Saturday, November 12, 2005

The World - or some hermit in Shropshire - is Watching

The blank journal that sits on the nightstand by my bed only beckons me every month or so, as does the word document which I created to serve as a journal, several years ago. Sometimes, I get into a groove and journal daily for weeks or even a month or two on end. But those times are rare. I figured, however, with a blog - even with no one actually reading it; and I may end up being upset if I actually do get hits - I will theoretically have the eyes of the world on me. And as one who hates to displease, the pressure to write daily will be too harsh for me to ignore. So, hello, world.
I begin ...
Last night we watched the movie, Friday Night Lights. I'm not a fan of football, nor really of many sports, nor of sports movies. My main interest was nostalgic. I spent my youth in West Texas, and I remember when the book of the same name was released, in 1989. It was big news, and it was big scandal. The movie seemed to avoid the scandal altogether.
Granted, I never read the book because, well ... I'm not a fan of football, nor really of many sports. What I understood from critics, those who read the book and those familiar with the practices of Permian High School in Odessa is this: Permian High gained a statewide reputation for being a football powerhouse in the 1980s. State title after state title, after state title. At some point, interest in maintaining this upperhand led to practices which were unethical and against the rules of Texas' intermural sports' governing body. (That may have been the University Interscholastic League.) The school's coaching staff was paid ungodly amounts; the players were lavished upon like NFL stars by the community, allowed unseemly behavior which would've gotten the rest of us misdemeanor criminal records or suspended from school, they were routinely given passing grades in school even though some of their academic performances were sub-par, and most shockingly, public high school students were illegally recruited from surrounding towns and out of district to attend PHS so they could bolster Mojo. And if I'm not mistaken, sometime soon after these practices were brought to light, PHS was banned from competing in state playoffs for a few years. It's been 16 years since this all hit the fan. This is the picture that was painted by the state media when the book hit the stands, as I remember it.
The movie was rather good. I was definitely drawn into the personal stories of the players and the coach. And though no real fan of football, it made me long again for a good high school football game on a chilly Friday night. (Sometimes there's nothing better than a too-watered-down hot chocolate in your hand, a leaking box of cheap nachos on the cold metal seat next to you and screaming your lungs out with your friends, seconds to go at the half and just a few yards more will tie up your teams. Sometimes I miss that a lot!) Nonetheless, I was disappointed that none of those scandal aspects, mentioned in the previous paragraph were addressed in the film. As such, the film ended up being mostly a "go-team" football movie. Admittedly probably one of the better, if not best, that I've seen in that genre, but still not the story that one who lived in West Texas in the late 80s, early 90s expected to see played out. It played more like Varsity Blues with grit in its teeth and devoid of an easily marketable soundtrack.
Now, of course, I'm really curious to read the book. If I remember man-0n-the-street interviews from Petroplex news channels correctly, the people of Odessa despised the book before the ink was even dry. I'd be curious how it's received now.
Something that was just barely, barely brushed on in the movie - like maybe just in one line - which I would have liked to have seen explored in more depth, was the social backdrop of the movie. Yes, it's smaller-city Texas and we all know that Texans love football - that's such an easy forgone conclusion for Hollywood to play to. But Midland and Odessa have never been envy-worthy places and in the late 80s was stuck. The oil boom-gone-bust that hobbled Houston in the early 80s had taken the Petroplex out at the knees. No one in Midland-Odessa was high falutin to begin with, those days. The Permian basin was essentially Pittsburgh without the benefit of the Monogahela or any pro-sports teams. Friday night high school football is probably where frustrations could be played out. And if the team took state, by God, that gave a certain notoriety, a public validity to thee town that the general economy seemed to have stripped from it - or never granted it, as is the case in so many small towns across the country.
The story of the Permian Powerhouse throughout the 1980s, with all the glory and seedy underbelly that goes with it, isn't, I suspect, just another story of a football crazy Texas town. I just wish the movie would have communicated that better.

1 comment:

Gunter said...

Found it.