Of Presidential Debates and Mansplaining and Miller’s Crossing

captureI started thinking about this post right after the first Presidential debate, way back in the primordial mist of the race, before Alec Baldwin entered the fray. The good old days. That post was going to explore the concept of ‘Mansplaining‘ – you know, the inability of some (even some running for higher office) to listen to … anyone. Which is bad enough except that by the rules of Mansplaining (there are rules, right?), that inability to listen is followed, almost without pause, by the compulsion to expound. Endlessly. The rule of thumb seems to be: the least one knows, the harder and longer one explains.

I thought ‘mansplaining’ was a neat word even while, as evidenced by recent events and explanations of unexplainable acts and behaviors, I never thought it was necessarily practiced by only one sex.  Just a good, solid word that explained much about the level of discourse in the U.S. right now.

I considered this post a little too long and before I knew it the second debate was looming. downloadThen, of course, it really hit the fan Friday and, well,a few days of non-stop, at times deranged, mansplaining. I wasn’t exactly sure what direction to go in, there were more than a few to attack, but they seemed so …too…very … strident.

It all coalesced, though, while I was flipping through the NFL and MLB pregame shows Sunday. Then it came to me, the missing piece, the Rosetta Stone of business, political, interpersonal verbal conflict in the 2010’s – it’s all Madden NFL’92’s fault. Okay, not just Madden NFL ’92. Madden ’92 and the 24 versions since.

john-madden-football-92-usa-europeYou may remember Madden NFL ’92, it had so-so graphics, bad music, worse sound effects, and was pretty easy to beat after some repetition. But, it was FOOTBALL. Pro Football, and it wasn’t a stupid knob-controlled arcade game. You had to call plays. Pick from a list of cool sounding, seemingly ripped from the playbooks of Bill Parcells, real football plays.

Of course, all anyone really needed to win was to take the Detroit Lions and give the ball to Barry Sanders. He was unstoppable.

It was fun. Flashy and fun. Playing it gave a glimpse into what it took to call plays in a NFL game. Remember, by the way, that this was before the heyday of fantasy football. Back then fantasy football was an arcane paper and pencil (and lots of erasers) game played by groups of friends pouring over newspapers to find statistics every week. In the primitive Internet Age, it took real dedication. Madden NFL seemed a nice side dish for it.

Over the years, Madden’s graphics improved to the point where they rival the real thing; the play lists for offense and defense have lengthened considerably; there’s much more control over the players, the music is better, there’s the running commentary from real TV announcers.

Madden’16 is the 24th edition of the game. That’s 24 years and a few generations that have250px-millerscrossingposter played it, buy the new version the second it comes out every year. They’ve seen both games evolve – Madden and the real NFL. A funny thing has happened along the way, as has been commented on by Jay Kang of the New York Times (among others): a lot of the people who have been playing Madden NFL over the years think they are football experts.

If you step back and look at it, it makes some weird sense. The game has all the bells, whistles, uses all the neat NFL nomenclature and gives the appearance of complexity. More than anything, it invites players to believe it’s the real thing. But, it’s not. Not when compared to actually coaching a NFL team. Any NFL team.

Moreover, in Madden NFL ’17, the person with the controller controls every aspect of the game. Nothing real intrudes on this omnipotence – weather, injuries, emotions, adapting to what the other team’s doing. To paraphrase Marcia Gay Harden in Millers Crossing: ‘that’s Madden NFL all over, no heart.’

I mean, there’s a reason the NFL has assistant coaches to the assistant coaches, all with their own specialties. Love it, hate it, ignore it, but there’s no getting away from the fact that coaching in the NFL is amazingly complex. It’s not ‘land a man on the moon complex’, but it’s not that far off and they share the same technology today.

Madden NFL’17 has come a long, long way. And it has changed beyond the graphics, now it’s impossible to stop Brady to Gronkowski.

None of this stops lifelong Madden players from flooding the radio-waves, they know, they’ve experienced theMadden NFL 16_20150824134855 game. They talk over each other, hosts, and most especially, anyone they’re pretty sure never played football above peewee.

Normally, it’s annoying but harmless. Like when when your brother-in-law erupts half-way through Thanksgiving dinner and explains in excruciating detail why the Lions coaches should be fired en masse. Or, why the Cowboys used the wrong blitz package because he won his local Madden championship back in ’09 on exactly the same play when he used a package no one would have expected and it would have worked now if only Jason Garrett had gone to a real football school instead …” (That would be Princeton, but to tell him that would invite a discourse on the intellectual elite.)

Again, annoying but harmless. But, when the same brother-in-law fills you in everything he infers you’re doing wrong with your divorce, then tells you all about the custody case you have … or the custody case you don’t have, it is no longer harmless.

Look, I loved Cliff Clavin as much as anyone. When he was the lone voice at the back of the bar. Now the bar’s full of Cliff Clavins fueled by Madden and the Internet and the detritus of the Information Age. All I’m saying is, ignore the Clavins aside from their admittedly high-amusement value and, when something matters, go to the source material. Contact us.

It’s probably not too late to do that for the Presidential race, though.