Studying Sports Movies

hoosiers

I have been enjoying Ben Railton‘s series on sports movies at his American Studies blog:

The Fighter and Silver Linings Playbook

“The Longest Yard(s)”

“Hoosiers and Rudy”

Bad News Boys and Bears

Here is a taste of “Hoosiers and Rudy”:

It’d be hard to decide which of those inspired-by-a-true-story underdog victories is more unlikely and more inspiring. The Hickory high school team in Hoosiers (based loosely on Milan High’s 1954 championship season) is coached by two men as collectively flawed as Buttermaker in Bad News Bears—Gene Hackman’s Norman Dale has been dismissed from his prior job for losing his temper and striking a student; Dennis Hopper’s Shooter Flatch is an alcoholic town outcast—and has barely enough players to field a team, yet goes on to win the state championship against a vastly more deep and talented South Bend team. Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, whose life and events are portrayed relatively close to accurately by Sean Astin and company, is the undersized son of an Illinois factory worker who refuses to give up on his dream of playing football for Notre Dame, overcoming numerous challenges and obstacles and finally making his way onto the team and into the final game of the season, in which he sacks the quarterback on the final play and is carried off the field by his teammates. Having critiqued lovable loser films for their merely pyrrhic victories, it’d be hypocritical of me not to applaud films that depict underdog victories, and such stories are indeed undeniably appealing and affecting.

Yet in order to tell their stories in the way they want, these films also have to leave out a great deal, elisions that are exemplified by the way racial issues are not addressed in Hoosiers. For one thing, Hickory’s opponent in the championship game, South Bend, is intimidating in large part because it features a racially integrated team, which would have been a significant rarity in 1952 and which would seem to make them a team worth our support. And for another, as James Loewen has written in his groundbreaking book Sundown Towns (2005), southern Indiana in the early 1950s was a hotbed of overt and violent racism; to quote Loewen, “As one Indiana resident relates, ‘All southern Hoosiers laughed at the movie called Hoosiers because the movie depicts blacks playing basketball and sitting in the stands at games in Jasper. We all agreed no blacks were permitted until probably the ’60s and do not feel welcome today.’ A cheerleader for a predominantly white, but interracial Evansville high school, tells of having rocks thrown at their school bus as they sped out of Jasper after a basketball game in about 1975, more than 20 years after the events depicted so inaccurately in Hoosiers.” Such histories don’t necessarily contrast with those featured in these films—but it would be important to complement the films with fuller engagement with their perhaps less triumphant contexts.

If you are a sports fan or just enjoy sports movies, these posts are worth your time.

Call for Papers: 2017 Eastern American Studies Association Meeting, Harrisburg

hh_exterior_2_675x359_fittoboxsmalldimension_center

Come out to our neck of the woods for what appears to be a great regional American studies conference. This looks like a great opportunity for undergraduates as well.  Here is the call for papers from Penn State-Harrisburg American Studies professor Simon Bronner:

The 2017 Annual Conference of the Eastern American Studies Association (EASA) meeting jointly with the Mid-Atlantic Folklife Association and the Society of Americanists

Deadline for Proposals: January 16, 2017Theme: “Milestones, Markers, and Moments: Turning Points in American Experience and Tradition”
Date: March 31-April 1, 2017
Venue: Harrisburg Hilton, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

In the upcoming year, Americans might reflect on several critical moments of the nation’s past and anticipate markers of the future that will define its experience and tradition. One hundred years ago in April 2017, the United States entered World War I to make the world “safe for democracy,” according to President Woodrow Wilson. Fifty years ago in January 1967, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs competed in the first Super Bowl in Los Angeles. That spring, urban racial violence erupted, and by June and July it would reach significant magnitude in Boston, Tampa, and Newark. By summer’s end, over 150 cities had exploded. The year wound to its end with over 100,000 people marching on Washington to protest their country’s prosecution of the Vietnam War.

