There have been a lot of negative things said about the time in which we live. The rapid expansion and influence of the internet has led us full steam ahead into the Information Age, where data, news, and opinion are created, consumed and disseminated at increasingly faster rates. We want to know what's happening now, why it's happening, and what is going to happen next before a lot of the information that reaches us can be absorbed and digested properly.
Critics of the Information Age will tell you that this is breeding a populace that cannot wait for anything anymore. We want results and we want them fast. We click the mouse, we want the link to work, we enter the Google search, we want the desired information at our fingertips immediately, we go to school, we want the cushy job waiting for us on the other side of the graduation ceremony.
The immediacy of culture is not slowing down, and it can often put us in an uncomfortable set of circumstances when things don't shake out the way we want post haste.
Two things I witnessed this week point to the sort of thing I'm getting at here, and they happened on two opposite sides of the importance spectrum. The first is the debut of the new-look Miami Heat, led by a three-headed monster of basketball talent that features LeBron James (arguably the best player on the planet), Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The three teamed-up over the summer to form what is already considered one of the most talented line-ups in NBA history, and this week we finally got to see them play regular season basketball together.
The Heat transformed their roster in what can only be called the most auspicious manner possible, with James announcing he was going to "take his talents to South Beach" in an hour long spectacle on ESPN, which was quickly followed by a WWE-style entrance for the three in Miami, replete with smoke, fireworks and the trio dancing on stage in front of a packed auditorium of their supporters and fans. This unmitigated attention grabbing and the talent of the three players involved has left the sporting world foaming at the mouth with anticipation and critics already setting their sights on the Heat Index, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.
That first sign came Tuesday night, when the Heat fell to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics 88-80 in the opening game of the NBA season. Already, the critics are putting forth their opinions. While the more level-headed are pointing to the fact that the season is 82 games long, and one game does not a season make, many are already discovering the cracks in the Miami facade and registering their disappointment.
I am not one to judge a team on one performance (and the Heat did rebound to beat the 76ers one night later in Philly by the way) against the best team in their conference, but it goes to show that when you intentionally fan the flames of hype, folks will try and extinguish that fire in nanoseconds if the result isn't as-promised, even if it is only the first game of the season. The Heat are at the focus of a media electron microscope, and their every move will be shadowed, analyzed and picked apart until the forest is made near invisible by the study of the trees.
I think the Heat will be dominant this season and in many to come, which I mentioned in my post about James' move to Miami, and it frustrates me to no end that sports fans will now have to endure a game-by-game breakdown of their progression throughout the NBA season. The sports media lives to make snap judgments, and the Heat only focused their attention in the off-season, but this is some of the most nausea-inducing "what have you done for me lately" BS that I can remember in my years of watching sports. The Information Age is rearing it's ugly head early this NBA season and shows no signs of tucking it away any time soon.
All of this nonsense is, as I said, at one end of the importance spectrum. The other end of that spectrum is just about upon on us here in the United States, where election day looms on the horizon. The midterm elections are a referendum for any president's policies, especially one whose party controls both houses of Congress. As such, President Obama is surely feeling the heat right now. The country remains economically stagnant to a large degree, with unemployment teetering around the 10% mark nationally and anger growing among the opposition by leaps and bounds (and stomps too, if you happen to live in Kentucky).
The democrats and Obama in particular are feeling the pressure of being the party in power at the midterm, but it seems to me that the Information Age is giving his policies and the administration as a whole a bit of a raw deal. Like the aforementioned Miami Heat, Obama cannot claim that he didn't help create the hype that surrounds him, running on a platform of hope and change and lofty ideals that would have been difficult for any one man to live up to, let alone one that entered the office of president amidst an economic maelstrom not seen since the Great Depression. It's been two years and folks aren't satisfied. Their driveways aren't filled with gold-plated Rolls Royces, their fat rolls haven't magically turned into washboard stomachs and there are still blind folks everywhere whose sight has not yet been restored.
Obviously, our exalted leader hasn't delivered, right? Come on. The man's been given two years to rebuild an economy, create enough jobs to keep the entire country working, and bridge the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats that has been widening steadily for over a century. I voted for Obama not as the lesser of two evils, but because he was the guy I thought could turn things around. I'm going to give him more than two years to do so, and you can count me among the more pragmatic of his supporters in saying that I didn't expect things to be covered in milk and honey at this point in time. We all knew we were in for a long haul if things were going to start heading in the right direction in this country, both culturally and politically.
It's why President Obama's interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Wednesday night was a very satisfying half-hour of television for this viewer, and brought to mind some parallels to the sports media's treatment of the Heat. I'm a big Stewart fan and I consider him among the greatest satirists of his age, armed with intellect, sagacity and an indelible wit that acts as a hot knife through much of both political parties' rancid butter.
An appearance on The Daily Show goes a long way towards swaying the opinion of twenty-something America, and Jon Stewart has established himself as an influential voice in American politics, especially on the left. The President appeared before an audience that voted for him in droves in 2010, and it was a big deal that he stepped onto The Daily Show set mere days before the midterm election and before Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Stewart sank his teeth into Obama, grilling him with tough questions and even mocking some of the President's more pat responses. The host's plucky interrogation is exactly what fans of show should have expected, the President included.
And I think you could tell that ol' Barry knew what he was up against, because his responses proved once again that he is a thoughtful, involved, and perspicacious Commander in Chief. It was clear that he understood Stewart's larger point, that the type of youthful, interested, and enthusiastic folks that watch his show and voted for Obama are among those who feel more than a bit let down after these first two years. The President, while perhaps leaning a bit too far towards pedantry at times, confronted the problems that Stewart presented and preached a mantra of patience and hard work, something that will rub anybody who lives in the Information Age the wrong way.
Tough shit, says this writer. A lot of media-types criticized the Miami Heat players for putting out the tired cliche that "Rome wasn't built in a day" after their loss to the Celtics, and I think if you had to sum up the President's response to Stewart's criticisms, that old adage would be an apt tag line for his administration as well. Sure it's cliche, but by god if it isn't true. Teams need more than one game to prove their mettle in the sporting world and presidents deserve more than two years in the White House during the middle of a financial and economic crisis to show that they meant what they said on the campaign trail.
The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me in both cases is "deferred gratification". It's a pair of words that first hit home when I read Cornell West's Democracy Matters, and it's something that he believes our society lacks more and more with each coming day. Our unwillingness to embrace this idea of delayed fulfillment is a result of a culture that focuses on fame, sex, and wealth more than knowledge, love, and understanding. West tells his readers that if we as a society aren't willing to work hard and wait the necessary time for the best things in life, we might never see them come. Even worse, we might be unable to enjoy those good things when they do finally get here.
Whether it be the fate of a sports franchise or the fate of our country, I hope we can all take a deep breath in the coming year and know that great things are possible through hard work and optimism. A knowledge of our ability to triumph in the face of adversity is one of the most enduring lessons of our humanity and one that we must not forget in the present and near future.
Let's give LeBron and Barack a chance to get things right. I'm willing to bet that neither will disappoint.