It started for me with the television show, a modern classic by Jason Katims. Then, my completest nature had me go back to the beginning, at least of the show.
Along the way the movie, which predates the show, was also finally viewed by me. But one piece of this amazingly human puzzle always stayed non consumed by mine eyes…
And that was the original source of all things Friday Night Lights, the venerable and esteemed non fiction book, all about high school football in small town Odessa, by the journalist H.G. Bissinger.
Bissinger moved to Odessa, Texas, in 1988 and quickly became a part of the community, all because he was researching a massive book about how high school football worked in this town.
When this large tome came out in print over a year later, controversy immediately hit as the people of Odessa became very very offended with how they were portrayed, how the town lionized and discarded the players, and the complete and utter racism that permeated almost every pore of the place. And a word of warning, the language in the book is raw, with people quoted using racial epitaphs.
To put it mildly, Friday Night Lights is a cautionary tale of what crazed lust can do to a culture.
Odessa worships high school football. They really really worship it. Boys are primed from a young age to play, all to make the team, and maybe hopefully get a scholarship or go professional. It is almost preordained this rite happens for all who can qualify.
And when you do make the team, all life is gold. Women are plentiful, schoolwork becomes non essential, and discipline is a joke. They are treated as celebrity Gods and few can stand up against them.
The only place this entitlement vanishes is when the players are ground up under control of the coaches, in the locker room and on the field. Here, coaches heap constant verbal abuse onto these teens, giving them very over the top lectures and telling offs that to most sane people would be completely over the line.
This craziness is because the coaches must get the players to win, and win they must. All because….
A State Championship is the end all and be all of everything.
Coaches are fired if State Championships are not won, and very very often. The entire town will rally and support and funnel tons of money into this goal. It must happen. Civic pride is on the line. People brag about the year they won. Championship Rings are worn by these former players like proud symbols of the great lineage they are part of, one that sets them apart from the rabble.
Massive amounts of unsolicited advice from these former players, and virtually everyone else in town who is capable of forming a sentence, inundates these coaches almost all the time. It is just part of the fabric of this town of Odessa.
And Odessa itself becomes a character in this narrative as well. Bissinger dives deep and deeper into the socioeconomic past and present of this place, showing how the endless cycle of boom and bust raise and levels this section of Texas dramatically. When money is plentiful, all is wonderful and some would say, slightly excessive. When things are rotten, the obvious occurs and life tends to suck abit.
In many ways, Friday Night Lights, both the book and movie and television show, remind me of Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets and The Wire, both by David Simon, another journalist. The level of detail about everything is massive and all encompassing and sometimes a bit overwhelming. But you do get a very very definitive feel for the place and people and the time period.
The shock and awe Friday Night Lights caused upon publication did bring about some changes to Odessa. Some tempering of the football fanaticism and how it affects life off the field came about, bit by bit. The games are still televised and citizens far and wide flock to them in huge numbers, with fanfare in full and awesome glory. But now a bit more balance exists off the field for the players.
Which is interesting. High school football is supposed to be a sport, a fun team building experience for these boys. Bissinger chronicles multiple players, from one star athlete who is worshipped until an injury halts his season with little hope of recovery, to several who decide to commit robberies just because. The feeling I have is that these days this kind of insanity would not be allowed to occur.
That caring for these teens who are still young and learning is the real responsibility of the community.
Not how many Championships they magically win.
…is currently reading About A Boy by Nick Hornby in a read-a-long with @rebeccahh95!!