Post Road Magazine #9

North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent -Jason Flores-Willams

Gent played for the Dallas Cowboys in the late 60's. He was part of his generation, he questioned the status quo. He understood football to be what it is—a new kind of American religion. He saw deep in the heart of our society: you can get away with anything—everything is acceptable—as long as you are serviceable to the establishment. As long as you make money for The Man.

A powerful line: “Every time I say it's a game, you tell me it's a business. Every time I say it's a business, you tell me it's a game.” When we invest ourselves in our work, this is how they control us, yank us forth and back. Writing is the easy example. I pour my soul into a book, they say, “Who will buy it?” I ask them to keep promises, they say, “This is art, things are unpredictable.” You work hard, start thinking of something as your own, they take it away from you.

Most of our published writers live insulated lives, so fail when describing characters and situations outside the bourgeois. No matter how hidden, they revert to stereotype. With Gent, the fucked up jerk talks like a fucked up jerk, which isn't so different from how everybody else talks, save for the accent. The defining aspect of being an American is that we don't see ourselves as evil people. We're racist, we're selfish, we like to get drunk and beat on the weak, but we still think of ourselves as okay. We are a society that tells itself that it is good, so act and talk as though we are.

British writers like Irvine Welsh are respected when they write about their sport, soccer, but in America to write about football is to be labeled as a dumb guy. I'm writing this on the morning of the Super Bowl. More than 80 percent of the TVs in this country will be tuned in to the game, more than half a billion will be watching our export from around the world. I really don't know how a novel that attempts to understand this country could not have football in it. It is the arena from whence our myths are derived. It is the game we celebrate. This is at the core of North Dallas Forty. You can tell a culture by what it views as heroic, and Gent exposes these “American heroes” as shallow symptoms of an immense, brutal, dehumanizing machine. What does this say about us?

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, the one true all-American holiday. People will come together, planes will fly, flags will wave, men will cry. A definitive moment in millions of lives. What are you doing America, asks Peter Gent. Is this the fulfillment of who we are? •

Jason Flores-Willams is the author of The Last Stand of Mr. America. He was born in Los Angeles, raised in Albuquerque, and now lives in New York City. He is a socialist scorpio.

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