America hates losers, with one exception.
“Where have you gone, Joe Di Maggio?”
I took a call this week from Connor Barwin, the ex NFL linebacker, currently serving as the Director of Player Development for the Philadelphia Eagles. He has now bought the Italian basketball team in Trieste. We chatted about sport. A nicer, more professional and prepared guy, you’ll never meet.
I came off the call thinking about America.
It’s understandably harder for younger people to grasp the full impact that America, and cultural Americana, have had on my generation; boys especially.
Because America has now changed, and so has its society. Almost unrecognisable.
Therefore, many of we 60s and 70s kids are far from indifferent to seeing how America has evolved in recent decades: the obvious visual of the quality of the presidential candidates, the depressing spread of crony capitalism, nepo-babies, a tragic polarisation of the 50 states. In other times, these would have been a precursor to civil war. Moreover, a calamitous fall in the quality of education, men declaring themselves women, to win something they didn’t have the chops for otherwise.
Aaron Sorkin saw all this coming a good few years ago, when he gave us this genius writing. So, I’ll just leave it to him.
Fundamentals, embraced by people who know their facts, and aren’t scared to death to articulate their quality.
Stop the Sunday Column here, if you want. Watch the clip again, as it should be part of every didactic syllabus in the world. The America of our youth is no longer here. Discuss!
There is nothing wrong in celebrating that you won the IQ lottery at birth.
Indeed, some say it’s your responsibility to display your skill, and put it to work, remembering that you have no merit, you just got lucky. The Parable of the Talents, Matthew 25:14-30.
Sorkin is an intimidating genius, capable of turning out these scripts, many for different shows at the very same time, as if he was shelling peas. A total freak. It’s at least a decade since he wrote this scene.
“America is not the greatest country in the world anymore… but it sure used to be.”
Yes it did, and it affected everyone.
Today, when we see Uncle Sam in the declining phase of its empire, it’s hard to remember the shining lighthouse that America still was, even for my generation. A beacon to a new world. A symbol of leadership and excellence.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– Ellis Island
My ancestors, both the Irish and the Italian side, would know what I am trying to say.
The idea of fresh hope, fertile terrain for endless ambition. The American Dream meant that serfdom wasn’t a life sentence.
It was just up to you. The polar opposite of social immobility, and the class system Europe so loves. Others coming from a more privileged European background might not see this as much. I get that.
America was our telescope to the world of what could be.
Culture is the messenger of all this, always spread through the distribution of media. America, through its dominance of the industries of music, sport, entertainment and publishing, was the Pied Piper. For the generation of my parents, it was the golden age of Hollywood, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra. For working class teens in the 70s and 80s, whether in the Gorbals or Salford, America was a window to beyond where we lived, coming through the Granada rental TV screen in the corner.
It cannot be overestimated how much the working classes of intellect and desire were influenced by what we saw over the pond. There is no Beatles, and all the British music that followed, without some ordinary Liverpool lads hunched over a radio listening to Chuck Berry and Little Richard. No Graham Norton without Jonny Carson. On and on.
I am, and have always been, a huge disciple of this idea of America, and I know for sure I am not alone.
Let’s give a shout-out, for the second time today, to the two Jewish lads from Queens:
“And we walked off to look for America”, either physically or metaphorically. In my case, the latter.
America is really, really important. No one really cares passionately by how much Trudeau screws up Canada. America, on the contrary, does matter. We have lived under their hegemony and protection and absorbed their mentality on almost everything. It hurts intensely that they are on the decline, and it’s a worry. The alternative is Chinese totalitarianism. Europe, geopolitically, isn’t relevant.
One thing that has always come through loud and clear from the American mentality was that they hate a loser.
Their pioneer frontier-man DNA, which offers and expects no safety net in life, is binary between those who make it and those who don’t. Uncle Sam doesn’t really offer condolence if you are the schmuck and not the winner. It’s just the brutal reality of the heroes and zeroes.
As Sorkin says above, “you know why people don’t like liberals… because they lose”.
America despises losers. This was clear from every piece of cultural content they threw at us. It is very difficult to think of any American storytelling, where the loser is celebrated as a good chap; salt of the earth. If anything, they enjoy the comeback, the redemption arc. But losers who stay losers are tragic figures for them.
Palookaville! They even have a name for the town of the loser.
In the 80s, our formative years, Cliff Barnes was always going to be JR’s bitch, wasn’t he? That was a very clear message.
I remember personally being very affected when the school took me to see Death of A Salesman in London.
“Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you” – Arthur Miller
Pick any line from GlenGarry GlenRoss, and it is exactly the same theme of masculinity being entirely linked to financial and professional success. That is why this is a boy’s thing. Male worth and dignity.
