapers, magazines, libraries, publishing houses, networks, studios, and other intellectual and cultural institutions, all of which have lost much of their authority along with their monopolies.

Much of this change is inevitable, and much of the fruit of the digital revolution is unquestionably good. But there is also much to be said for being more cautious than we have been in substituting the digital and the virtual for older educational practices. This revolution may, if embraced uncritically, render impossible the things we have always sought to achieve through the process of formal education. The Internet is a tool of unparalleled utility. But the facility it offers may already be eroding our capacity for thinking in the focused and undistracted ways the older forms of literacy fostered and demanded. There is mounting evidence, related in studies such as Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, though already anticipated in Sven Birkerts’s remarkably prescient Gutenberg Elegies (1994), that the Internet’s steady and exclusive use tends to habituate its users—meaning all of us—to think in increasingly undisciplined and fragmentary ways, that it tends to dull our capacity for sustained and penetrating attentiveness and inhibit our ability to detect larger patterns of meaning. The “linear mind” fostered by the literary culture of books, Carr argues, is being “pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.” If we are not careful, this “new kind of mind” will change for the worse the way we read, the way we write, and the way we think.

So we must be Tocquevillean. That means we should not be too quick to discard an older model of what higher education is about, a model that the conventional four-year residential liberal-arts college, whatever its failures and its exorbitant costs, has been preeminent in championing. And that is the model of a physical community built around a great shared enterprise: the serious and careful reading and discussion of classic literary, philosophical, historical, and scientific texts.

What we may need, however, is to be more rigorous in thinking through what we want from such a model of education, and what we can readily dispense with. Perhaps we do not need college to be what it all too often has become: an extended Wanderjahre of post-adolescent entertainment and experimentation, played out in the soft, protected environment of idyllic, leafy campuses, less a rite du passage than a retreat to a very expensive place where one can defer the responsibilities of adult life.

At the very least, such an education ought to help us resist the uncritical embrace of technological innovation, and equip us to challenge it constructively and thoughtfully—and selectively. There is, for example, no product of formal education more important than the cultivation of reflection, of solitary concentration, and of sustained, patient, and disciplined attention—habits that an overwired and hyperconnected way of life is making more and more difficult to put into practice. If we find it increasingly difficult to compose our fragmented and disjointed browsings into coherent accounts, let alone larger and deeper structures of meaning, that fact represents a colossal failure of our educations to give us the tools we need to make sense of our lives. Colleges and universities should be the last institutions to succumb to this tendency. They should resist it with all their might, because that is precisely what they are there for.

It should be obvious that the consequences of failure would not be confined to the world of the campus. As former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made clear recently, these consequences would be far reaching and practical: “Reading books requires you to form concepts, to train your mind to relationships. You have to come to grips with who you are. A leader needs these qualities. But now we learn from fragments of facts. . . . Now there is no need to internalize because each fact can be instantly called up on the computer. There is no context, no motive. . . . This new thinking erases all context. It disaggregates everything. All this makes strategic thinking about the world order impossible to achieve.”

An education that still revolves around the encounter with serious and substantial books is therefore to be commended on very practical, Tocquevillean grounds. To borrow the words Tocqueville used in his letter to his French critic, such an education seeks to teach democracy to know itself, and thereby to direct itself and contain itself. It equips us to negotiate the multitude of Tocquevillean dilemmas presented to us by the fatal circle of our times—such as the tsunami of digitization that is, precisely like Tocqueville’s own revolution of democratization, too powerful to be reversed, but too full of potential for both good and ill to be treated fatalistically.

The careful reading of serious books, particularly older books, equips us with something subtle, resistant to easy description, whose utility is impossible to distill into a sound bite or sentence. When, for example, we accord Plato’s Republic our respect as a great text deserving of a lifetime of study, this does not mean we are expressing approval of the many defects of the Athenian society in which it was produced. We study the Republic because it formulates powerful criticisms of democracy that remain enduringly valid and troubling, criticisms that we would not have had the wit to formulate on our own—and because in reading it and wrestling with it, we are teaching our democracy to know itself better, and thereby contributing, not to the undermining of our democracy, but to its deepening, its resiliency, its ennoblement. To find and retain those things from the past that remain estimable and enduringly valuable is what it means to cultivate a civilization.

Tocqueville was prone to melancholy, and he worried that the task of democracy’s ennoblement would prove too difficult, too exacting, too exhausting. There is always in his work a sense of an uphill challenge, with the issue very much in doubt. And it does not take a great deal of imagination to find, in his description to his French critic of the “downward paths opening under the feet of our contemporaries,” a description of much in the state of our own democracy today.

What remains consistent, both in Tocqueville and in the present day, is the imperative of freedom. Remember his words at the end of Democracy in America: “[Providence] traces, it is true, a fatal circle around each man that he cannot leave; but within its vast limits man is powerful and free; so too with peoples.” It is hard at any given time to know where our containing circle is drawn. But Tocqueville clearly thought that we have far more power to shape our lives and our destinies than we allow ourselves to believe. That is why the Tocquevillean moment is, at bottom, an occasion for the exercise of the profoundest human freedom.

It is not an unlimited freedom, of course. What could such a thing mean anyway? What, after all, is a radically unconditioned state, other than a state of utter randomness and inconsequentiality? A completely unconstrained freedom would be, as the philosopher George Santayana quipped, “like the liberty to sign checks without possessing a bank account.” You are free to write them for any amount that you please, but, Santayana added, “it is only when a precise deposit limits your liberty that you may write them to any purpose.” We are not like the gods of the Iliad, those cosmic jet setters whose freedom was nearly absolute, but who paid for that privilege by appearing trivial and small when set beside the poignant dignity of limited, vulnerable, mortal men and women. In other words, the exercise of freedom is most meaningful when it is the art of the possible, and involves us in assessing the tradeoffs and relative merits of actions whose range is inescapably finite, due to conditioning factors that are beyond our control.

