Hold That, Tiger

Stolen (ironically) from www.steffeslaw.com
Stolen (ironically) from http://www.steffeslaw.com

Perhaps I should start by saying that I love my Louisiana home, as anyone in Grand Rapids may quickly attest to.  Ever since I visited France and saw that there was a part of the world that not only understood my home but loved and appreciated it, I’ve been a staunch defender of the culture and actions of my home.  In fact, in discussing John McCain’s (ridiculous) “Country First” slogan with some friends, I realized that I pledge my allegiance to the purple and gold long before I even consider the red, white, and blue.  When the Jena 6 incident broke nationally last fall, I was quick to point out the fact that racism still exists all over the country (including in the supposedly-progressive city of New York; a noose was found hanging on the office door of a black prof at Columbia shortly after Jena became national news).

I love Louisiana.  I love the way everything stirs slowly, the way that front porches and beer bottles and guitars all spill together into something like art.  I love the way that the humidity traps smells in the air in the spring, the clean April mist dancing with food so hot you can smell it, the way that you can taste the spice of crawfish boil in the air if you stick your tongue out like a kid catching snowflakes.  I love our mangled, toothless version of French, and the fact that everyone knows at least a little bit of it (ça fait chaud this weekend, ma cher).  I love that we’ve got more cultural capital in small towns like Eunice and Ville Platte than most states do in their urban centers, and I love the fact that it’s all homegrown; we invented most of what we do.  I love LSU football, but I especially love the Golden Band from Tigerland and their slow march across Tiger Stadium when they play the pre-game.  I love the way they drag their right legs behind them as they turn to salute the South End Zone (where I sit, of course), and I love the fact that “Pregame (Hold That Tiger)” is nowhere near as fast as the jazz song upon which it’s based; it’s a slow, sustained pound of notes that only gives way to the temptation of tempo after it’s about to explode and take the 93,000 with it.  I love Dan Borné’s voice booming out of the P.A. at Tiger Stadium, that voice that tries so hard to be stoic and staid but can’t help itself when Trindon Holliday breaks a long punt return.  I love our sense of drama, the fact that as it got dark at the beginning of the fourth quarter on Saturday with LSU in position to knock off the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, that voice toned out that “the sun has found its home in the west, and it is now Saturday night in Tiger Stadium,” and that it was immediately followed by the slowpunch of “Hold That Tiger” and the collective roar of 93,000 LSU fans who, against all odds, hoped. I love that I had a great weekend in Louisiana even though my Tigers ultimately lost (and in overtime, no less).

I love Louisiana.  But lately it’s become a hard thing to do.  Like sixty-six million other Americans, I voted for Barack Obama last Tuesday, and, like countless more, I rejoiced — at his victory, yes, but not only at that.  I rejoiced over the fact that this was a moment of liberation for so many people: liberation for African Americans who have spent their entire existence in our country under white thumbs; liberation for people  who have been fed up with the prideful, with-us-or-against-us version of America that’s been presented to the world; liberation for people (like myself) who have been fed up with the cheap, two-dimensional version of Christianity that has been sold like product for the past fifty years and who now see that the cross is not our gavel to wield, that it’s not a crowbar to separate.  Perhaps most prescient, as pointed out by my friend Nick, is the liberation that Obama’s victory (not Obama himself) has provided to people who never believed that a spirit of positivity could defeat a spirit of negativity.  The McCain campaign was held on the tips of pointed fingers and was built on frothy rhetoric and a prideful refusal to learn from our neighbors; come to think of it, it’s no small wonder it collapsed.  That a campaign that built itself upon inclusiveness inclusiveness, a humble desire to learn from our mistakes, and a refusal to drag his opponent’s character through the mud could actually prevail does wonders for my cynicism.  And while I don’t believe that Barack Obama himself is any font of hope, I am comfortable saying that I believe that God has used the Obama campaign to inspire hope in many, many people; it doesn’t take much TV watching to see that.

