Tag Archives: Army

Speaker Ambiguity

This entry was originally going to center on the similarities and differences between acceptance, tolerance, endurance, and resignation.  The preoccupation around “resignation” originated earlier today when I was reading at a Starbux (not my favorite one, but a newly renovated one in my side of town).  Book in hand, and later pens with sketchpad, I was listening to this Chinese song by MC Jin and Hanjin.  MC Jin raps the verses in Cantonese and Hanjin sings the pre-first verse and the choruses in Mandarin.  Lyrics are:

I may have remarked in the past that when it comes to music, I tend to pay more attention to the melody rather than the lyrics (even though it doesn’t take me long to memorize the words).  When it comes to Mandarin, though, I’m much more cognisant of the lyrics.   Basing my interpretation of this upbeat song solely on listening comprehension, the choruses struck me as quite sad.  It made me think of resignation because the words suggest that the singer is willing to settle.  I didn’t translate the verses because there is a considerable amount of Cantonese slang with which I’m unfamiliar.

My thoughts veered from the idea of resignation as I read the lyrics of the chorus.  When Hanjin sings for a third time, where the translation begins “You say I can’t lose myself,” the character for “You” is the masculine version of the pronoun.  When refering to a female “you,” there is a “female” character on the left which lets a reader know the “you” is female.  Compare with masculine and feminine forms of third-person pronouns:

I took a break from thinking about the song to eat and watch some of the 2011 USA Sevens Collegiate Rugby Championship on NBC (Army beat Navy 19 to 15!).  Amidst mastication and realizing that both Army and Navy’s rugby teams are much more pleasing to the eye than their football teams, it dawned on me that the meaning behind “Girlfriend” is ambiguous.

Assuming the speaker is male (because the actual artists are male), then the addresse is male–because of the masculine form of “you” used in the “second” chorus.  What is the speaker saying then?  He’s in love with a girl who treats him like a girl, who might as well pretend he is a girl, and he accepts this emasculating role because her family likes him?  Because he must have her in his life no matter the conditions? Meanwhile, there’s a guy out there that wants the speaker to be his maid of honor (or bridesmaid), his girl because they are lovers?

Does the song make sense if the speaker were a female, maybe a tomboy?  The masculine “you” wants her to be his girl?  That makes no sense either…unless the “you” were a tomboy.  Then, it would make a lot of sense because masculine/feminine forms of pronouns notwithstanding, the players are lesbians.  These unknowns made me think of Skye Sweetnam’s song “It Sucks,” which can be read as being about girl-on-girl romance (and various permutations involving a boy).  Lyrics:

It’s just simple kissing
No one has to ever know
What she doesnt know won’t hurt her
As long as I don’t let it show
And we’ll keep it just between us
Bottled up inside
Just our little secret
I’ll be playing dumb and acting shy

Goin crazy for a week
(crazy for a week)
Your Girlfriend’s gonna freak
(she’s gonna freak)
Because I know that I’d be freaking too
Cause that’s the thing that girlfriends do
It’s so frustrating you’re not the type that I should be dating
No matter where i go or what I do
It sucks cause I wanna be with you you you you
Found a lame excuse to call you

Just to hear you on the phone
Talked a million miles an hour
Pretending we were all alone
And if only for a moment
It felt like you were really mine
But no one wants a cheater
Even if the boy is fine

Goin crazy for a week
(crazy for a week)
Your Girlfriend’s gonna freak
(she’s gonna freak)
Because I know that id be freaking too
Cause that’s the thing that girlfriends do
It’s so frustrating you’re not the type that I should be dating
No matter where i go or what I do
It sucks cause I wanna be with you you you you you you you you.

Yes, I know, there I go over-thinking on trivial matters.

Army-Navy 1995: Wonder through the Stars

I finished reading John Feinstein’s book Civil War: Army vs. Navy yesterday.

I think a good film–documentary or fiction–exists in it, but I’m not sure a film should be made.  It’s such an amazing feeling when reading the last few pages–acknowledgments too–and finding out that Bob Sutton’s contract at Army was renewed as well as how the Army and Navy football players experienced the rest of their school year.  Nearly every time I read more than five pages, I would become misty eyed.  Feinstein’s writing is just that moving.

I’ve never regarded the military with anything but deference, framed around a cognitive (historical) understanding of what they do and what they represent.  Vietnam and the 21st Century haven’t been so kind to them in terms of PR, but I don’t hold them responsible for the way Middle Eastern relations have or haven’t gone.  After reviewing a documentary called Occupation: Dreamland three years ago and recently watching a documentary called Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, I felt more respect and gratitude, which were magnified after finishing Civil War.

Reading Feinstein’s book humanizes the Cadets and the Midshipmen in a way that not even a good Hollywood drama could hope to achieve.  The reason?  The football context is key–it functions as an agent of psychological identification for the reader.  Attending West Point or the Naval Academy is the exotic factor–the element of curiosity possessing the potential to educate the reader on the life at service academies.  To me at least, the football is the familiar half.  There’s already some understanding of what it entails on general grounds: time management, physical and mental exhaustion from practice and game-play (or in some cases, the struggle to participate in any amount of game-play), and the pressure and desire to win.  Put the two together and one has an incredibly engrossing story.  Add Feinstein’s remarkable prose and the result is thought-provoking, humorous, insightful, informative, and awe-inspiring.

In Next Man Up, Feinstein explicitly states in the Introduction that the ostensibly unprecedented degree of access to players, the coaching staff, and other personnel of the 2004 Baltimore Ravens took the form of first-person, real-time presence.  In other words, he was allowed to witness meetings, locker room speeches, practices, and an assortment of conversations as they happened…in addition to the inevitable phone calls and emails placed and returned.