No, the difficult and complex freedom of the Tocquevillean moment is exactly the sort of freedom for which we humans were made, and it provides an opportunity for our finest qualities to flourish. The fatal circle is also the ground of our freedom, the horizon that gives focus and purposefulness to our efforts. History may delimit our choices, but it does not dictate what we ought do with what is set before us. For that task, we will need a great deal of technical information. But more than that, in order to grasp the ends toward which that information should be directed, we will need to furnish our hearts and imaginations with the counsel of books, especially old ones. And perhaps especially a book, now nearly two centuries old, called Democracy in America, in whose pages many shocks of recognition and much wise guidance await the patient reader. Ω

[Wilfred M. McClay is the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities and Professor of History at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He received a B.A. from St. John’s College (MD) and a Ph.D. from The Johns Hopkins University. McClay also is a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2004 - 2012). His book The Masterless: Self and Society in Modern America (1994) won the 1995 Merle Curti Award of the Organization of American Historians for the best book in American intellectual history published in the years 1993 and 1994.]

Copyright © 2012 Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Roll Over, Leni Riefenstahl... Make Way For Ed & Steve Sabol

Steve Sabol, auteur of NFL Films, died on September 18, 2012, after Rich Cohen finished his article on Ed and Steve Sabol and NFL Films. Films of former NFL players living out lives with brain damage have not yet been made. If this is (fair & balanced) film theory, so be it.

[x The Atlantic]
They Taught America How To Watch Football
By Rich Cohen

(Click to embiggen the WordSift cloud)

(Click to embiggen)

In the summer of 1968, Steve Sabol went on the road. He was driving a beat-up old car with the windows open. From Pennsylvania to Ohio to Indiana, the towns drifted by, the neon vacancy signs outside the motels, the taverns, the fields where the high-school football teams played. Steve was 26, strong as a horse, his hair too long for the Podunk provinces. He had a reel-to-reel projector in the backseat, the kind every randy best man used to drag to stag parties in the 1950s. Each night, he set up in another wood-paneled room where, after the Kiwanians or Rotarians or Boy Scouts had finished their business, he showed his movie. He was stumping like a politician, building an audience for a film he’d made guerrilla-style, with nothing but a few thousand dollars and a vision. He wanted to show football as it might have been shown by the old Hollywood directors: the game as directed by John Ford.

"They Call It Pro Football" was produced by NFL Films, a small company Steve’s father, Ed, had founded as Blair Productions in 1962. After Steve had first shown it in New York several months earlier, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle shook his hand and said, “That’s not a highlight film, it’s a real movie.” But none of the TV networks were interested, so Steve had to find his viewers, one screening at a time, amassing an audience that would eventually be among the most prized in the marketplace. But even in the beginning, when there was just this determined kid and a weird movie that could not find a distributor, all the elements were there: speed, color, narrative. The first line of "They Call It Pro Football" sets the tone: “It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun.” A primer on the game itself, with passages dedicated to “the linemen,” “the quarterbacks,” and so on, the movie is a collection of dramatic images, explained, glorified, set to music. It came to define the aesthetic of modern, hyper-­vivid sports coverage, taking viewers inside the huddle, letting them hear the collisions and understand the coaches’ tactics. It turned every game into Waterloo and every player into an epic hero. It taught America how to watch football.

The bloody fingers of the lineman, the clouds of breath on the cold, clear day, the chewed-up turf, Gale Sayers pulling away from the last defender like a driver who had discovered a seventh gear (Sayers in the film: “Sixteen inches of daylight, that’s all I need”), the uncertain wobble of a mid-flight football—­and always the heroic voice-over: “Special men in a special game. A uniquely American game with a history as rich and as rugged as the country in which it was born.” It was all there, crystallized, perfected. If Steve showed it to kids on a Friday, they’d be in their yards early the next morning, the narrator’s voice running through their heads as the receiver ran the hook-and-ladder: “His range carries him into heavy traffic, or through the shifting dangers of a broken field … Men on the run, measuring their survival by the twist of a shoulder.”

That voice, the NFL Films voice—Steve calls it “the voice of God”—would become more than a sports narrator: for those of us who grew up in the 1970s and ’80s, it remains the voice in our heads, lending drama to even the most mundane decisions (“Cohen knew the tortilla chips were old, possibly stale, but hunger is a beast that first devours the mind of a man”). For many years, that voice belonged to John Facenda, a Philadelphia broadcaster, though others have filled the role as well. In 1969, for instance, Burt Lancaster narrated "Big Game America"—he took the gig in return for a football signed by Johnny Unitas—because, as I said, Steve wanted to show the game as it would’ve been shown by Hollywood.

"They Call It Pro Football" finally made it to television in 1969. It was shown early in the morning, late at night. Junk time. Garbage hour. Just ask Fidel Castro: all revolutions begin in the sticks.

NFL Films is located in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia. The sprawling complex and the parking lot, with its gleaming rows of Mercedes and Saabs, speak of the success of "They Call It Pro Football" and the hundreds of movies and millions of miles of footage that have followed. The company has produced some 10,000 features since 1964, and supplies hundreds of hours of content a year to HBO, ESPN, ABC, Fox, CBS, and Showtime, including the highlights played during halftime and the features for the Sunday pregame shows. NFL Films generates 25 percent of all content for the NFL Network, including award-winning shows such as "Hard Knocks" and "America’s Game." In 2004, the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences gave Steve and his father, Ed, its Lifetime Achievement Emmy—one of 107 Emmys the company has won over the years. In 2011, Ed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a signature recognition for a man who neither played nor coached.

But all of this actually understates the company’s achievement. Slow motion, color, extreme close-up, ubiquitous micro­phones and cameras, omniscient voice-over: the Sabols pioneered the style of modern sports coverage. There are no secrets in the Sabols’ NFL. Everything is revealed. As much as George Halas and Sid Luckman, or Tom Landry and Roger Staubach, it was Ed and Steve who created the modern game, a contest more in tune with the speed and violence of modern America than any other sport. Baseball? Please! Nine angels dancing on the head of a pin. Football is blood and guts, the ticking clock, sudden death, the sack, the blitz, the bomb—symbols of a nation locked in endless war. Almost every detail of the game has come to the attention of its fans through the sensibilities of the Sabols. Asked to describe his goals, Steve paraphrased Matisse: “The importance of an artist is bringing new signs into a language.”