The brutality of this clip is overwhelming, ending with “because a loser is a loser”. Any non-American reading this article will absolutely remember the first time when, all of a sudden, they started working for an American boss, who has always a very heightened sense of not messing about. Isn’t it true?
I saw a lot of artists, when trying to break the States, truly shocked by the aggression shown by the American label.
“We have decided to spend to make you a star. Before we do that, though, before we expose ourselves to all the payola that entails, I wanna look you in the eyes and see that you are up for it. Every morning show, every late night meet and greet, every wannabe journo writing you off.”
As Baldwin says, “are you man enough to take that money?“. “Brass balls“.
America has always been consistent in this.
We, instead, in the Old Continent like to celebrate our humanity in, shall we say, a wider canvas of values.
The dignity of the street sweeper, picking up that last wrapper, just wanting to do his job well; a miner still covered in dust, humbly drinking a pint with his pals and knowing he is the most respected guy in the pub. The student finally scraping through an exam at the 4th attempt, and being celebrated!
We have stuff like…
“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part!”
“If you can treat those same two imposters…”.
America is different. If there is one thing that Uncle Sam likes less than a loser, it’s a choker.
Man of the sporting moment, Greg Norman, is always vunerable to that one, eg, in this excellent article.
America doesn’t abide these characters.
I am however personally not inclined to laugh at people who slip up on the big stage. Because, at least, they are on the stage whilst I’m not.
So, so, so… what is the Sunday Column about today?
In trying to write a book, I have realised that it is much harder than I could have ever imagined. A friend told me: “Writing the odd single is fairly easy, Rog, but it’s the whole concept album that’s tough“. He could have mentioned that at the start, I feel. Still, it’s the journey more than the destination. Or so they say.
With writing a book, I have found that you really need to shut yourself away, in order to try and process with discipline what you want to find: those patterns, join-the-dots insight, falling dominos. It’s truly like game theory, if you also factor in the massive changes coming in the finance sector.
That is when some real anomalies strike you. Some of them, we have mentioned in previous columns:
- The mutual exclusivity of unscripted drama and world class storytelling as competing philosophies.
- Reconciling the jeopardy and excitement of promotion and relegation, with the consequent compression in asset value that results from this risk. “Everything about the sport and the way the sport is handled here, the pyramid system, relegation and promotion, creates stakes like nothing else”, proclaimed here by Reynolds.
The big juxtaposition of today is, however, surprising. And rather perplexing, when the penny drops.
It is this.
In the land of the American Dream, where there are de facto no limits to your ambition; in the mean streets of callous indifference, where there is no safety net or sympathy for the loser in life,
SPORT, in America, does exactly the OPPOSITE.
It has no pathway to promotion. It’s a closed shop. No matter how good you become, you aren’t getting in. American Dream, my arse. It’s a post-modern class system.
Americans also reward the despised loser, with the top draft pick of best player next year!
Isn’t that curious? What an absurd contradiction.
They seem to prefer to trade-off and sacrifice the Ryan Reynolds thrills and heartaches of promotion and relegation, in a deliberate aim to lower the risk profile, and protect the asset value of the private feudal club. They thus set up their sport to incentivise “tanking”.
Americans have decided to congratulate the Alec Baldwin losers with the best Glengarry “leads” for next year.
These are the choices they have made and the life that they have chosen – one always needs a quote from that film.
They prioritise the business and the Benjamins over their social mobility ambition, and hero/zero DNA.
Remember that, when they come with their capital. Once their capitalism was Adam Smith pure, not today’s “crony” flavour.
Mammon in America dominates all, and has overwhelmed the old mom-and-apple pie Americana.
This clip is dedicated to all those who’ve lost their dad, and the purity of their sport.
It was a long time ago that America lost this integrity and innocence.
Seriously, where have you gone Joe Di Maggio? We need you, as you were. Especially in our industry!
“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together“.
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Let us also recommend our wonderful colleague John WallStreet. His daily newsletter here is essential reading, especially in its coverage of the US market. For lovers of sports data, this is a great read. This week he talked about a very changed environment for PE and sport: “However, the macro-economic environment has made it difficult to raise any kind of private market fund. According to Pitchbook’s 2022 Annual U.S. PE breakdown, the total amount of private equity raised in ‘22 dropped nearly $20 billion YoY. Caution flags went up among institutional investors because interest rates went up. When the interest rate is zero, the cost of risk is zero. Now that interest rates are five percent; the cost of risk is five percent. 2022 was also the worst year in a century for owners of a 60/40 bond stock portfolio, a description that fits most institutions, and economists spent the better part of last year predicting a recession was on the horizon”.
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