The NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament is over, and I have mixed feelings.
FEELING #1: PRIDE
I may not be a huge basketball fan, but I'm not immune to patriotism, so as a Madisonian and a Wisconsinite, I was pretty pleased when the Wisconsin Badgers advanced to the national semifinal round of the tournament. (That several members of the men's basketball team are regular customers at the sandwich shop helped in that regard too, by giving me something of a personal connection to the team. Which sounds pretty ridiculous, I know, but nevertheless it was something I couldn't help reflecting on when I heard certain members of the team mentioned.) But I was proudest of an article about the team that appeared in the New York Times on March 29:
Celebrate? Sorry, We’re Studying
The basketball portion of their day was done, but the Badgers had more business to tend to. They put their heads down and resumed studying, ignoring the foot traffic outside, the chocolate chip cookies left over from the lunch buffet and the officials’ whistles coming from the television, tuned to a regional game featuring their Big Ten rival Michigan, filtering in from the lobby bar on the other side of the double doors.
As Tracey Maloney, the academic support staff member assigned to the team, looked on, the freshman guard Jordan Hill studied Italian vocabulary. Another freshman, Riley Dearring, researched Plessy v. Ferguson for a United States history class.
Frank Kaminsky, a junior forward whose game-high 19 points and career-high 6 blocks had figured prominently in the Badgers’ 17-point victory against Baylor the previous night, worked on a blog post assignment. The senior guard Ben Brust told Maloney about a Nascar podcast for an independent studies project that he had completed a few hours before scoring 14 points against Baylor.
And between emails with his project partners in Madison, the fifth-year senior Zach Bohannon, a reserve forward, helped the junior guard Josh Gasser with his accounting homework.
The term student-athlete is not an oxymoron in the N.C.A.A. tournament. Every senior on the Wisconsin men’s basketball team in the past two seasons graduated, and the team is on track to achieve that again this year. With their 64-63 overtime victory against the top-seeded Wildcats, the Badgers also managed a first for a Bo Ryan-coached team. They earned a trip to the Final Four, which means they will spend another week juggling classwork and tournament games.
“A lot of people think that it’s easy to be a student-athlete, that people just do things for you and this and that,” said Hill, a kinesiology major. “I don’t know about other schools, but at Wisconsin, that doesn’t fly.”
That? Is awesome. I love that UW-Madison is committed enough to providing their student-athletes with a good education that they send someone along with the team just to make sseveral years of low scores on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate.ure the players are doing their homework, and that one of the members of the team has already completed bachelor's and a master's degree, and is working on an MBA. Like Jordan Hill, I don't know what other schools are like in that regard, but I think I know one that is pretty much the opposite. Which leads me to ...
FEELING #2: DISAPPOINTMENT
I didn't really mind that Wisconsin didn't make it to the championship game, but it killed me that it was University of Kentucky that eliminated them from the tournament. I hate those guys.
Let's start with Kentucky's coach, John Calipari. He is, without question, a terrific basketball coach, but he's also without question a big scumbag. He has the dubious distinction of coaching two teams, University of Massachusetts and University of Memphis, that made it to the Final Four but later had their entire seasons vacated due to having ineligible players on the roster. Calipari was not implicated in either scandal, but look, Division I coaches are basically autocrats, and I think it's highly unlikely that he wasn't aware of the improprieties. On top of that, he encourages his players to leave school and go pro at their earliest opportunity. How hard do you think Kentucky's players were studying during their tournament run, when it's pretty much a sure thing that none of their starters, all of them freshmen, won't be back for their sophomore years?
But Calipari isn't the real villain. University of Kentucky is. They're the ones who hired him despite having coached two different teams into NCAA sanctions. They're the ones who stand by and let him build the program around "one-and-done." They're the ones with the attitude that says, "we don't care how you do it, just bring home as many national championships as you can. It's disgusting. But ...
FEELING #3: RELIEF
Kentucky lost in the championship game, to University of Connecticut. Now, Connecticut is hardly above reproach when it comes to the "student" part of student-athlete; they were banned from postseason play last year due to "several years of low scores on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate." Nevertheless, that they were allowed to compete this year indicates that they're they're making some progress. And hey, Anybody But Kentucky.