The headquarters of NFL Films is 200,000 square feet of photo labs, orchestra pits, recording studios, and endless stretches of gray hallway lined with photos of great players, the gladiatorial forebears who have been gathered and incorporated into the narrative. One shows a group of men playing on a field next to a house that’s on fire. Because only the game matters. “This is the last Hollywood studio,” a young producer named Ken Rodgers told me. “We have the best subject and the best stars. It never gets old. Peyton Manning is injured? Here comes Tebow, Gronkowski. It’s a never-ending drama.”

Rodgers was at his desk, watching footage from a recent game and writing the narration that would accompany the banner plays. “If there’s a hard run where a guy bounces off a couple tacklers, we won’t say ‘Marshawn Lynch ran for 42 yards on a touchdown to tie the game at 17,’ ” he told me. “That doesn’t mean anything, if you watched the game. We’ll write something like ‘The power in his legs was matched only by the fearlessness in his heart.’ ”

When I asked Rodgers to explain what he was trying to capture, he told me about his first time watching the game from the sideline, during the 2001 season. “It was a Jets game,” he said. “Curtis Martin takes a handoff and runs to the sideline. A defender comes up, and they collide right in front of me. I thought they were both dead. Two people that big, that fast, hitting each other full speed—I thought I’d witnessed a murder. Then they jump up and run back, and I saw it 30 more times in the next hour, and I realized that what you see from the stands is nothing. That’s what we want to show people: what it’s really like.”

The focal point of NFL Films, the destination of every hallway and every movie, is the vault. Ed Sabol sold his company to the league in 1964 and became the official historian of the NFL, charged with collecting old footage as well as filming every game. The fruit of that labor is here, 50,000 cans arranged sequentially in a room chilled to 55 degrees Fahren­heit. In this film, you see the Pottsville Maroons, a memory of the ancient, industrial-city NFL, play for a title in 1925. In that one, you see a 1934 battle between the Giants and the College All-Stars, the first game recorded in color. The collection even includes the oldest football game on film: Princeton versus Rutgers, 1894. Skinny, upright men in sepia tone run into each other at the sound of an unheard signal. It starts with a whistle and ends with a gun. Like the Constitution under glass, it’s a holy relic: the original football movie, father of thousands, shot by Thomas Edison himself.

I talked with Steve Sabol in his office, a room of souvenirs and windows: bobbleheads, photographs, parking lot, office buildings, sky. He raised a hand, waving goodbye to a compact, gray-haired guy who grinned and thanked Steve for all the good he’s done. This was Dick Vermeil, retired now, but for many years a dominating coach, first of the Philadelphia Eagles, then of the St. Louis Rams. Steve helped Vermeil make his name when he was young, helped transform him from a tiny figure in the distance into an icon. It happened one Sunday in 1977, when Steve’s cameras caught Vermeil helping a young quarterback, Ron Jaworski, through the kind of rough patch that, if handled wrongly, can mean trouble.

“It was one of those days where things weren’t going well in Philadelphia, and the fans were on my ass, booing,” Jaworski told me. “Dick pulls me out—we were wired—and says, ‘You never have to worry about me jerking you from a game. I don’t care what the fans say. You’re my quarterback.’ It was a personal moment on the sidelines, and NFL Films got it. They still show it when they talk about young quarterbacks. It meant everything.” It was just the sort of moment that characterized NFL Films: taking viewers not just inside the game, but inside the psyches of the men on the field.

Steve is 6 foot nothing and was wearing tennis shoes, a purple sweater, and chinos. He is a buoyant man, but his hair is thin, his hands shaky. He’s 69, but that’s the least of it. The fact is, Steve Sabol is ill. It happened like this: Steve was in Kansas City, where he was about to receive the Lamar Hunt Award, listening to the speaker before him, thinking through his own routine of anecdotes and morals. He began feeling light-headed, foggy, and a blackness appeared at the edge of his vision. Then he was through the looking glass, in another place, another stage of his life: at a hospital across town, with a guy in a lab coat shining a light in his eyes, asking Can you tell me your name? Do you know who you are? “And that was the scariest moment of all, the one time I experienced terror,” Steve told me, “because, no, I did not know my name, and no, I did not know who I was.”

Steve had suffered a seizure at his table, passed out, and been carried away un­conscious. The doctors put him in a room and waited for his memory to return. Two days later, it did, but not his ability to speak. (This happened more than a year ago, and Steve still suffers from slight aphasia: his thoughts are clear, but when he tries to speak what’s on his mind, he often cannot find the words, or the words come out wrong.) He was flown home to Philadelphia, where the doctors discovered an inoperable brain tumor. He’s been undergoing weekly blasts of radiation, which have shrunk the tumor but left Steve tired and frustrated. His entire life has been about communicating the ineffable—the perfect music, the perfect picture, the exact word for the moment—and now even the smallest turn of phrase requires tremendous concentration.

Steve was reluctant to have his story told. He had turned down the reporters who contacted him when news of his illness went public, fearing they would write the kind of living obituary he hates. “The last thing I want is to be portrayed as a ghost haunting this place while I’m still alive,” he told me. But he did want to talk about NFL Films, how it had changed not just football but American movies and culture. He wanted to talk about his father, too, “a salesman pure and simple, who made us seem big even when we were small. He was the only one who could talk the old coaches into letting us on the sidelines and into the locker rooms, letting us mic them up for sound,” Steve explained. “They would say ‘Absolutely not.’ Then he would sit them down and say ‘We’re going to make you bigger than John Wayne!’ ”

Though Steve worked with his father all his life, important parts of Ed Sabol’s story remained mysterious. “I have no idea what really happened during World War II, even though it was clearly crucial,” Steve explained.