In Michigan, people were rejoicing.  It was a cold night and it almost felt like Christmas the way the energy hung around.  I had a drink with some friends after closing the coffee shop and everything felt clean and sparkling and none of we hipsters pouring Black Label at the Meanwhile had much to be dark about.  Even the guys behind the counter at Yesterdog seemed (at least slightly) happy. I remember looking at the picture of Barack Obama that hangs above the bar there, of him wearing that stupid yellow Yesterdog hat and that campaign smile, and thinking how bizarre it was that after all of this time, it actually happened.  We actually did something different.  We actually did something positive.  And not only that — we all did it.  Obama reached across political, racial, ethnic, and even religious boundaries: a majority of Catholics voted for him, and far more Protestants than had voted for John Kerry back in 2004.

But, like most joy, this rejoicing came only after frustration.  Despite the Republican party’s bungling of Hurricane Katrina, despite the amount of poverty in our state, and despite our insistence that we are different from the rest of the South, Louisiana voted overwhelmingly in favor of John McCain.  Only seven of sixty-four parishes went to Obama (including, surprisingly, East Baton Rouge Parish, where I voted absentee).  For all of our complaining over the past eight sixteen three hundred years, Louisiana continued its legacy of voting for people who do it no good.  (We also re-elected Representative William Jefferson, who horded $90,000 of government money in his freezer, though it’s only because the vote was split by seven Democratic challengers to his throne).

But what’s really troubling, far more than the fact that Louisiana voted for McCain, is the fact that it voted for him so vociferously.  I’ve struggled in the past week to make excuses for my beloved, tried to figure out why she would so easily collapse to the Rovian antihype machine’s clunky product (Obama’s a socialist Muslim terrorist who wants to involve children in pornography.  Well, all of the children that he allows to see birth, that is.).  I’ve struggled to understand why my brothers and sisters in Christ are upset over the fact that the president elect wants to provide health care for all people.  I fail to see what tax cuts for the rich has done to help the least of those among us.  Twenty-plus years of Reaganomics has brought us nothing but a justification for the greed of the wealthy, the materialism of the middle class, and the squalor of the lowest class.  Keeping the rich rich doesn’t just keep the poor poor; it wreaks havoc upon the spiritual wealth of everyone.  I don’t understand why middle-class Christians in Louisiana (or anywhere) feel able to complain about taxes being raised so that people with no health care are able to, oh, go to the doctor when they fall ill.

I love my state, but it pains me to see its sin.

It pains me to go to Baton Rouge and see the cabal of police assigned to Nick Saban, to read on ESPN.com that he was surrounded by forty armed guards, five state troopers, and a helicopter as he approached Tiger Stadium this Saturday.  It pains me to watch ESPN and hear them report on the fact that Tiger Manor burnt Saban in effigy — all in the name of selling you their condos, no less.  I love LSU football, and I love the culture of LSU football — this is the first fall of my entire life that I haven’t spent in Tiger Stadium — but at some point we have to realize that this is just just just football.

Louisiana, we need the rest of the country.  I love our uniqueness, the fact that we more than any other state embody the coined motto of E Pluribus Unum, but we need America.  We’ve needed America since long before Katrina, and we’ve definitely needed her since.

Louisiana can be a hard place to live, but, in some ways, it can be an even harder place to be from.  As my flight touched down among the snow-dotted hills of Grand Rapids last night, I thought about what I was going to have to tell my friends here when they asked about my weekend.  Because my love of my home has brought them delight and shown them that there’s another way of creating culture in America; not for nothing did several of my friends watch the Bama game and express their sympathies before I even brought it up.  But what do you tell people when they ask you about a football coach surrounded by guns, or about a bloc of people refusing to see the suffering of others when they themselves are surrounded by so much of it?  How do you justify setting a coach on fire, setting people’s hopes and dreams on fire?  Louisiana, eventually people are going to stop caring.  Louisiana, eventually people are going to start choking on our smoke.

And they’re gonna wash us away.

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Comments
One Response to “Hold That, Tiger”
  1. Thomas says:

    Marty,

    I particularly love this entry of yours. You express yourself eloquently.

    Keep it up!

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