[originally published at Beyond Chron on May 5, http://www.beyondchron.org/articles/Kitsch_King_Obama_s_BCS_BS_6885.html.]
By Irvin Muchnick
This is what happens when the president-elect goes on 60 Minutes to promote the creation of a college football national championship playoff. Last week Congressman Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, held a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection on this urgent issue, questioning Bowl Championship Series coordinator and Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner John Swofford in the opening volley for what Barton is calling the College Football Playoff Act of 2009.
Among Barton’s pearls of statecraft was the money quote: “They keep trying to tinker with the current system and to me it’s like — and I don’t mean this directly — it’s like Communism. You can’t fix it. I think they should change the name to the BES — Bowl Exhibition Series — or just drop the C and call it the BS system because it isn’t about determining a champion on the field.”
There was no word on whether the bill would get stuffed with such pork-barrel measures as improved health and safety standards for “student-athlete” gladiators who are pushed to the limit and beyond in 12-month-a-year training regimens, leading one to croak every couple of years.
Let’s not even get into whether these unpaid mercenaries are entitled to a fair share of the profits that their prime-time spectacles produce for the National Collegiate Athletic Association and its members. No, the revenues are reserved for the “educators,” the coaches, and their shoe sponsors. To operate otherwise would be too much like — and I do mean this directly — Communism.
As it turns out, your correspondent knows a thing or two about the ways of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. Two years ago the then-ranking minority member, Florida Republican Cliff Stearns, weaseled into the wall-to-wall cable TV news coverage of the murder-suicide of pro wrestler Chris Benoit by proposing legislation to force the wrestling industry to adopt Olympics-level testing for steroids.
Stearns acted after Mark Kriegel, a columnist for FoxSports.com, called for Congressional involvement in wrestling’s pandemic of occupation-related deaths. Kriegel quoted my just-published book Wrestling Babylon, whose appendix listed 89 deaths of pro wrestlers under age 50 from 1985 through 2006 — a list Wrestling Observer Newsletter publisher Dave Meltzer called understated. In his press release and media shots, Stearns cited the numbers from my book, without attribution.
The crusading congressman soon lost interest in the subject and moved on to the Telecommunications subcommittee, though not before making a televised appearance at a show at the Funking Conservatory, a wrestling school run by retired great Dory Funk Jr. in Stearns’ Ocala district. Funk gave Stearns a signed pair of wrestling boots.
The reformist baton was passed to the chair of the Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection Subcommittee, Illinois Democrat Bobby Rush. Coincidentally, Rush is the only politician ever to defeat Obama, who challenged Rush’s reelection in the 2000 primary.
Rush huffed and puffed. In November 2007 the congressman promised hearings combining the wrestling issue with the findings in major league baseball’s just-released Mitchell Report. In February 2008, the subcommittee grilled the heads of all the legit major sports leagues and their players’ union chiefs — but not World Wrestling Entertainment chair Vince McMahon, who claimed his lawyer had a scheduling conflict.
“I am exceptionally and extremely disappointed,” Rush said. “… I want to assure Mr. McMahon that this committee fully intends to deal with the illegal steroid abuse in professional wrestling. And we hope he will be part of the solution and not part of the problem.”
It was a bigger sham than WrestleMania. Though the public didn’t yet know, Rush himself had to know that McMahon had already given testimony to another Congressional committee — in a closed-door interview two months earlier with staffers of Congressman Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
At the time, the lead investigator for Waxman, Brian Cohen, reviewed the ground rules that had been negotiated. “Our intention was that you were able to come in here without having a media circus,” Cohen purred.
Never one to foster media circuses, Congressman Waxman proceeded a few weeks later to stage an internationally televised hearing to probe, among other things, whether an abscess on baseball pitcher Roger Clemens’ ass cheek was caused by repeated injections of human growth hormone by his estranged personal trainer, Brian McNamee. Clemens heatedly denied this but acknowledged that McNamee had given HGH to Clemens’ wife Debbie prior to a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot. And the Republic survived the revelation, even if Clemens’ reputation didn’t.
Getting back to Obama and his high-priority war on the BCS, one of the questions arising from his first 100 days is exactly when, if ever, he will be held to account for his descents into frivolousness and bad taste. He certainly got away with yukking to Jay Leno that his poor bowling scores were like “Special Olympics.” (Obama also, deservedly, has gotten high marks for changing the tone of American foreign policy, and other achievements.)
Maybe the explanation is that the president is a fox, and his BCS BS is a diversionary tactic, to pacify yahoos like Congressman Barton while Obama hits one out of the park with his nominee to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter.
Whatever the outcome, this is all about the uses and misuses of kitsch in an epoch of bread and circuses. The brilliant Czech writer Milan Kundera has defined kitsch as “the absolute denial of shit.” Kundera added, “Whenever a single political movement corners power we find ourselves in the realm of totalitarian kitsch.”
America’s saving grace, so far, is that our kitsch is bi-partisan.
Regular Beyond Chron contributor Irvin Muchnick’s forthcoming book, Chris & Nancy: The True Story of the Benoit Murder-Suicide and Pro Wrestling’s Cocktail of Death, is now available for pre-order through Amazon. YouTube channel: http://youtube.com/WrestlingBabylon. Twitter page: http://twitter.com/irvmuch.