Ed Sabol had returned from Europe in possession of experiences that changed his approach to everything, and caused him to think in ways important to the development of NFL Films. “I’ve asked about it again and again,” Steve told me, “but the most he’ll say is that it was the worst time of his life, and that he was so scared, he did not take a shit for nine days.”

The Father

I met Ed Sabol at his spread in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lives with Audrey, his wife of 71 years. Ed is 95 years old now, and in a wheelchair, but he had a glass of whiskey in his hand. He described a scene to me: 1944, Ed in fatigues, sitting on his helmet amid a sea of soldiers east of Paris. Behind him, in a panorama, are tents and war machines, infantry preparing for the drive into Germany. He’s listening with rapt attention to a white-haired general sporting a whip and antique pistols. It’s George S. Patton, motivating the men for battle, turning them, phrase by phrase, from lawyers and farmers into killers. Courage is fear holding out a minute longer. No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. “I saw Patton give one of his famous speeches,” Ed told me. “It was in a field in the middle of nowhere, and we were terrified, but he was magnificent, a real showman. He knew how important the theatrical things are at the brutal moments. As long as he was talking, we were not afraid.”

I seized on this image—Ed on his helmet, listening to Patton—because it’s a key to the culture of sport depicted in NFL Films. The idea of football as the game of field commanders was evident from the first Sabol production. Patton outside Paris was the prototype for Paul Brown with his fedora, for Vince Lombardi with his sayings that echoed those of the general (Winning isn’t every­thing, it’s the only thing), for Bill Parcells with his years at West Point. Each of these iconic coaches was the general in another guise, on another field of battle. Patton “told us we were going to kill those cock­suckers, go into their houses, take their broads, blow them all to hell,” Ed told me. “He was a tough son of a bitch, and I admired him.”

Ed Sabol was born in Atlantic City in 1916 and grew up outside Philadelphia, where his dad ran a clothing store on the fringes of the Jewish rag trade. From age 5, he spent every summer at Blue Mountain Camp, in the Poconos, where he became a top-notch swimmer. After high school, he went for a few college-prep years at Blair Academy, a boarding school in Blairstown, New Jersey. This is where Ed had his first great success, the one that gave him the confidence that’s carried him through life. “In 1935, when I was 18, I set a world high-school swimming record for the 100‑yard freestyle,” he told me. “I went back in 1936 and broke it again.” Precise details from the era are tough to pin down, but according to Ed and others, he took that record from Johnny Weissmuller, who, in addition to winning five Olympic gold medals, went on to play Tarzan in Holly­wood. Before turning 20, Ed Sabol had whipped the King of the Jungle.

He wound up at Ohio State, where he gradually gave up swimming for the dream of becoming a movie star. “I went out for the dramatic club, got in some plays, loved it,” he told me. In late 1937, he dropped out of school and moved to New York. “I started making the rounds, going up and down Broadway,” he said. “One day, I got lucky. There was a show opening called "Where Do We Go From Here?" It was about college. I go to the office, and who is there but Oscar Hammer­stein.” Ed got the part. The show opened two weeks later, and closed two weeks after that. Ed’s parents were living in Florida by then, and he reluctantly moved down to help his father run the store he owned. “That was the end of my film career,” Ed said. “I thought it was the end of my life, too.”

It was in Miami that Ed courted Audrey Siegel, whom he’d known years before when she’d spent summers at the girls’ camp across the lake from Blue Mountain. Married in 1941, they moved to Philly, where Ed took a job with Audrey’s father, a coat manufacturer. Their son, Steve, was born in October 1942, 10 months after the United States entered World War II. Ed was drafted and landed on Utah Beach, in France, as one of the grunts in the gunwales of the big attack craft that went boom, boom as the clouds closed the sky. “Not D‑Day,” he told me: “D‑Day plus 10, thank God.” Toward the end of the war, he found himself in Paris, which he helped liberate: “Eighteen abreast down the Champs-Élysées, flowers, broads, everything. I thought I was in heaven, but then we went east. I got as far as the Hürtgen Forest. I got shell-shocked, I guess. They sent me to rest in the back lines. General Patton didn’t like [guys like me]. He said, ‘You stay up and shoot until you get killed.’ ” Ed took a slug of whiskey, then told me, “Jesus, I hated the Army.”

When Ed came home, in 1945, he went meekly back to the workplace of his father-in-law. This was the era of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, who embraced the mundane not because he was boring, but because he had killed a man with his bare hands. Ed worked in the coat business for a dozen years, until his father-in-law decided to retire and sell his factory, splitting the proceeds between his children. For Ed, it was the first freedom he had tasted since he’d given up on stardom.

He was 40 years old, handsome, optimistic, rich. He had three things he wanted to do: learn to fly a plane (he mastered a Cessna), travel the world (he hopscotched Asia), and make movies. Ed had always been interested in film. He’d been given a camera for his wedding, a 16‑millimeter Bell + Howell, and he documented everything: his daughter, Blair, taking her first bubble bath, Steve’s first bike ride, snowball fights, trips to town—all captured and set to music. It had been a great hobby, but now he wanted to make it something more. He started a company, Blair Productions, named after his daughter, who was named after the school where he had whipped Tarzan as a swimmer. He went to the Bahamas, where he combined his two great passions, piloting a Cessna above the islands while, with his free hand, shooting the beaches and hotels, roads, dunes, and pools. Ed cut the footage into a visual hymn to the Caribbean, then sold it to the Bahamian Tourist Bureau: his first credit.

When Ed got home, he noticed a Howard Johnson’s hotel going up near his house. He set up his camera in front of the construction site, which was nothing but girders and holes in the ground, shot a few frames, then came back each morning for the same shot until the building was complete. When the frames were run together, he had a beautiful time-lapse film of a building rising from nothing. Ed sold it to Howard Johnson’s: his second credit.

