The End of Sportswriting, Part III

(This is the third piece of a five-part series.)

by Rick Rockwell

Coarse, crass and clueless can equal cool. At least in some quarters. And those are the quarters that seem to count. But we aren’t talking about the craft of writing now. No, we are talking about the witchcraft of marketing.

Do you want the 18 to 34-year-old male demographic reading your blog, or listening to your sports talk hatefest or watching your sports highlight show? Well, then, you must cop an attitude. You must sound like the testosterone-filled athletes with ramped up language much like the theatrical sideshow of the professional wrestling genre.

You must attract the mook.

What? You’ve never heard of the mook? Well, if you’ve never heard of him, you’ve seen him: a baggy-pants-wearing, cap-tilted-backwards, slouching, hand-waving, rapper wannabe whose slacker life is filled with watching sports, watching the “film” Jackass, or talking endlessly to his posse on the cellphone glued to his ear. Many credit Douglas Rushkoff and the Frontline documentary “The Merchants of Cool” with identifying this generalized classification. However, others in the media were writing about mooks (and the female equivalent “the midriff:” just think of every Britney Spears wannabe) before “The Merchants of Cool.” And you can even find references to mooks as a derogatory term for a lazy punk in the Martin Scorsese film Mean Streets.

For some, the mook is not cool. He is the antithesis of cool because he is trying to copy something he thinks is cool.

But to attract the mook, you must speak his language or you must create new parts of his language (“boo-yahhhh”) or you must give him a visceral thrill every few moments or so to bounce his testosterone level ever higher.

So this is now why The Washington Post rarely runs a column by Tony Kornheiser, instead the paper runs excerpts of the transcript of his supposedly funny radio show. This is why other Post columnists pick fights with Kornheiser. Why not? Michael Wilbon, who can still write a stellar column when he focuses, has made a career out of fighting with Kornheiser. The result is their show Pardon the Interruption, a ratings winner in the realm of mookdom on ESPN.

This is called synergy: radio, newspaper columns, blogs, television shows, all adding to the media empire. Synergy is about marketing. It’s not about good sportswriting.

(To see the next part in this series, please click here.)

(Photo by Michael C. Neel of Knoxville, Tennessee, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)

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