Thursday, June 24, 2010

Buzz Bissinger and Signs of the Apocalypse

Buzz Bissinger is a sports journalist, best known for writing Friday Night Lights, one of the best books about sports I have ever read. Among sports writers, he is the most vocal advocate for the traditional, self-consciously professional, access-based brand of journalism, popularized by outlets like Sports Illustrated, whose selling points are access to athletes and coaches and an objective point of view. A new generation of internet-based sports writers, led by people like ESPN's Bill Simmons and New York Magazine's Bill Leitch, believes that it is contradictory to celebrate access and, at the same time, pretend that their access doesn't skew their perspective in favor of the subject of that access. The new generation is also generally more willing to acknowledge their own biases (Bill Simmons roots for the Boston Celtics, Leitch for the St. Louis Cardinals), including the teams they cheer for, and see Bissinger's generation of writers as being too unwilling to criticize or thoroughly probe interview subjects for fear of losing access to them or their teammates, and for being so obsessed with day-to-day minutae (of the sort that only those with access can see) that they ignore the 'big picture' stories that are happening right before their eyes.

Bissinger is also a world-class crank. In this famous 'debate' on Costas Now, Bissinger criticized Leitch and his sort without seeming to know any of the particulars about how the internet, or blogging, actually worked. Just the other day, he wrote an obnoxious article in The New Republic about how he - a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less! - fell in love with Twitter. He writes about how he responds to "twit twats" who dared to criticize him and his writing.

Bissinger goes on to say this about Shooting Stars, Bissinger's somewhat fawning book about LeBron James and his friendship with his high school teammates. Bear in mind Leitch's criticisms about the downside to Bissigner's access, and Bissinger's comments about Leitch's tone and lack of respect:
Shooting Stars was far from the best book I had ever written; the compromises of such collaboration, written in the first person of James and subject to his approval, had always shamed me. I did it for the money, because all writers, or at least those who don’t want to die, also have to eat. But I also did it because it was an inspirational coming-of-age story involving LeBron and the four teammates who had become his brothers through high school. I took great offense to what this Twit twat said. So I wrote back: Fuck off.

Coincidentally, I am currently reading The Game From Where I Stand, a memoir by former Major League baseball player Doug Glanville about his 15 years in professional baseball. Its an interesting book, though not a great one, but I won't review it here. I bring it up because its cover bears a blurb by Buzz Bissinger, who says "The Game From Where I Stand is a book of uncommon grace and elegance. It is a book about baseball unlike any I have ever read, filled with insight and a certain kind of poetry in its spare and haunting prose."

I like Doug Glanville, but I do not consider his book to be particularly well-written. So Buzz, please tell me, what 'certain kind of poetry' does his book contain? I haven't read a single review that has complimented his prose style, and I certainly do not consider it to be written in 'spare and haunting prose' by any means. In fact, if anything, Glanville's book, which is full of good-natured anecdotes organized by topic instead of chronologically (and therefore tending to circle back upon itself) is written in . . . whatever the opposite of spare and haunting prose would be.

So, Bissinger, who vocally criticizes blogs for being mean-spirited and petty, who believes that blogs only exist to humiliate people, is now using Twitter, so that the subject of Bissinger's insults can now be humiliated before the thousands of people who followe Bissinger's Twitter feed.

Thanks for the words: Ellen of Wormbook, who found the link to the TNR article.

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