Ed had become increasingly interested in football as a subject, particularly Steve’s games at the Haverford School, outside Philadelphia—the color, the violence, the story lines that seemed to emerge naturally from the game. Ed started on the sideline but, always in search of the God’s-eye view, eventually built a rickety wooden tower beside the field. The school tolerated him for the same reason NFL owners would years later: the film was invaluable, allowing the coach to study team strengths and weaknesses that could be recognized only from above. Ed began editing the footage into high-school epics, with slow motion and music. Some of these sepia beauties survive. In one, you see young Steve carrying the ball behind his blockers, finding a hole, then wandering through as if in a dream, as if rolling downhill, as if following a kind of logic.

The footage, the movies, the reaction of Steve and his teammates—all of it gave Ed ideas. Simply put, he looked at the films then being made about pro football and thought, I can do better. Each year, the film rights to the NFL Championship Game were sold at auction to the sort of companies that made black-and-white indus­trial shorts with titles like "Zinc: It Makes the Body Strong." Many of the football films were made by TelRa Productions, which compiled highlight reels, the field seen through a single, static camera high in the stands. The music was marching bands, the B-roll was pennant-­waving crowds, the narration was Eisenhower-­era corn, such as: “Milt Plum pegged a peach of a pass to become the apple of coach George Wilson’s eye.”

Ed wanted to shoot in color, roll many cameras, record everything in slow motion, set the action to dramatic music. TelRa wrote news; Ed wanted to create myths. “Our game lends itself to the majestic,” Joe Theismann, the All‑Pro quarter­back, told me. “The way you can slow it down, isolate the spin on the ball, the different emotions you can show—Ed Sabol figured all that out early.”

In 1962, Blair Productions entered a bid for the rights to film the NFL Championship Game. Having learned that the previous year’s rights had gone for $2,500, Ed offered $3,000. When he finally heard from Pete Rozelle, the commissioner told him that he’d made the top offer, but that didn’t mean he’d get the rights. Rozelle had never heard of Blair Productions, and when he looked through its scant credits, he saw titles such as "The Sabols at the Seashore," "All About Ice Cream," and "Bahamas Bound." The company’s only sports films featured Steve Sabol’s prep-school team. Rozelle asked Ed to explain why he was more than a hobbyist with money to burn. Ed went in and pitched, which was his thing, his gift. He came away with not just the rights but an ally who would prove crucial in the coming years.

Ed went to work, hiring cameramen and soundmen. The game, Packers versus Giants, was played at Yankee Stadium on December 30, 1962. (Ed filmed an establishing shot of New York City from his Cessna.) It was 15 degrees at kickoff. The cameras jammed, the film cracked. Ed built a fire in the dugout to thaw his equipment. He told his men to get as much as they could, to film everything, then he threw the reels in a sack, figuring he would save what he could in the edit room. The movie was shown a few weeks later to football people and press at the midtown restaurant Toots Shor’s, a legendary haunt of Hemingway and Mantle and Gleason and Sinatra.

The room was dark and quiet, save for the clink of glasses and the pop of champagne corks. And there it was: the tundra of Yankee Stadium, the players on the field, Bart Starr and Y. A. Tittle, the kickoff, the ball high in the bitter air, the move and countermove. Whereas previous football films had depicted the game in the way of college contests—bobby soxers and pennant-wavers—Ed Sabol had made a war movie. “The Packers’ iconic Lombardi, pacing the sidelines in his camel-hair coat, took on the aspect of a general leading his troops into war,” Michael MacCambridge writes in his 2004 book, America’s Game. “And the action that had unfolded too quickly to be fully absorbed live revealed itself to be a carefully orchestrated series of troop movements, captured in close-up and slow motion by Sabol’s cameras.”

The crowd at Toots Shor’s, restless at first, turned quiet, respectful. Even Sabol’s title—Pro Football’s Longest Day—suggested war, echoing the name of the Hollywood D‑Day blockbuster "The Longest Day," a title that itself drew from Kipling’s great war poem “Gunga Din”: “ ’E would dot an’ carry one / till the longest day was done.” Ed had borrowed the title of a movie that told the story of his own landing at Normandy. Starting with this first film, he seemed to run his worst experiences through the prism of football, turning Patton into Lombardi, torment into entertainment, slowing everything down until it made sense.

Seen today, that first movie seems primitive, with one foot still in the world of TelRa Productions. But the elements that would gradually come to characterize NFL Films were there. When the lights came up at Toots Shor’s, Rozelle clapped Ed on the back and said, “That’s the best damn football movie I’ve ever seen.”

Sabol secured rights to the next two Championship Games, but the price kept climbing: $10,000, $17,000. He was a victim of his own success. In the previous era, the title-game film had been a vanity project, made for the archives and for team owners. By reinventing the film for a general audience, Ed showed there was money to be made, raising the price for the rights in a way that threatened to drive him out of a market he had invented.

After the 1964 game, Ed went to Rozelle with a proposition. To hell with all this bidding: the league should buy Blair Productions and rename it NFL Films. It was time for the league to have its own media wing, to control its own image and sell its own product. Despite the misgivings of some of the old owners, Rozelle agreed, and the league bought Ed’s company for less than $1 million. Ed, who continued to run the company, was put on the league payroll at $30,000 a year. In addition to the Championship Game, he would now film every game on the schedule. In 1965, he sold the syndication rights for the first weekly football show, "NFL Game of the Week." The following year, a Packers highlight movie opened with a full minute of film shot in the trenches during World War I.

The Son

Another Sabol, another image: Steve, sitting on his football helmet in 1962, in the middle of a stadium in the Rockies, as his coach paces the sideline. Steve is a starting fullback at Colorado College, in Colorado Springs, which is not as great as it sounds—Division III, “a nothing thing,” Steve told me. But still, he is a player in the only game that matters.

I seized on this image of Steve, the son who will bring the Sabol project to fruition, in part because it shows the difference between generations: one that came of age during the Great Depression, that dreamed of Broadway but gave it all up for family obligation, that sat on helmets as Patton barked; the other that came of age in the ’60s, that sat on helmets as college coaches used the language of war. Woven together, these generations—father and son, scarcity and surplus—­created the aesthetic of modern football.