Feinstein puts it like so:  “My access, as you will read, was pretty much complete.  [Brian] Billick never once asked me to leave a room, and the players, who weren’t quite sure who I was or why I was there–many referred to me early on as ‘the book guy’–became, I believe, comfortable with my presence.  Deion Sanders even took the trouble to pull my jacket collar up while we were standing in the tunnel in Pittsburgh, saying, ‘Man, you have to at least try to look good on the sideline‘” (11).

Feinstein also thanks Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti for getting the machine rolling that would eventually produce the material for the book.

While the acknowledgments in Civil War spotlights the persons who were instrumental in helping to secure the permission and support necessary to make the research process possible, there’s only a slight suggestion or implication that Feinstein was present as conversations took place.  Now, we’re not talking about voice-over in a film, where logically a character usually needs to have firsthand knowledge of an event to speak of it.  Feinstein can write about an incident, a conversation, or report the progression of events without necessarily being there as it happened.  For credibility, though, it helps.

Since Civil War was completed before Next Man Up, it makes sense that there’s some ambiguity as to the proportion of witnessed and non-witnessed exchanges.  Moreover, the former focuses more on capturing an essence of the rivalry via the players and coaches of the 1995 season.  Thus, first-person, real-time presence isn’t necessarily mandatory.  On the other hand, Next Man Up is an inside-out, behind-the-playing-field book.  The expectation for first-person, real-time presence is very much there.

Furthermore, because the NFL monitors and limits the media’s access to players in ways the NBA and the MLB do not, it’s important that Feinstein is explicit in pointing out how he conducted primary research.*  It not only speaks to methodology and bolsters his credibility, but it also invites the reader to take part in a journey through him.

Trailer of from Occupation: Dreamland:

A short clip from Combat Diary:

*Feinstein notes in the Introduction of Next Man Up that “most professional sports make their players available to the press often.  Almost every NFL team severely limits access to its players.  There are limited times each week when the locker room is open to journalists, but most players simply stay out of the locker room during that time.  Most practices are off-limits, except perhaps for a few minutes of stretching at the start of the day.  Coaches are paranoid and secretive about everything” (6).

Click  here, here, and here for more excerpts from Next Man Up.

Click here, here, here, here, and here, for more from Civil War.

Rules and Regulations: Army, Navy, and Air Force

In addition to providing biographical information about the various players and personnel that composed the 1995 teams for Army and Navy and mentioning other factoids about the places and people visited or met, John Feinstein’s Army vs. Navy book necessarily includes information about the schools.

Here’s something that I learned today about the three service academies:

Generally speaking, Navy is considered the most difficult academically because more engineering courses are required and because so many of the classes are extremely technical in their orientation.  Army is considered to be the most difficult militarily: it has the most rules and the less tolerance for breakdowns in military discipline.  At Army they wake up the earliest–formation at 6:25 AM; first class at 7:15–and morning formation is always outside, regardless of the weather.  At Navy, they move inside when the weather turns cold, and formation isn’t until 7 A.M., first class at 7:55.

Air Force’s upperclassmen have carpeting in their rooms and some of them have TV sets.  At Army, no one is allowed to watch television anywhere on the base until they are cows (juniors).  Air Force’s rooms are the most spacious, although Navy’s–which are the smallest of the three–do have small showers. The West Point cadets consider this an extraordinary luxury” (Feinstein 198-199).

Does anyone know if any of those conditions have changed in the decade that Feinstein was researching and publishing this book?

Block with Ferocity, Kick with Grace, Throw with Intensity

…but don’t get so emotional, baby.

I’m just about halfway through reading John Feinstein’s book on the Army-Navy rivalry. While recounting the game between Army and Notre Dame in 1995–the one primarily quarterbacked by junior Ronnie McAda and where a successful two-point conversion in the bottom of the fourth quarter would’ve given Army a 29-28 victory over the Fighting Irish–Feinstein comments, “Emotion, as any coach will tell you, only takes you so far…Once the game starts, emotion may carry you for a play or two or even an entire series, but that’s about it. Emotion can also work against you, make you tight, take away your ability to play on instinct” (187).

I ask all you footballers and coaches: is emotion not part of instinct? Is instinct not part of emotion? Does acting on instinct only imply that one doesn’t have to think beforehand? that one simply knows what to do next? Does it also apply to feeling? that one doesn’t have to be fired up to execute one’s job?

In other performative athletic activities such as ballet, figure skating, fencing, boxing, and various martial arts, bringing and conveying emotion is an essential part of the game-play. Boxing, martial arts, and fencing may involve some bluffing to confuse one’s opponent, but punching, kicking, dodging, and parrying concern more than just literally going through the motions. One has to exhibit a certain demeanor, even if it is feigned and part of the strategy to win. With ballet and figure skating, displaying and applying emotions are not up for debate. An accomplished dancer may be able to do fouette turns for minutes on end followed by a series of triple pirouettes, but if there’s no feeling in it, then it’s just a sequence of movements.

Alas, playing the lead role in a ballet is not the same as being starting quarterback, running back, tight end, or cornerback. For one, football players wear helmets. No matter how many times the camera goes in for an extreme close-up, whatever the eyes say won’t be analogous to what the whole body of a dancer communicates. When the players are on the bench and not wearing the head gear, they’re not participating in the game-play. They may be smiling or scowling from having nabbed or fumbled the ball, but that grin or frown occurs after the fact.