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Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season Paperback – December 1, 2006
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In his earlier work, David Shields came across as a fairly traditional storyteller. Even Dead Languages, his fictional rumination on a stutterer's tongue-tied existence, was essentially a coming-of-age story. But he began to show his true colors with Remote, a fractured, full-body immersion in media culture. This deeply amusing work of nonfiction revealed the author to be a neurotic, navel-gazing cousin of Nicholson Baker. Now comes Black Planet: Facing Race During an NBA Season, whose putative topic--professional basketball--would seem to return Shields to his extroverted roots. (His first novel, in fact, revolved around a college basketball player.) Yet this is ultimately as postmodernist a work as its predecessor, and it takes us not only into the author's heart but his boudoir. Black Planet's fusion of public spectacle with private mortification makes it his funniest book to date.
A word of explanation: technically speaking, Black Planet is a chronicle of the Seattle SuperSonics during the 1994-1995 season. Since the team blew its shot at the playoffs, there's no chance for an uplifting grand finale. Yet Shields had a different sort of hoop dream in mind from the very beginning. "The NBA," he writes, "is a place where, without ever acknowledging it--and because it's never acknowledged, it's that much more potent and telling--white fans and black players enact and quietly explode virtually every racial issue and tension in the culture at large. Race, the league's taboo topic, is the league's true subject." It's the author's true subject, too, and he goes at it from every angle--attending games, recording call-in radio shows, and making some abortive attempts to cozy up to the players. Point guard Gary Payton is his true Penelope. Why? Well, his motormouth style does suggest an "indivisibility... of playing and talking, of life and language." But more to the point, he offers a handy tabula rasa for Shields's fantasy life, a trash-talking personification of bad behavior: "Which is why, in Seattle the Good, I so love Gary Payton. He's not really bad, he's only pretend-bad--I know that--but he allows me to fantasize about being bad."
If Shields were simply slapping society on the wrist for its half-submerged racism, Black Planet would wear out its welcome in the first quarter. But he's consistently hardest on himself, so the book becomes not only a social critique but a critique of social critiques, cutting the ground from under itself in an infinite and entertaining loop-the-loop. Shields may not be the first writer to transform a fan's notes into literary gold--Frederick Exley beat him to the punch--but he's the most rigorously intelligent one in a long, long time. Swish! --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
"Race, the league's taboo topic, is the league's true subject," asserts Shields at the outset of this provocative look at the National Basketball Association and its significance in American society. Composed in diary form and told in an intimate, confessional style, the book chronicles the Seattle Supersonics' 1994-95 season. A novelist (Dead Languages, etc.) and professor of English on sabbatical to cover the Sonics for a local weekly, Shields spent the year attending games, listening to radio call-in shows, reading Internet chat discussions and deconstructing like crazy, "to the point of obsession," the relationship between white fans (like him) and the black athletes who make up the majority of players in the NBA. Filled with intelligent juxtapositions, bold observations and graceful writing, Shields's narrative is highly personal and studded with humor (which almost always comes at his own expense). He draws a connection between his fervor for the team and his latent desire to rebel in society generally, feeling that "I'm some sort of potentially subversive individual and the Supes are my surrogate subversives." More particularly, Shields is fixated on the Sonics' feisty point guard and leader, Gary Payton, reveling in Payton's zest for language even as he reflects on his own insecurities about a stuttering problem. In analyzing the ongoing community conversation, Shields often articulates his perception that the subtext of everything said in or about the NBA is about race, while in public the topic is never broached. Although Shields executes this obsessive dissection with aplomb, it's hard to match his zeal and a little exhausting, in the end, to read every daily interaction as code. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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On a personal note, I was disappointed that there was so little here on the man Payton was dishing to, Shawn Kemp. The ups and downs of his should-have-been HoF career deserved more than the paltry 2 mentions he gets in the book. To put it in perspective, Detlef Schrempf gets more ink.
I don't normally write amazon reviews, but this book really bothered me. It's supremely awkward.
The book is presented as a type of season-long diary. Entries vary from quick snippets to involved stories. This works well. The whole can be glimpsed from the disparate pieces; it builds like a collage. The final image of America and its ingrained, often ignored racial tension isn't necessarily pretty. But it is necessary.
"I make my way from the locker room up to the press-row dinner buffet, I convey to my new colleagues my surprise at how chilly the atmosphere in the locker room is, how guarded the players are." This just shows how African American players were still guarded to talk to stereotypical white reporters in the interviews, and shows that racism still takes place but is just not so broadly recognized -- they just manage to keep in the shadows. In recent reviews, they state the conflict between the two races still emerges through the media and press. Shields states he's preoccupied with race, not just as it pertains to the professional sport but as a whole.
I believe that Shields is accurate in his assessment of how race does in fact play a critical part in how sports reporters interact and interpret the actions of black athletes. I recommend to readers to take a second look at the articles they are reading on their favorite African American athletes.
Senior English Student 2011
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Conversations on race is the larger topic of this book which uses the...Read more