The football team at Colorado was a tough nut to crack: even Division III coaches want to win. To improve his odds of getting on the field, when asked to write a few biographical facts for the program, Steve changed his birthplace from Villanova to Coaltown Township—because Villanova means a trophy-filled room where a kid stays up late doing extra credit, but Coaltown means Johnny Unitas and Joe Namath and working harder than anyone else because it’s better than getting black lung in the mines. “Everybody knows that western Pennsylvania is where the studs come from,” Steve explained. He added a nickname to complete the picture: “Sudden Death.” When this didn’t work, he doubled down, keeping the nickname but choosing an even more colorful birthplace: Possum Trot, Mississippi. He began sending press releases to the newspapers, extolling his own virtues. In some, he referred to himself as “the Prince of Pigskin Pageantry now at the Pinnacle of his Power.” He had hats made, postcards, buttons. He wrote a column for the school paper, titled Here’s a Lot From Possum Trot. His self-­publicizing was successful enough that, remarkably, he was covered in the November 22, 1965, issue of Sports Illustrated: “The Fearless Tot From Possum Trot.”

All the while, Steve was working like a dog, running, lifting, getting bigger. He was up to 210 pounds by his junior year. When the coach finally took notice, he was ready. He started in short-yardage situations, grunting, grimacing, bucking the line. Steve downplays his college career, but it defined him—not the games themselves, but the lessons he took from his own self-invention. That people are always hungry for a more interesting story. That if you put the pictures on the screen, the audience will fill them out with their own fantasies. Steve was an art major, and his mother, Audrey, an art dealer. When Steve wasn’t on the football field, he was studying images.

When Steve went to work full-time at NFL Films in 1964, he arrived with a sense of mission. Ed had sketched the outline; Steve would jam it full of color, character, incident. The game had always been seen from a distance: the backsides of the linemen in three-point stance, the pile of bodies. Steve wanted to open the game like a sandwich, peer inside, show people things they’d never been able to see. He would take them onto the field, into the locker rooms—even into the huddle, the most sacred place in pro sports.

Steve began experimenting in the mid-1960s, pioneering techniques that still define sports coverage, documentary film, even reality TV. He was the first to mic a coach, the first to use pop music in sports films, the first to diagram a play onscreen. He put cameras everywhere. He kept filming the QB after he had thrown the ball and was tackled, showing fans what it’s like when the wall of pain arrives.

Steve hired former NFL players to work the cameras, because they could better anticipate where the play was going. “I remember watching the camerawork, saying to myself, How do those guys do that?” said Hank McElwee, a cameraman and the director of photography at NFL Films. “They were getting angles you had never seen. On TV, you’d always see the shot from the main camera, which sits high above the stadium—never any handhelds. And here was this little company doing slow motion, doing sound. They were on the field. I remember saying ‘Boy, that really makes you feel like you’re part of the game.’ ”

There’s a degree of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in all this: by observing the game, the Sabols changed it. Their movies taught a generation of kids who became players how to behave onscreen. It made them self-conscious. “I remember the first player who looked into the lens and said ‘Hi, Mom.’ I thought it was the end of everything,” Steve told me. “ ‘We can’t capture it anymore. The players are thinking about us as much as we’re thinking about them.’ But I was wrong. In the end, the performance became another part of the game.” If you want to understand football, don’t look at Jim Brown or John Elway or Tom Brady, Steve explained. Look at Homer Jones, a receiver for the Giants in the 1960s. Players used to hand the ball to the referee after scoring, or toss it to the fans. Jones, wanting to distinguish himself, whipped it into the turf instead. The first spike. You can go from there to Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s end-zone dance, Ickey Woods’s shuffle, Terrell Owens’s Sharpie, Rob Gronkowski’s antics. In the modern game, the camera is the 12th man, another participant in the unfolding drama.

As Steve’s ambition grew, Ed slowly stepped away, turning the operation over to his son little by little and year by year, until, before anyone quite registered the fact, it was Steve in the huddle and Ed in the skybox, where the shrimp plates drift by in schools. Steve began to experiment with techniques pioneered by New Wave French auteurs: quick cut, montage. He wanted to make real films. In a 1965 sequence, he showed the Chicago Bears QB Rudy Bukich throwing a ball in Wrigley Field, then cut to the L.A. Coliseum, where Mike Ditka made a beautiful catch. George Halas, the iconic Bears coach, called NFL Films in a rage. He wanted to know how it was possible to catch a ball in L.A. that was thrown in Chicago. What does Bukich have, a fucking intercontinental arm? In such situations, Ed would get on the phone and work his magic, speak of legacy, mythology, film techniques. “This is going to record and preserve your life’s work,” he explained. “It’s something your grandkids will appreciate.” When that failed, he’d go to his fallback line: “You’ll be bigger than John Wayne!” It took a dozen years, but Halas finally caught up with NFL Films, praising the Sabols as “keepers of the flame.”

Steve and his colleagues had a handful of models, Hollywood films they believed they could emulate: "The Magnificent Seven" for the music, the Gregory Peck movie "Duel in the Sun" for close-ups of fingers and hands during the climactic battle in the mountains. The French director Claude Lelouch’s "A Man and a Woman" convinced Steve that even the most familiar events could be worked into drama. He began commissioning original scores for his films; many were written by the composer Sam Spence, then recorded by full orchestras in Europe. With the right music, he explained, “you can make a coin toss seem like Armageddon.”

