Since my last day at WECK nearly a month-and-a-half ago, I’ve had a lot of time off. It’s been a nice and relaxing fake summer vacation. I’ve read a couple of books, watched a lot of Spaghetti Westerns, attended a few concerts and developed a pretty solid farmer’s tan. And through it all, I’ve expressed a majority of my opinions in 140 characters or less.
Writing short can be fun and being able to keep points concise is an important skill to hone. I’ve found Twitter to be a great tool to work on that aspect of my writing.
If I want to channel my inner less-funny Mitch Hedberg, a one-liner in that medium can do an adequate job of summing up how I’m feeling, what I’m watching or what I’m doing.
Sometimes, however, — actually, a lot of times — 140 characters isn’t enough. This space exists to expand upon ideas and I’ve done a really crappy job with that as of late. It’s virtually impossible to search the archives of Twitter for something I might have thought of four months ago. But if the thought was good enough and I was able to develop that spark into a backyard bonfire here in the Roost, then chances are I can find it here and be able to revisit those feelings at any time.
Of course some tweets and thoughts should be left to die in that timeline.
Twitter is also great for conversation. I don’t think I’m breaking any new ground here. It’s called social media for a reason and interacting with other people is a big part of being social. With a simple ampere sign, I can be connected to anyone on Twitter.
So when Donte Whitner backtracks on where he says he’s signed, I can throw a question about that out to local journalists and see how media outlets should handle quotes attributed to players’ accounts. That’s pretty cool.
Most times on Twitter, I see reactions to news before the news itself. When I see Bethlehem Shoals fire off a series of tweets that include, “WHAT IF DWYANE WADE SOLD CARS?,” “WHAT IF RANDY MOSS AND JASON WILLIAMS WERE BEST FRIENDS?” and “WHAT IF I SAW L-FUDGE AT THE DOCTOR’S OFFICE? WOULD I REALLY EXIST?” I should probably find out what he’s referring to. And within two or three minutes, I can piece the story together.
That’s how I initially found out about ESPN The Magazine’s “What if Michael Vick were white?” article. Soon enough, it was all over the place, including CNN.
The controversy isn’t about Touré’s thesis. You could debate the article’s points — the essay could actually be more about string theory than anything else since a major change in any one of Toure’s tenets of race, parents, economics or opportunities could send a person’s life trajectory sideways. But readers are stopped cold upon viewing the accompanying art.
“We did not want people to shut down. We wanted people to stop, look at the picture and then read the article. Which, in fact, is what they did,” Senior Editor Raina Kelley says in the CNN interview.
What readers did, however, was shut down. The art had the exact opposite effect they say they wanted it to have. They failed in that regard but refuse to admit that. That could be because they knew the picture would cause controversy and give them media attention outside of their own car wash.
With that picture placed adjacent to the essay in the magazine and right at the top of the page on the website, the impact of anything Touré has written is suddenly softened. Although Touré would like you to judge his article on its own, it’s extremely difficult to do that if you’ve seen the story the way ESPN intended to present it, as one complete package: essay and art.
And not only is the art inflammatory, but the headline itself undermines the entire piece. The question, “What if Michael Vick were white?” is dismissed early in the essay. It is a question that Touré writes is “so facile, naive, shortsighted and flawed that it is meaningless.” He used the question as a hook and then breaks down why that question has little to no merit despite it being popular to ask when stories like Vick’s break.
ESPN The Magazine used that question as a hook and cast it out into the waters, using it as the basis of their visual centerpiece. What is going to get people to at least flip to this page of the magazine? How about photoshopping Michael Vick to look like he’s about to star in a rejected Wayans Brothers sequel. And I’m not talking about “Little Man.”
The Mag took a hypothetical that the author says can not be properly quantified and turns it into an in-your-face literal image. Subtlety is weak trump to them.
In fact, from Touré’s viewpoint, and this is where M-Theory kind of comes into play — I’m no scientist, I’ve just seen the first two “Terminator” movies a few times — if Michael Vick were born white, he probably wouldn’t have grown up to become an NFL quarterback (Aside: While I’m sure there were also poor white kids in Vick’s neighborhood, although probably small in percentage, Touré doesn’t seem too concerned with that thought).
It’s as if the editors commissioned the artist with only the essay’s budget line and then fell in love with the idea of publishing the image they got back. (Second aside: Wouldn’t it be funny if the Photoshopper submitted a stack of really great illustrations to go with the essay and threw the one in question in there as a joke, thinking, “They’ll never pick this one, right?” Like the complete opposite of how Liz Lemon prefers to audition new cast members for “TGS.”)
That CNN interview is also notable because it features both Touré and Kelley. And it’s interesting that the author of the text is openly debating his editors through a moderator on live TV, seemingly at odds with them over how they presented his words. Touré wants everyone to know that only the letters in the essay are his — nothing more, nothing less.
Luckily Touré believes in what he wrote. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw up his hands and admitted that he never wanted to write about Vick and race. It’s just that ESPN The Magazine decided to devote its entire NFL Preview issue to one player and they needed content. That would be like if they published their annual Body Issue and dedicated all 60+ pages to the left pinky fingernail.
I want to see where the story goes from here. Chances are it’ll die down (if it hasn’t already) and its legacy will be marked by a few good fantasy football team names. I wonder what Touré’s next piece for ESPN will be about or if he’ll even have a “next piece.” I could see him being distrustful of the editors after this entire ordeal and I could see them not liking that a writer has taken an opposing stance when it comes to an article in their publication. Who knows (besides Touré and his editors, of course)?
Whatever comes of it, I’ll probably hear about it first on Twitter. After all, that’s where I’ll be, writing shorter and probably about “Breaking Bad.”