FEELING #4: CONFUSION
Apparently some people thought it was a big deal that the championship game this year pitted a 7-seed against an 8-seed, which strikes my as deeply weird. Granted, this is the first time since seeding was introduced that both teams were lower than a 3-seed, but look, we're not exactly talking about Rhode Island vs. Navy here. It's silly to get hung up on the seeding when you're talking about two of the most consistently successful men's basketball programs in the country. Between the two of them, Connecticut and Kentucky have won more than a third of the last 20 national championship games. If you didn't know how they were seeded, no one would have been even remotely surprised to see those two teams in the championship.
I try not to be one of those fans, but last night's Community episode prompted me to find my inner Comic Book Guy and say, "Worst. Episode. Ever." That's probably a bit unfair and hyperbolic, but it's certainly true to say there's never been an episode of Community I enjoyed less than "G.I. Jeff."
A large part of my dissatisfaction stems from its very nature as a detailed parody of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, an animated series I never watched based on a toy line I never played with. I was in high school when the toy line debuted, but even if I'd been younger, I doubt I would have had much interest; action figures never held much appeal for me. As for the animated series, not only did I not watch it, I feel a certain degree of contempt for the entire toy-commercial-disguised-as-TV-show genre in general, and my upbringing in a politically liberal household made G.I. Joe and its jingoistic Reagan-era militarism particularly distasteful.
If last night's episode had been a generalized parody/satire of crappy animated series based on toys, I might have enjoyed it more. But by anchoring it specifically to the series that to me represents the nadir of that genre, and even worse by making it as much a loving tribute to that show as a satire of it ... well, you've lost me. There were jokes I liked, like the repeated shot of Jeff and the other members of the study group hitting people or objects with rocks, and I admire the lengths the producers went to to replicate the look of those toy commercial TV series, but overall the whole thing left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
The bigger problem is the way they justified the G.I. Joe sequences. One of the things I admire about Community is that they don't just do parodies and homages for the sake of doing a parody or homage; they have a specific, in-story reasons for, say, having all the characters appear as stop-motion-animated figurines or puppets, or turning into zombies, or whatever. (SPOILERS from this point on!) In "G.I. Jeff," Jeff was imagining himself in a G.I. Joe cartoon after accidentally overdosing on booze and pills because he was depressed about growing older. Specifically, about turning 40.
I'm sorry, but no. Jeff being worried about growing older? Fine. Totally believable. Trying to deal with that problem by getting dunk and taking quackish youth-restoring pills he bought in Koreatown? Sure, why not. But he's not 40. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that I've spent more time thinking about Jeff Winger's age than anyone outside of the Community writers' room, and possibly more than even them. I spent hours reviewing old episodes and paratexts for clues about Jeff's age, and I can assure you that there is not a single shred of canonical evidence suggesting Jeff just turned 40.
When I first researched the question, I determined that based on what had been revealed about Jeff's age suggested that he was born in 1977. An episode that aired after that seemed to confirm that hypothesis. Here's the relevant quote from that episode:
One time, when I was in seventh grade, I told everybody at school that I had appendicitis. I wanted someone to worry about me. But when Beth Brannon asked to see the scar, I didn’t want to get found out, so I took Mom’s scissors, and I made one. It hurt like hell, but it was worth it. Because I got 17 cards, and I still keep them in a box underneath my bed 22 years later because it proves that someone, at some point, cared about me.
We know that episode took place in 2012, so that means Jeff was in 7th grade in 1990. If Jeff just turned 40, that means he was a 16-year-old 7th-grader. Of course, he could have been lying when he said what I quoted above, or gotten the date wrong ... but he was speaking to his estranged father at the time, trying to make him feel bad about abandoning Jeff as a child, so if Jeff really had been 38 at the time, he would have had every incentive to say he'd been holding onto those cards for 26 years, just because it sounds that much worse.
It's fair to ask, "John, are you just mad because 'G.I. Jeff' Jossed your carefully constructed fan theory?" And if I'm being honest, maybe the answer to that is, to some extent, yes. But the bigger problem is what the decision to make Jeff 40 despite all the evidence to the contrary says about the writers. Community has always been very conscious of its own history. It's why they were able to pull off that Beetlejuice gag in Season 3, or the iPod Nano joke earlier this year. That they were willing to disregard their own continuity so flagrantly is very troubling and doesn't speak well for the future.