In 1967, Steve brought in John Facenda, the Philadelphia newscaster who became “the voice of God.” Facenda knew nothing about the game, but he could deliver a line. The scripts were the key, of course, and Steve wrote many of them himself. He was particular about the language, wanting everything jacked up, squeezed for drama. When I asked him to name his literary influences, he said, “Kipling and Poe.” (Kipling again, whose poem had given a title to a war movie that gave its title to his dad’s first championship film.) Where sports narrative had tended toward the descriptive, Steve strove for the literary. His words did not describe the action—they accompanied it, amplified it. “Rage was part of [Mike] Curtis’s anatomy. Like a muscle, he flexed it and built it up”; “There’s glory in the legends of this hard-muscle life, and there’s poetry in each season made of sweat and strife”; “As for the Patriots, Gertrude Stein would have said, ‘Instead of going the way they were going, they went back the way they had come.’ ”

When I told Ken Rodgers I thought it’d be funny if the writers drafted scripts in a literary voice other than Kip­ling’s, he said, “We’ve done that.” He then sent me a copy of a show called “Highlights for Highbrows,” which narrates the most notorious game in Giants history—in which the quarterback, Joe Pisarcik, fumbled with seconds left, resulting in an Eagles touchdown that ended the Giants’ 1978 playoff run—in the style of J. D. Sal­inger. “If you really want to know about it,” the film opens, “the first thing you probably want to know is why I didn’t just fall on the ball and run out the clock and all that John Madden crap.”

But it all went back to "They Call It Pro Football," the movie in which Steve created the template: for the highlight reel, the sports film, the backyard fantasy. Everything flowed from that film, a headwater that marks the place where the modern sports flick was born. Others might go back still further, to certain scenes in Michael Curtiz’s epic "Jim Thorpe: All American," or the CBS special “The Violent World of Sam Huff,” but I start with Steve driving his reel-to-reel from Kiwanis Club to rec center to auditorium. If this were a movie about Steve, you would cut straight from him stumping in the hinterlands to him, a little older now, taking over from his father, building the company into a behemoth as he shoots and cuts, screens and sells the string of films that helped turn football into the national game: "Championship Chase" (1974), "The Road to the Super Bowl" (1978), "Joe and the Magic Bean" (1977), "Hard Knocks" (2001).

We live in a bourgeois society, where works of art—those that attract a large audience, anyway—teach you how to consume, or else make the process of consumption more pleasurable. Ed and Steve Sabol taught the average fan how to consume football: where to look, what to notice, when to exult. They revealed the game inside the game, the story beneath the story. In doing so, they helped football achieve its paramount position in American culture. Football is among the last entertainments that still draw a mass audience. Every­one is watching, or in the vicinity of someone who is.

No one can say what the future will be for NFL Films. The company is healthy and booming, but Ed is ailing and Steve has cancer, the prognosis of which depends on whom you ask. He may have decades, or his reign may be nearing its end. But the Sabols’ legacy is already known: it’s the 100 million–plus people who tune in to the Super Bowl. Why did football surpass baseball? Because football is perfect for the TV screen, which is actually shaped like a football field; because football is at once the most intellectual and the most brutal game in the world, in which the coaches think while the players bleed; because we love to see people knocked silly. But also, perhaps even primarily, because football mints the kind of uniquely vivid images that the Sabols could spin, over and over, into a Kip­ling poem about war.

See a 5-decade montage of NFL Films here. Ω

[Rich Cohen is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone magazines. His works have been New York Times bestsellers, New York Times Notable Books, and have been collected in the Best American Essays series. He is the author of Tough Jews (1998), The Avengers (2000), The Record Men (2004), Sweet and Low (2006), Israel is Real (2009), When I Stop Talking, You'll Know I'm Dead (2010) with Jerry Weintraub , and The Fish That Ate The Whale: The Life and Times of America's Banana King (2012). Cohen received his BA from Tulane University.]

Copyright © 2012 The Atlantic Monthly Group

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Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Friday, September 28, 2012

Did Calvin Trillin Become A Poet Because His Feet Are Longfellows???

Well, the TagCrowd site is still dark as they are "fluffing their clouds" and this blogger is giving other word cloud generators a try. So far, the TagCrowd's competitors leave a little to be desired. In the meantime (as you dry your tears for this poor blogger), Calvin Trillin wrote an ode to Big Love's sneer at the 47% of U.S. voters who won't vote for him. 47 is good estimate of Big Love's and the Big Doofus' combined IQ scores. If this is (fair & balanced) doggerel, so be it.

[x The Nation]
I’ve Got The Mitt Thinks I’m A Moocher, A Taker Not A Maker, Blues
By Calvin Trillin

(Click to embiggen the WordItOut cloud)

(Click to embiggen the 'toon)

(Sung by three members of the 47 percent)

Well, I work two jobs, and that makes for a kinda
long day.

And the boss deducts the payroll tax that I’ve gotta

With sales tax too, I kinda thought I was paying my

I’ve got the Mitt thinks I’m a moocher, a taker not a
maker, blues.

Well, the wife and I took retirement some years ago.

And Social Security accounts for most of our

Though we contributed to that so we’d have it there
to use.

I’ve got the Mitt thinks I’m a moocher, a taker not a
maker, blues.

Well, I went to Nam while Mitt went on his mission
to France.

A buddy needed rescuin’ and I thought, “Well, I’ll
take a chance.”

A wounded-vet pension’s not the salary that I would

I’ve got the Mitt thinks I’m a moocher, a taker not a
maker, blues.

(All, in chorus)

Yes, he thinks we’re bums, and work is something we
would refuse.

Entitlements, he says, are what we just live to abuse.
With his fat-cat friends, what he says about us is


So some of us moochers would sure like to see him

We’ve got the Mitt thinks that we’re moochers,
takers and not makers, blues.

[Calvin Trillin began his career as a writer for Time magazine. Since July 2, 1990, as a columnist at The Nation, Trillin has written his weekly "Deadline Poet" column: humorous poems about current events. Trillin has written considerably more pieces for The Nation than any other single person. A native of Kansas City, MO, Trillin received his BA from Yale College in 1957. He served in the army, and then joined Time.]

