Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Kyrie Invites Drama: Chris Cusack, You're All Right in my Book

Yesterday, Chris Cusack of the Duke Chronicle wrote "An Open Letter to Kyrie Irving." The editorial starts off this way:

Dear Kyrie,

Go pro.

Seriously. Declare for the NBA draft, hire an agent, pick out a nice suit and start practicing to look surprised when your name is one of the first to be called by Commissioner David Stern in June.

I mean, what’s there to lose?

Cusack then proceeds to list the reasons Irving should stay, but in a backhand manner, as though he's legitimately trying to convince him to stay. Like so:

Plus, just think of the NBA franchises you could possibly play for! While the NBA Draft lottery hasn’t happened yet, the Cleveland Cavaliers are the frontrunners after enduring an NBA-record 26-game losing streak this season. With the Cavs, your most talented teammate would be center Anderson Varejao, the real-life equivalent of Sideshow Bob, whose curly locks will be a comedic distraction from his lack of on-court ability. Trust me, you’ll need to actively search for reasons to smile playing on the perimeter with an overweight Baron Davis, who was shipped out of Los Angeles because he was so out of shape that his owner started heckling him.

By my count, here are the incentives Cusack offers for staying, once you read through the humor:

1. A lot of Dukies have stayed at least 3 years and gone on to have great NBA careers.

2. Others, like William Avery, left early and never found success, and had to watch their teammates win titles after their departure.

3. He has a chance to become a Duke legend if he stays and win titles.

4. He could lose money by declaring because of the potential lockout.

5. He could get stuck on a really crappy team like the Cavs.

6. Duke's incoming freshmen will be fun to play with.

But the whole thing is clearly satire (seriously, you have to be all kinds of tone deaf to miss it), and it was pretty funny at times. Cusack is a good writer, and he definitely covered his angle here. You could easily come up with a ton of good reasons for Kyrie to go pro, too, but that wasn't Cusack's mission. He approached the editorial (an opinion-based genre, mind you) from the perspective of a Duke and Kyrie fan who wanted him to stay. The whole thing was an exercise in persuasive rhetoric underlined by a satirical brand of humor. Great. End of story. Nice work.

Except, no.

First off, there were 46 comments on the Chronicle site. Some were complimentary, but most were not. The first move someone made was to compare Cusack's piece to Jennifer Taylor's e-mail to Elton Brand after he went pro. You can read it here, along with his brief response, but here's the gist: Taylor was an annoying, entitled idiot who thought Elton Brand should share her own values about school. It contains cringe-inducing sentences like this one:

"We are first and foremost an academic school, you clearly did not belong at Duke in the first place if this was the extent of your commitment to Duke and a college education in general."

Basically, if you took every Duke stereotype and boiled it down to a four-paragraph letter, this is what you'd get. And for those of us who have spent a lot of time trying to live down those stereotypes, it's the kind of thing that makes us put on our GOB Bluth face and go 'COME ON!'

But that wasn't Cusack's style. Like, not at all. And I'm pretty sensitive to that stuff, so if there was an ounce of smarm or entitlement in the editorial, I'd be all over it. Elitism sucks. A lot of us have probably been the target of it at some point in our lives, and we understand its hurtful power. I'm not someone who takes a sip of brandy, chuckles, and looks the other way if someone gives me the high hat.

But guys, I can't be more clear: in Cusack's piece, it just wasn't there.

More on that later, though. Back to the comments for now, because then things got really good. Did someone play the race card? Oh, someone played the race card. Take it away, race carders:

This is one of the most embarrassing things I've during my time at Duke. It only reinforces the stereotype that rich white Duke only cares about it's free black labor when they're giving Duke their time and effort.

Kyrie, if you're reading this, please realize that not all of us here feel like this and many of us actually see you as more than just the resident fast black guy that we like to watch perform.

I feel like I'm going to be saying this word a lot throughout this post, but: seriously? Cusack seems to LIKE Kyrie. He wants him to say. Nowhere in his piece did he say that Kyrie owed it to him or anyone else to stay. He was just outlining his position that staying might be worth his while, based on facts that had absolutely nothing to do with race or free labor or the absolute right of Duke students to enjoy Kyrie's talents for four years. Man, I am using a lot italics and underlines and bolds right now. Can you tell I'm angry?

IT WAS A FUCKING JOKE, GUYS.

More idiocy:

I think it assumes too much, and stereotypes Kyrie an insensitive and pejorative manner.

It assumed nothing about Kyrie. It literally assumed nothing, which was sort of the point. And I'd like to know exactly what this commenter found 'pejorative.' There's not a single insult in the entire editorial, which highlights another feature almost every negative critique has in common: there are no specifics. It's enough for them to vaguely insinuate that Cusack was resorting to stereotypes, or casting aspersions on Kyrie. God forbid they actually say how. That would require too much thought, right?