- Fri, 22:20: RT @sepinwall: Ep that required affection for an ‘80s cartoon did poorly? Huh. RT @HitFixDaniel: Ratings: Community hits series low. http:/…
- Fri, 23:51: Review roundup for episode 5x11, "G.I. Jeff" http://t.co/4EtKaPXnfm
- Fri, 23:53: Rewatching & preparing the review roundup has softened my stance a bit, but "G.I. Jeff" is still by far my least favorite Community episode.
- Thu, 23:01: Dammit, that Community episode totally Jossed one of my fics.
That's not to say all our equipment was flawless:
That's not even what the real 49-star flag looked like!
I was anticipating a pretty slow day -- I'd been told at the chief inspector's training on Saturday that while the clerk's office was prepared for a 25% turnout, they were expecting 12-15% based on the return rate for the absentee ballots they'd mailed out -- but my ward turned out to be rather busy for a non-partisan election with very few contested races on the ballot. I don't want to oversell how busy we were, because objectively the numbers don't look that big -- we had 334 voters come through our doors, with an average turnout of 17.38% -- but we ran out of our initial allotment of ballots for Ward 21, so I feel justified in called it a busy day.
I attribute the larger-than-expected turnout to pot. Dane County had a referendum on the ballot: "Should the state government enact legislation legalizing marijuana?" (Fun fact: I sold the county supervisor who sponsored the bill calling for the referendum a sandwich this afternoon.) Madison is a pretty hemp-friendly place, so it makes sense that voters would take time off from chowing down on Doritos and staring at their hands to vote in favor of its legalization. Unfortunately for them, it was entirely non-binding, and since the state legislature is pretty much a wholly owned subsidiary of Koch Industries, they're probably not going to pay much attention to what Dane County wants.
As for me, I voted against it, and the candidate I backed in the one contested School Board race lost too, so it wasn't a great day at the polls for me, politically speaking. (That said, I'm perfectly satisfied with the winner of the School Board race. I think they were both strong candidates, no pun intended.) I did win up on the winning side of the one other contested race on my ballot, a non-binding advisory referendum on establishing a non-partisan commission to handle Congressional redistricting. That's got even less of a chance of being taken up by the legislature, given the extraordinary lengths they went to make the last redistricting process as partisan as possible. (The GOP legislative caucus hired a law firm to do the work so they could refuse to make any of the details of the process public, even to Democratic members of the legislature, by claiming attorney-client privilege.)
Now it's a long 19 weeks to the next election, the partisan primary for state offices and Congressional seats in August. Assuming there is one, that is. In Madison,the non-partisan primary in February was canceled for lack of candidates, and it's not outside the realm of possibility that the same thing could happen in August. There's no Senate race; the Congressional and state assembly seats representing Madison are safely Democratic, so there may not be a huge number of people clamoring for the opportunity to be a sacrificial lamb; and the candidates for Governor are already all but decided upon by the party apparatus. I don't know, maybe there'll be a bunch of Democrats wanting to run for lieutenant governor. Stranger things have happened, probably.
Even though I know very little about men's basketball, I decided to give it a shot. I used the same selection technique as the last time I took part in an NCCA pool: I copied President Obama's bracket. Alas, that technique worked as well this time as last, which is to say poorly. One of our Final Four picks is still alive: Florida. Unfortunately, we picked them to get beaten in the national semifinal by Michigan State, which team was eliminated by Connecticut yesterday. Thanks, Obama!
Nevertheless, I currently am in third place in the pool. And if everything goes right, I could remain in third place! Unfortunately, that's the best case scenario, because I'm guaranteed to earn zero points in the semifinal and final rounds, because both teams I picked to play for the title have been eliminated. That's true of the person in the lead too. The guy in second place could jump up to 1st if Wisconsin wins, but the dark horse is the man in 4th place, because he's the only one of us whose predicted winner is still in the tournament. If Florida wins the tournament, he'll almost certainly win and I'll end up in fourth. Either way, I'm out of the money. Thanks again, Obama!
Multiply that experience by ten or more and that pretty well describes my experience with Television Without Pity too. I happened upon the site -- which was called Mighty Big TV at the time -- in December 1999 or January 2000, just as my enthusiasm for Buffy the Vampire Slayer was approaching its peak. On January 4, 2000, I registered and started reading and posting in the Buffy forums.
