The Big Picture –
By Glynn Wilson –
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After spending the past five months living and working in the nation’s capital, and the better part of the past four years in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, I took a break on Saturday to get an up close look at football Saturday in the town of my alma mater, the University of Alabama.
While our current unpopular president likes to refer to Washington, D.C. as “the swamp,” it could be argued that Tuscaloosa is now a swamp — crowded with creepy crawly creatures who flock to the place not because of important research that benefits humanity and a first class education, but because of a mighty collection of gladiators who win football games.
I suspect most of those who gathered on The Quad under canopies with their big screen TVs on CBS, chicken wings on the grill and coolers full of Budweiser, probably voted for Donald J. Trump for president, although nearly 60 percent of Americans now consider him to be abominable.
Could there be a connection between the growth of capitalist football culture and Trump’s election? Maybe it wasn’t just the Russians, hacking, fake news and “currupt Hillary” that gave us Trump in the White House. Remember, Trump’s campaign did not take off until he started going to football stadiums to appeal to the disgruntled masses, beginning in Mobile, Alabama.
I was there observing with interest when Trump made his return visit to Mobile after the election in his so-called Victory Tour.
I watched people in the neighborhood of Ladd-Peebles Stadium in the home town of Jeff Sessions flock to the stadium to see the new celebrity president. Many walked from their houses in their red hats and jerseys with their padded stadium seats as if they were going to see a high school or Alabama football game. They cheered the man as if he was a football coach talking up a victory on the gridiron.
Walking around the UA campus on Saturday, I found the place barely recognizable. When I first attended the university in the early 1980s, it was an idilic rural campus with only about 14,000 students. Driving down from Birmingham was like a drive in the country with almost no traffic on the road. Now on football Saturdays, there is a traffic jam in all directions, not with former students in all the RVs, SUVs and pickup trucks. These are fans of the Crimson Tide.
Many of those fans literally drive the exact same crimson Ford pickup Nick Saban advertises on television. This is hard proof that advertising works.
Many of the scantily clad young women wandering around on The Quad are also the subjects of advertising, even if they don’t realize it. As the saying goes, “sex sells.” Many of them looked just like the super models you see in magazines and on TV. When I was an undergrad, people wore conservative suits and dresses to games. Not anymore. At one point I actually had the thought that many of these young women must still be dressed up as prostitutes for Halloween. They certainly looked like whores, although I imagine if anyone said anything to them about it, they would scream “sexual harassment.” It is an irony of these times we’re living through.
Is it only obvious to me why Tuscaloosa has become the place it is today? For decades Alabama (and this is true of state universities all over the country) could not obtain enough funding from tax payers and the state government to fund a top flight research university with first class education programs. I would like to have been a fly on the wall (or a reporter in the room) when the Board of Trustees just threw up its hands and went capitalist and said “to heck with” academic standards for entry and voted to explode the student population. There are now nearly 38,000 students, and they cram almost 102,000 people into Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturdays in the fall.
Of course if you talk to the public relations staff at the university and the town, they are happy with all that money flowing into the place. But I suspect if you probed some of the parents who are paying the inflated tuition rates and rents in university housing, you might find some unhappy campers.
Would it not just make more sense to pay a little bit higher tax rate than to make a university education nearly impossible to afford? Of course there are no more “slum lords” to complain about; also no cheap apartments for working class students to live in. The university bought them all up and more than tripled the rents.
This football culture is also a product of celebrity culture. There is no doubt that Trump’s appeal to many of his remaining supporters is due to his television celebrity. Forget the impact of Facebook on the election. Americans don’t worship a god anymore. They worship what the “boob tube” says is god. Just try challenging Trump’s hard core supporters about their beliefs. They will beat you up, just like all the action stars in movies and on TV.
I must admit that I am of the Baby Boom generation, the first generation raised on television. No doubt it influenced me too. But as a journalist, I am also of the first generation to come of age working on computers. Back in the 1990s many of us had high hopes for the internet and the web to change our culture for the better and get away from the influence of television. But lately, Facebook seems to have made matters worse.
I don’t know exactly where we go from here. Should we abandon hope, all who enter here, as the saying goes, or as a recent headline in The Guardian asked: Is it too late to save the world?
I would like to think not. But quite frankly on this Sunday morning, as I sip coffee and watch CBS “Sunday Morning” in the campground, I am not so sure. I look around and see the people living here, literally, many of them driving Nick Saban pickups pulling trailers with giant TVs mounted on the sides, tuned in to the Alabama footballl game. They eat chicken wings and drink Budweiser, then toss their trash on the ground, seemingly without so much as entertaining a thought that something might be wrong with this picture. It is their normal.
President Obama won his elections by talking about “keeping hope alive.” Now we are stuck with an old campaign slogan about “making America great again” that reminds intellectuals who actually keep up with history of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Are the masses in America just as gullible and willing to spiral down into silence as the German people of the 1930s?
Let’s hope not. Maybe we can turn things around in 2018 and 2020. But the only way this has a chance of happening is if the influential members of the public take a different tack and fight football and celebrity culture and share the important stuff on Facebook, not just their cat pictures and the football score.
We may be the product of our genes and our nature may still be somewhat primitive. But education and nurturing can matter. We best get busy sharing.
© 2017, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.