Saturday, January 20, 2018

Madness, Mystique and Marching

March is upon us, the time when some in this country celebrate extremely high achievement in physical sport. College basketball, both for young men and women, concludes another season with one of the best systems for determining a champion, an elimination bracket that allows for the best to overcome but also the underdog to pull off the upset.

Filling out the bracket has become a tradition, even to where our presidents reveal who they got in their Final Four. Even though I haven’t done one for many years, I still fondly recall winning a pool back in the late ‘80s, nailing three of the finalists and also picking the eventual champion. I won close to $200, a much bigger sum then than now, but it was that sense of being smarter (and luckier) than everyone else which remains fixed in memory.

Today, even though my profession is professor, I have left behind college sports. Part of it is that the professionals play at an elevated level, but the hypocrisy of behind the games has brought me to a breaking point.

My main objection revolves around money. In my home state, Louisiana State University is battling a major budget shortfall, to the point where bankruptcy has been mentioned. And yet only last football season, alumni were trying to see if they could put together an $11 million package to fire then head coach Les Miles. No eyes were batted, mainly because LSU football has been raised from pastime to religion whereas affordable public education is an afterthought in a state of great poverty where a university degree could be the determining factor of a better life.

I also find it hypocritical that coaches who make tens of millions of dollars talk about the value of amateurism. Young men (for the most part) come to these major programs thinking it’s their path to the pros. They are given no money for this full-time job, in fact sometimes going hungry because of practice and other on-campus problems, but are expected to go to class and earn a degree. Unless that degree gets in the way, whereby they are berated for concentrating on their education.

Leaving behind the issue of how few make it in the professional ranks, these programs make billions of dollars with little going to the actual educational providing. No, they just feed the sports program, giving special advantages to a privileged few who then must start over after their “free” education doesn’t pan out.

And it is the privileged part where I find my greatest disgust. While I feel that the system uses student-athletes and then spits them out, recently we have seen that their actions while attending school give them many advantages above the normal student.

Famously, Southern Methodist University’s football program was given a death sentence in the ‘80s because they were paying players. While this was considered the height of corruption, it seems almost heroic when compared to another Texas school.

Baylor University and its football program have come under great fire recently as the school was exposed for covering up incidents of rape performed by their student-athletes. Their own internal investigation, which has no printed copies, showed at least 13, but investigations have put that number closer to 52. Head coach Art Briles was fired because of this, then sued for defamation of character, but then withdrew the suit when he realized he would have to be deposed. While he still claims innocence, he is also no unhireable, being turned away from any other coaching job.

The university, which has a strict Christian philosophy, also denies knowledge. In fact, women’s basketball coach Kim Mulkey told a crowd that anyone who says their daughter shouldn’t go to the school should be “knocked in the face” by a Baylor parent. While she has walked back these comments and in fact had been helping a female student who had been assaulted, the violent defiance in the face of facts has drawn great criticism.

So while these stories have dominated the sports headlines, similar women’s issues have also bubbled up.

The day after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, women throughout the country (and in other cities across the world) took to the streets. While those who opposed them asked what exactly they were marching for, those who marched reveled in heightened emotions, calling it one of the most profound days of their lives.

And we are certainly seeing a struggle between sides: those who see rights as the most important versus those who see religious values superseding government. The last few years have seen a great expansion of the former, with things like gay marriage becoming legal, but many have also pushed back against it, like HB2 in North Carolina designed to keep transgendered men out of female bathrooms. Both have created some backlash, but North Carolina has seen the bigger one, even losing businesses and the National Basketball Association’s All-Star Game because of it.

Thus, we at Vex Mosaic address the other March event: Women’s History Month. We take three different looks at femininity (and the blurry lines created by sexuality) in order to get beyond the superficial arguments and get to the deeper issues.

First, Evelyn Deshane walks us through the fictional presentation of the transgendered, specifically in the comic book medium. As with such clichés like the “magical Negro,” these characters fall into strict columns, until one writer broke the mold.

Then, novelist Silvia Moreno-Garcia shares a portion of her master’s thesis which delved into the great writer but not-so-great human being H.P. Lovecraft and how he dealt with the feminine, both in his work and in his life.

Finally, your humble managing editor (a.k.a. me) returns to the contributor chair to write about the feminist themes in the brand new filmic satire The Love Witch. It’s a pastiche of ‘70s exploitation films that goes beyond its nudity and campiness to be a very deep work.

Also, we will be debuting our podcast The Bigger Picture (because it’s a mosaic, right? Get it? Get it?) that will both explore ideas, report on events and look for connections, just like our best articles.

So we’ll run through March, lion to lamb as the old saying says, dealing with both anger and Madness, and hopefully leave you inspired and empowered by our ideas.

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