Not only did I get to know a lot of great people via the forums, I met a ton of them in person as well. First there were the Buffycons, informal gatherings of people from the Buffy forums at which we watched old episodes and played Buffy charades -- you would not believe how quickly a phrase like "Gavrok spiders" can be guessed when you've got the right people playing -- and visited locations where the show had been filmed and otherwise just enjoyed being in one another's company. I literally have traveled thousands of miles to take part in Buffycons: New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Las Vegas, Houston, Tennessee, and New Jersey, plus the one I helped host in the DC area.
(And that's to say nothing of the informal meetups in the years since, like the trip to Florida and the Bahamas I took with boliver and rustydog. Or the lunch I had in Santa Monica with gorimek and jmatonak. Or the too-brief visit with Chyna when she ran through Madison -- literally; she was part of a team running the Ragnar relay -- in 2012, or going to see Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing with journeywoman when it was Madison last year.)
Then there were the TWoPcons. At one point in the early aughts, the people who ran the site were having trouble paying the bills. Many of the members wanted to pitch in to help, but the owners at the time wanted to build a business, and their position was that businesses didn't take charitable donations to make ends meet. They did, however, start allowing members to buy banner ads on the site. To that end, groups of TWoP members in cities around the country got together to raise money to buy ads. in the DC area, where I was living at the time, we had several such events. We had a couple of KaraokeCons, at which you could pay to force people to sing. One of them was a competition with TWoP fans in New York; they were holding a fundraiser simultaneously, and the con that raised less money had to buy a banner ad extolling the fundraising prowess of the winner. (DC won handily, by the way.) Another was at a pool hall in Arlington. They were a blast, and I ended up meeting a bunch of TWoPpers from outside the BUffy forum.
Another thing that happened as a direct result of my involvement with the Buffy forum at TWoP: this journal. Back in 2002, a lot of forumgoers were establishing LiveJournal accounts, so I wangled an invitation from fellow forumgoer zengoalie and started posting. I was also urged to join Facebook by people I first met on TWoP; now, close to 20% of my Facebook friends are people I was TWoP friends with first. Most are from the Buffy forums, of course, but there are a fair few I met at the DC TWoPcons.
The reason I'm bringing this up today is that yesterday, NBCUniversal, which bought the site from it founders a few years ago, announced that the site would be shut down soon. I haven't been active in the forums for several years -- look like it was 2009 that I was last posting there, during the time I was obsessed with Food Network Star -- but nevertheless I'm saddened by the news. It would be hard to overstate how important the Buffy forum has been to me, nor would it be inaccurate to say that participating in the forums is what kept me going during certain parts of my life. Nothing lasts forever, of course, especially in digital culture, and by Internet standards TWoP had a healthy lifespan, and its influence on the way television is written about will last for years, but it's still sort of hard to comprehend that it's just going to vanish into the ether in the near future.
Luckily, the people will still be around, and if my experience with the Placemats are any indication, they'll be around and part of my life for many years to come. And in a very small way, a part of the site will live on as long as I have a Tumblr, because one of the tags I use there is CUTE!, and when I write it like that, in all caps with an explanation point, I'm quoting a Gilmore Girls recap. (It's on page 6 of the recap, but you really have to start on page 4 to understand the context.) Is it weird that I remember that tiny detail of that one particular recap 13 years after I read it? Possibly, but what can I say? Television Without Pity had that kind of effect on a lot of people, and I'll miss it.
History is this week repeating itself slightly. I mentioned some weeks ago that I'd been asked to take on some managerial responsibilities at the sandwich shop, and in the ensuing weeks I've been informally training for that. Last week, certain of my managerial powers, namely those that allowed me to use my own employee number to perform managerial functions on the POS, went into effect, and this week I've been tasked to open the store and manage the day shift on my own, In this context, "opening" means arriving three hours in advance of opening to bake bread, prepare the soups, and other such pre-opening tasks. Whee!
What makes this somewhat similar to the bookstore situation is that a) the reason I'm opening this week is because the GM is on vacation, and b) we've got promotions going on with two of the local online ordering hubs, which has dramatically increased our delivery orders (and made it more difficult to enter those orders to boot). Which is great and all, because we like making money, but it means my first couple of days managing the store on my own have been/will be much busier than they normally would be. But hey, that's why I get the big bucks.