Thursday, March 19, 2009

It's more important than that

Last night I finally watched "Friday Night Lights", the drama about inter-school football in Texas. I haven't seen anything that depicts quite so well how different the Americans are. The whole notion of school sports being that important is alien to us and, I imagine, to most other nations as well. No matter how seriously a school or college game may be taken here there is still somebody at some level prepared to remind us that it's only a game and that what really matters is education. Here, on the other hand, they play the final at the Astrodome and it's televised.

In the world of Permian High School and the community of Odessa, Texas, there is only one thing that matters and that's "winning State". Billy Bob Thornton plays the highly-paid coach dealing with a bunch of senior High School kids. They're allegedly seventeen. They don't look it but then again all sportsmen look older than they are because of the strain on their faces. "You've got two more quarters. Most of you will never play the game again in the rest of your lives," he says in the big scene. (It's here.) That makes you think. Maybe American rhetoric is studded with football metaphors because it's associated with a time of life when the world was full of possibilities. At the end of the film they stand in the car park and say goodbye to each other, resigned to the fact that nothing can ever be this important again.


  1. It's not just the finals that are televised, when I lived in Florida you could often see regular high school games on tv and they got covered on the local news.

    I think the culture that surrounds American high schools and their sports and the importance attached to them is why so many kids go on shooting rampages over here. School feels like their entire lives and when that goes wrong they have nothing else.

  2. I live in New York state and we get college basketball and football games televised regularly. Of course the fact that they are televised attracts corporate sponsorship which is a huge revenue source for the colleges (along with televison money, ticket sales and merchandising). It pays to have a team that can compete and there are often questionable priorities when colleges hand out scholoarships to those that may have more atheletic talent than academic talent. High school sports are going the same way by all accounts and it's only a matter of time before the commercialisation takes over there also.

  3. I haven't seen the film, but the book on which it is based, by HG Bissinger, is very good. I may be unfair, but it seems that the Americans write about Sports so much better than we do.

  4. Not every city has an NFL team, in fact many states don't, so the big college games take the place of the professional game for a lot of people. Also the high schools then colleges are the ladder up which the future professional stars progress.

    It's also a massive contrast to sport in this country, that if they don't make it to college they "never play the game again". They don't seem to have the massive pyramid of leagues that we do for football in this country, catering for all levels of ability and commitment. I guess their game doesn't exactly lend itself to the "jumpers for goalposts" approach.

  5. Risking censorial wrath again (Ricky Gervais can eff and blind, I cannot), the idea that "what really matters is education" is laughable. For erudite comment on the English Public School system see Alan Bennett in "Writing Home". Question, David: How much time have you spent outside England?
    Not much, right?