Copyright © 2012 The Nation

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Even Though The NFL Officials Return Tonight, Some Snark Is Too Good To Ignore

Last night, the NFL owners caved and the NFL officials' union got what it wanted. So the greatest threat to our civilization has been averted. In the meantime, the opprobrium had been heaped upon the National Football League for hiring scab zebras to conduct business as usual. The final play of the Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks was the tipping point. Eags, a Seattle guy, wrote about the "Inaccurate Reception" and snarked the NFL owners and their league employees. If this is a (fair & balanced) 32 mendacious NFL owners, so be it.

PS: The TagCrowd has gone dark for some maintenance and upgrades. So, the poor blogger was forced to import a replacement word cloud maker: Wordle. What goes around, comes around.

[x NY Fishwrap]
By Timothy Egan

(Click to embiggen Wordle cloud)

(Click to embiggen the 'toon)

Oh, the horror: on the greatest national stage we have, in the last second of a close game, a bunch of replacement referees from the Lingerie Football League and other far outposts of the sport took a game away from the rightful winners.

All because an incredibly prosperous cartel wants its longtime workers to take a cut in pension benefits — this at a time when the cartel is earning more money than at any time in its history, and has the greatest audience in American television.

But the “inaccurate reception,” as they’re calling the interception-that-became-a-touchdown Monday night, could spur many of the couch-dwelling citizens of Football Nation to give Mitt Romney’s Bain-style corporate economics a hard look. It’s worked so well for the rest of the United States, this wealth gap, this creative destruction on behalf of the noble job creators. Now look what it’s doing to the true national pastime.

Just look at who wants to get the union referees back on the job today: Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin, and Paul Ryan, Romney’s union-dissing running mate. “Just give me a break!” Ryan tweeted. “It’s time to get the real refs.”

So what’s at stake in an economics parable that goes to heart of our true passion?About $3 million and change. That’s it. The refs, who earn between $78,000 and $139,000 annually for part-time work, are holding out to preserve their pensions, among other sticking points. The National Football League, which took in more than $9 billion in revenue last year and owned 23 of the 25 most watched telecasts last year, wants to cut the pension contribution by about 60 percent, moving the refs from a defined benefit into something closer to a 401(k).

What’s $3 million to the N.F.L.? It’s the price of a 30-second commercial during the Super Bowl. So, to be clear, the most popular entertainment commodity in the land is willing to seriously tarnish its name, its reputation and the validity of its games for the price of a single half-minute ad.

Of course, it’s usually hard to find sympathy for the zebras. But by bringing in such an incompetent crew, and standing hard for greed over credibility, the football owners have roused a nation to the side of the faceless vice principals and other officious types who wear the stripes. Monday night’s game took over the Twitterverse, and even prompted another plea from President Obama to bring the refs back.

And while I should be joyous that my feisty, young, oft-overlooked Seattle Seahawks have now beaten the evil Dallas Cowboys and the perennially likable and publically owned Green Bay Packers, I can’t exult.

No, not with that lousy call that gave my boys the game in the last second, fresh in the mind. Two headlines, from the two states, said it all.

“Grand Larceny: Packers Get Robbed of Win in Seattle.” That from the OshKosh Northwestern.

“Hawks Steal One.” The Seattle Times.

On Tuesday, the N.F.L. said the final score would stand — no further reviews.

But nobody wants to win on the backs of incompetents, particularly here in Seattle, a proud union town. Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

Copyright © 2012 The New York Times Company

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Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

If Only Big Love Was From Nantucket... This Blogger Might've Been A Limerick Contest Contender?!

Here's a link to all of the Salon Limerick contests in 2012. Here's good example, thanks to Wikipedia:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical

The great limerick expert, Gershon Lgman, might not approve, but what the hey?! If this is (fair & balanced) humorous verse, so be it.

[x Salon]
Salon Limerick Contest: Poets Take On The 47 Percent
By Alex Halperin

Tag Cloud of the following article

created at
(Click to embiggen)

Five rhyming lines might be the ideal way to describe Mitt Romney’s ill-starred campaign fundraiser in Florida:

At a meeting in Boca Raton,
Mitt Romney was filmed by a phone
as he quipped to his host,
“Through this race I would coast,
If I just had a darker skin tone.”

Mike Moulton,
Gainesville, FL

This man of the uppermost class,
Who hopes to gain critical mass,
Leaves nothing to chance, sir,
But pulls every answer
Reliably out of his ass.

Chris Mazzara
Cary, NC

The ultimate truth that explains
The smouldering mess that remains
Of the Romney campaign
Is not taxes or Bain…
But the fact that they’ve got Mitt-for-brains.

Paul Bamborough

This is the political season.
So let us all strive for cohesion,
By forsaking our manners,
And hoisting up banners,
That proclaim the demise of our reason!

Gary Sandy
Woodland, CA

For a mere 50K, legal tender,
Eat with the plutos defender.
For that sum of cash
Enjoy a sumptuous bash
And a very attentive bartender.

Quentin Sullivan,
Haverhill, MA

While speaking at Boca Raton,
I ad-libbed some words of my own,
Not elegantly stated,
Yet all were elated….
God damn that video phone!

William Taylor,
Laguna Woods, CA

Romney’s father was once “on relief.”
47 percenter — good grief!
Does that mean that Mitt’s dad
Would not vote for his lad?
Was he Michigan’s Victim in Chief?

Madeleine Begun Kane
Bayside, Queens, NY Ω

[Alex Halperin is the New Editor at Salon. He has worked as a reporter, writer and researcher for a wide variety of media including The American Prospect, The Washington Post Magazine, Fortune, Conde Nast Traveler, Slate, The, GlobalPost, and The Christian Science Monitor . Halperin received a BA in English from McGill University and an MS in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.]

Copyright © 2012 Salon Media Group

Get the Google Reader at no cost from Google. Click on this link to go on a tour of the Google Reader. If you read a lot of blogs, load Reader with your regular sites, then check them all on one page. The Reader's share function lets you publicize your favorite posts.

Creative Commons License
Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves by Neil Sapper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available here.

Copyright © 2012 Sapper's (Fair & Balanced) Rants & Raves