You have probably heard about Jeremy Lin, the Taiwanese-American Louis Williams clone who has turned the world of basketball upside down by making the Knicks interesting for the first time since Bill Clinton was President. During Lin's two-week reign of baffling and unstoppable awesomeness, seemingly everyone has written about him. Alexander Chee did so for us; the rest of us have done in various ways for various other places (twice, actually). On Friday morning, finally, the most respected voice in American sportswriting weighed in on The Whole Jeremy Lin Thing. It probably doesn't even bear mentioning that we are talking about David Brooks, unctuous oracle of reasonable unreasonableness, parodist-in-chief of an imaginary elite, and lifetime keynote dude at various Atlantic Idea Festivals. He is not necessarily a basketball fan, as his New York Times opinion piece on Jeremy Lin and religion demonstrates, but when he drops the mic on some David Brooks shit, someone had to pick it up and say something to the effect of, "yo, what were you just talking about, guy?" Luckily, Charles Pierce did just that at his Esquire blog. Undeterred, Charles Star and David Roth do the same here.
Charles: Here's the thing with this column, which I read in defiance of my usual policy of Brooks avoidance: I LOL'd at a collection of #otherdavidbrooksledes, but I think—as badly as it is written—Brooks is making a different point than the one being made fun of.
David: And yet the same point that he always makes, which is that Some Are Not Comfortable With How Complicated This Is. Sometimes he also uses food to make some sort of weird point about how out-of-touch everyone in his peer group is, but mostly it's the first thing.
Charles: True enough, but I think his point wasn't "religion and/or religiosity are rare in sports." He notes that in his second paragraph. His point, which isn't as stupid, is that mashing together sports and religion is fundamentally contradictory with their respective spheres.
Charles: Sports nods at certain values that religion also exalts, but is mostly about vanquishing the enemy and glorification of self
David: I guess the ridiculous aspect, then, is that it's Brooks making the case. Or how he makes it.
Charles: As would always be the case.
David: Yes, but also because that point—which is maybe his point, it's hard to say and I'm not sure he so much has one—is both pretty much true, but also very unflattering in how it reflects his total ignorance of how CONSTANTLY they are mushed together in sports. And in politics and mass culture, which I guess are supposed to be the things he knows about, right?
David: Also, as Pierce points out, there's a sort of willful abstraction to this that, beyond Brooks expounding in Large Professor Mode, serves to make the whole experience even more ridiculous—that there's so little sense of basketball in this isn't surprising, since I'm I can't imagine Brooks gives a shit about that. But the decision to go for thumbnail eschatology when a little bit of real world context would've explained so much more is just silly. It's also unfair to the subject, because it takes an interesting story—Jeremy Lin and how we see him and feel about him—and makes it about something abstract and pompous that is only very tenuously connected to the actual interesting story.
Charles: Brooks Googled “basketball” before writing the essay, so I don’t think the lack of basketball in there is surprising. His entire take on sports appears to be exactly what a guy who looks like Brooks thinks it is: “balls and violence and vaingloriousness and isn’t it less important than community!?”
Charles: I mean, after the winter of Tebowmania, how someone who is not a non-ascetic freshly returned from the monastery could write about the anomalous intersection of sports and religion almost defies parody.
David: And yet here it is. The explanation, as I understand it, is that Brooks was at the Aspen Ideas Festival while Tebow was happening.
David: The entire time. He was at a really long dinner with the guy who invented TED and Mark Zuckerberg and Bono. And Lynne Cheney and Deepak Chopra and David Gregory and Pete Carroll.
Charles: I remember when Carroll told everyone in Aspen that Mark Sanchez was leaving too early. Everyone slowly backed away. No actual greater shelter from the world than that conference. This side of Davos, anyway.
David: Did he somehow not write about Tebow? I feel like he should've. And should've somehow tied it into the grocery-shopping habits of the urban elite.
Charles: I'm sure he wrote about Tebow but, as previously discussed, I avoid Brooks as my own private religious rite. It is pretty much the only rite I stick with.
David: I sometimes will read stuff of his when I'm in a scab-picking mode.
Charles: I will eat a pulled pork sandwich while not-reading David Brooks, to give you a sense of my religious priorities.
David: One is way better for you than the other.
Charles: Even if you deep-fry that pulled pork sandwich, after beer-battering the bread. If it will do the world some good, I'd eat David Brooks if he were prepared by someone who knew what he was doing. I just don't want to read what Brooks writes about the experience.
David: Serve it in a barrel of scotch. It will still not be worse for your stomach lining than Brooks's average "to be sure" paragraph.
David: Sous vide. He'd appreciate the irony, at least.
Charles: "This is taking so long and it’s rather painful. Like reading one of my col... oh, clever."
David: "I'm not free range enough for our nation's REAL elite, youngish city-dwellers who do yoga and drink organic milk." - Last Words of David Brooks
Charles: He is not free range. He learns about small-town America by skimming the Wikipedia pages of towns that he selects by pointing, blindfolded, at an old atlas.
David: "They eat soybeans and meats that they shoot with their own handguns. They drive... cars. They shop in big stores. In real America, they've never even heard of things like goat cheese, or even goats."
David: I shouldn't read him but do on occasion. The excerpt the New Yorker ran of his book was especially exquisite. I hated it so much. Anyway, I suppose that on this one he at least sort of got out of his comfort zone. So maybe credit for that?
Charles: Partial credit. Because he left his comfort zone at 100mph and found himself hitting a hairpin turn on a mountain road that had no guardrail. And because using Jeremy Lin to show that sports and religion merge in odd ways is a hard sell.
Charles: Lin is religious but he is religious only in private or when asked. Otherwise, he seems like a pretty levelheaded, profoundly American kid who grew up in the Bay Area and is very much a part of the culture that surrounds him.
David: Yeah, I think that's the really interesting thing about him, if interesting is the right word—how not all that interesting and sane he is amid all these people claiming and colonizing him and insisting that he's more than he is, which is a fun basketball player on a hot streak.
Charles: I wouldn’t call his off-court persona exciting but he gives a better interview than, say Michael Chang—if we’re talking about evangelical Christian Asian athletes as if they were supposed to have an archetype—because he is a guy who went to college. Whatever you want to say about the actual education you receive at Harvard, he spent a lot of time around smart people, talking and being a teenaged doofus. He wasn't in the meat grinder of the tennis tour during the years he should have been eating pizza at 3 a.m.
David: At the very least, Brooks can get behind Lin's choice of late-night booze-food, then. "What could be more American than cheesed ethnic bread-pie late at night? By the way, all of us reasonable people also agree that we can't afford Social Security anymore."
Charles: “Nor should we have to.”