The year 1967 also saw turning points in the academic world. Responding to the racial unrest of the late sixties, the American Studies Association executive committee had elected the distinguished African-American scholar John Hope Franklin as its president. He would preside at the association’s first national convention in October. At Penn State Harrisburg, for the first time the graduating class included American Studies majors. Twenty years before that, Franklin & Marshall College had created the first folklore department in the state, and a public state folklorist position with an Americanist focus was created.

At both the national and local level, these events rank as milestones for the country and its study.

This year, EASA, in partnership with the Middle Atlantic Folklife Association and the incipient Society of Americanists, a coalition of persons and organizations devoted to the study of American culture, invites proposals for papers, panels, forums, and workshops related to the broad theme of turning points in American history, folklife, education, cultural conservation, heritage, and society. The program committee is particularly interested in examples of public memory and memorialization that have played notable roles in American culture and its global reach. Closer to the present, we also invite analyses of the presidential election of 2016 as a milestone event, already distinguished historically by the first woman to run for president as candidate of a major party.

The EASA hopes for presentations suggested by the conference theme and its discussion. As well, we welcome panels on topics of significance to scholars engaged in the practice of American Studies that the conference theme otherwise might exclude. We are, in other words, open to proposals that fall outside the conference theme.
Submission Guidelines:

For Individual Presenters: Send a short abstract (no more than 200 words) and a brief CV or resume (no more than two pages). Place your name and email address on both documents.

For Pre-formed Panels: Send a cover sheet with the title of the panel, the names of each participant, and the titles of their presentations. Include a short abstract of each paper (no more than 200 words each) as well as a brief CV or resume for each panel participant (no longer than two pages).

All materials should be sent to Jennifer Drissel (jzd5551@psu.edu) before Monday, January 16, 2017. Those affiliated with either MAFA or SOA should also send proposals/CVs to Jennifer Drissel and should indicate their organizational affiliation in their submission. In some cases, a submitter may indicate more than one affiliation.

Graduate students whose proposals are accepted will be encouraged to submit their final papers electronically several weeks prior to the conference to be considered for the Simon J. Bronner Award for the outstanding graduate paper in American Studies. The conference will also host an Undergraduate Roundtable. Faculty members interested in having their undergraduate students present research at the conference should contact Dr. Francis Ryan of La Salle University (ryan@lasalle.edu). Roundtable participants will compete for the Francis Ryan Award, awarded annually to the outstanding undergraduate paper.

Any general questions can be directed to John Haddad of Penn State Harrisburg (jrh36@psu.edu). For more information, including our downloadable newsletter, see the EASA website: https://harrisburg.psu.edu/…/confere…/2017-annual-conference.

Amy Bass: "December in America"

Amy Bass continues to amaze me with the innovative courses she teaches at the College of New Rochelle.  This year’s course–“December in America”–received some attention from a local newspaper.  Here is a taste:

“The beginnings of the course came from a few different places,” Bass said. “I teach a class about race and ethnicity, and we have a really diverse student body. I have the students look at each other and talk about how they celebrate Thanksgiving and what they serve. It makes us understand what different cultures bring to an ‘American’ holiday.’”

Using that as a jumping-off point, Bass said she also wanted to incorporate ideas from the award-winning book, “The Battle for Christmas.”


She also figured the College of New Rochelle, with its diverse student body and proximity to New York City, would be a great place to teach a class that would encourage students to look at the holidays in a new way.


“Everything just sort of came together. I applied for a grant, I did all the background work a lot of brainstorming and I called in a few favors,” she said. “The students knew they would be guinea pigs since this was the first semester the seminar was offered.”


Alyssa La Starza said she took the class because she wanted to find out as much as she could about the celebration of holidays in America.


“I learned that is extremely important to question everything around me, starting with the basic holidays that I celebrate each year,” La Starza said. “Holidays unite us and understanding the meaning behind different traditions and celebrations has given me a completely new outlook on them. In a way, it was refreshing to step outside the consumerism that is associated with Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas and analyze them on a completely new level. Why do we celebrate the way we do?