Lebenskünstler

“fantasy football meets Dungeons and Dragons” – Professional wrestling, education, community

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 10/17/2013

The fanatical fantasies of pro wrestling fans – Lissa Soep interviewing Crystle Martin

    You acknowledge that professional wrestling is often seen as anti-intellectual. Why do you say to that?

Pro wrestling at its heart, it’s like Greek melodrama. It has a very rich culture. I mean some form of professional wrestling has existed since late 1800s. It’s existed in its current scripted state since the 1930s. So it’s got a really long cultural heritage.

Because people engage in it in a very theater-like manner, it actually requires understanding the genre. So there’s a lot of discourse-specific language that goes with it. So one of my participants had to explain to me, Oh a “face” is a good guy, from the term baby-face. And a “heel” is a bad guy. And then there’s a tweener–in gaming terms, we call it a “chaotic neutral”–which means you don’t know whether they’re good or bad, and what they do in certain situations is relatively unpredictable. Watching people work through argumentation about different points and share resources and information shows me that this is a very intellectually active community.

    If we’re talking about pro wrestling fandom as a learning community, who are the teachers? Are there ways to “graduate” to higher levels?

The teachers—it’s totally peer-to-peer. So everybody’s putting in their expertise where they have it. People who don’t happen to be as experienced in wrestling but are better at giving grammatical or genre-based writing critique get to put expertise there. Others put expertise when it comes to how wrestling storylines are developed, what elements go into that.

That’s another thing about wrestling–a lot of people think it’s very American-centric. It’s very international. My fans were from the Philippines, India, all across Europe, South America, the US. It’s a really wide fan base. So a lot of people who participate on these boards are English-as-a-second-language speakers. And so they get feedback on improving their written English. My participant from South America said he was able to not only get a community around his interest in wrestling, but they helped him to improve his English skills, which he took back and used in school. So the teaching kind of goes in multiple directions. Everybody’s a teacher and learner, as the situation comes up.

One of my participants, she’s 17 years old. She’s in the Philippines. And she came to the community because when she told her local friends she was interested in wrestling, it was very socially stigmatizing for her. They started making fun of her for being a tomboy. So instead of giving up wrestling, she just stopped talking to them about it, and she found this community online. The fantasy wrestling federation part of the community really drew her in, and she got hooked. And then she started writing for the school newspaper as well. That led to a medical career, where she’s gonna do a lot of technical writing. So her wrestling interest was an introduction to writing in a way that she found really engaging.

    What’s different about learning inside the pro wrestling online fan community versus, say, learning inside school?

Like most interest-driven communities, it’s a much more low-stakes environment, so people are willing to try things that might not pan out. In a high-stakes learning environment, a lot of times what happens is, people feel so much pressure, they don’t want to try things that they’re not sure will work out exactly right, because they don’t want to suffer consequences of that. So this allows people to role-play different kinds of characters, and a lot are experimenting with making videos about being in character as a wrestler, or best-of videos. They put them online and get feedback on how their video editing’s going, so if it completely fails, they’re like, “Well I tried this, it didn’t work,” and people give them suggestions on how to fix the problem. So they’re willing to experiment in areas they might not be willing to try otherwise.

John Cage as a basketball coach – Phil Jackson’s artistry

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 05/24/2013

Why Basketball Won’t Leave Phil Jackson Alone – Sam Anderson

[See also the “drawings” at the bottom of this additional piece by Sam Anderson: The Rembrandt of Basketball]

Jackson’s life is organized around stark polarities. On one hand, he preaches a Zen acceptance of reality as it is. On the other, he is a man with very strong ideas about the way things should be — or as his opponents have often put it, he can be a bit of a whiner. (Non-Lakers fans will detect a certain radioactive irony in Jackson’s frequent complaints about referees.) As a player, Jackson was an unglamorous nonstar, and the triangle is designed to help that kind of role player flourish. And yet he’s never won an N.B.A. championship without superstars. His two homes, Montana and L.A., are complete opposites: anti-ego Buddhist reclusion versus the fame-drenched ego-circus of what is arguably the most scrutinized franchise in sports. He likes to portray himself as an anti-establishment loner, and yet he’s become deeply entangled in the Lakers organization, in part because of his relationship with Jeanie Buss and in part because the team has not been able to establish an identity since Jackson left; it seems as if every plot twist in the franchise’s ongoing soap opera somehow involves him. In his books, Jackson’s declarations of egolessness sometimes emanate strong whiffs of ego: “In that split-second all the pieces came together,” he writes in “Sacred Hoops,” “and my role as leader was just as it should be: invisible.” If this is invisibility, it is a highly visible form of it. These paradoxes — Jackson’s apparent ability to sit, happily, at opposite poles at the same time — are what make him one of the most mesmerizing personalities in sports.

Of the many plays that Phil Jackson diagramed for me, the one I couldn’t stop thinking about was something called the Drake Shuffle. The scheme was invented in the 1950s by a coach in Oklahoma, to be used by teams that lack a dominant scoring threat — no Wilt Chamberlain or Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan to dump the ball to and get out of the way. Jackson described it to me as a “continuous offensive system,” which means that — unlike many plays, which have a definite endpoint or morph into something else when they get too much pressure — the Drake Shuffle never stops. You could run it, theoretically, forever. All five players move in coordinated motion, taking turns with and without the ball, until they’ve exhausted an elaborate cycle of screens and cuts and passes — at which point the play doesn’t end but starts all over again, with each participant now playing a different role within the same cycle. Everyone on the floor keeps moving, probing, trading off.

The Drake Shuffle sits at the center of a particularly Jacksonian nexus of ideas. It’s a scale-model democracy, a metaphor for the life cycle, a parable of the Buddhist idea of rebirth, one of the Lakota Sioux’s sacred hoops. Jackson’s career itself, with its endings and renewals, its retirements and unretirements, seems like a kind of existential Drake Shuffle, played out over 45 years. He’s gone from player to coach to retiree to whatever it is he’s doing now: cooking, writing, gardening, hiding, self-promoting, advising weary pilgrims from his sacred mountaintop, tantalizing struggling teams, driving endless Internet rumors. He’s in, he’s out, he has the ball, he doesn’t have the ball, he’s moving, he’s moving, he’s moving.