It's tone was strangely and subtly offensive as if the author had spoken to Kyrie and Kyrie told him that he was absolutely and 100% declaring for the draft and this article was the author's way of taking out his frustration.

Point officially missed.

To put Kyrie in a "box" and label him, if you have not spent the time discussing that with him, is presumptive and inappropriate.

Didn't happen.

As a Duke alum, I am so ashamed by this article. Now everyone will think the Duke community feels like way towards Kyrie. Way to go, Chris.

Wait, what way? That we want him to stay? Does that mean you want him to go pro? GRAB YOUR HATS, FOLKS, WE GOT AN UNCLE TOM ALERT! WE GOT AN UNCLE TOM ON THE PREMISES!

Damn, sorry. All these internet comments made me think I should say something that made no sense, but say it with a sense of anger and righteousness and hopefully make it racial too. It just kind of came out. Can I be a commenter now?

Yeah, I'm sure there are a lot of Duke students who would turn down a guaranteed $10M job offer as a 19-year-old. This op-ed reeks of the sentiment, "What can you do for ME, guy?"

Smarmy, elite hornswaddler, if you ask me.

Respectable use of "hornswaddler," though I have no idea what that is. A "hornswoggler" is like a deceiver, the internet tells me. Still, I admire this commenter for really committing to the talk. He wasn't content to just make up an argument; he made up an entire word!

This "article" is exactly what's wrong with America. Chris is nothing more than part of the "entitlement" class. Ask Not What You Can Do for Your Country, But What Your Country Should Do For You!

AHHHH SHIT, CUSACK, YOU JUST GOT CALLED A REVERSE KENNEDY! WHAT NOW, BEE-YATCH?

But guess what, commenter? Kennedy was responsible for getting America into Vietnam and then escalating our involvement, which means that you support a guy who got a lot of Americans killed for no reason.

(Shit, I'm stuck in an infinite cycle of spurious internet arguments! Someone get me out! My sense-making capacity is approaching absolute zero!)

As a Duke alum, I am particularly offended by the tone of this piece, which unfortunately reinforces the ugliest stereotypes of Duke students.

I just thought this one was funny because the commenter's name was "Mr. Sensitive."

Then, when stupid analysis wasn't enough, the personal attacks upped the ante:

1. No matter what the author's intentions were, this article is terribly written.

2. Sad: this is really bad writing
Sadder: it has been published for the whole world to read

3. Sarcasm doesn't work on paper unless you are already a renowned comedian; otherwise you just come off as either dumb or disagreeable.

4. It is terrible satire. It is dumb. It is not entertaining. It is not witty. It does not say anything unique or new or insightful. It is not fun to read.

Yo Chris, here's the deal: whatever else you are (racist, elitist, son of a bitch), you're not a bad writer. Screw these idiots. I know firsthand that it's not fun to have people insult you online, but I really hope you see them for what they are.

The one thing that made me laugh about this whole thing was that it showcased one of the lesser-known hilarious Duke stereotypes: the hand-wringing liberal. Basically, the negative reactions to this article boiled down to two approaches:

1 - Non-Duke people who came in with their own perception of what everyone from Duke is like, and made Chris' editorial fit that perception. I'd be willing to bet that most of them only skimmed the actual article. Idiots with opinions don't require evidence to back them up.

2 - Duke liberals who are so fucking squeamish about themselves and their school that they feel the need to backpedal and apologize and read offense into everything. These kind of people make me sick. They were the same ones who immediately assumed the Duke lacrosse team was guilty and gave big speeches about the huge elitist/racist problem at the school. I'm a liberal myself, and I hate being grouped with craven scum like this who spend their lives on their knees begging forgiveness for crimes that were never committed.

The worst reaction of all, though, came from an unlikely source: Drew Magary at Deadspin.

I love Drew Magary. Honest to goodness. I read everything he writes and I look forward to the Funbags and Jamboroos and the random rants. Back when I worked in a soul-killing office job, his posts were often the one and only highlight of my life between 8am and 4pm.

And I get that his schtick is a sort of angry, edgy intolerance for assholes. I usually find that he's dead on the money.

But man, did he ever miss the point this time. The title of his response to Cusack, "Dookie's Obnoxious 'Open Letter' to Kyrie Irving As Obnoxious As You'd Expect," pretty much tells you where this one's going. It's a pretty short piece by Magary's standards, but here are the highlights:

Now, before we dive in, I must warn you: there is a toxic amount of self-satisfied sarcasm in this letter. It's positively dripping with privileged, smarmy assholishness...

I mean, is it? I keep re-reading Cusack's piece to see if I've missed something, and I keep coming across the same thing- a dude who wrote a little piece of satire that outlined some reasons why Kyrie might want to stay. It doesn't even touch on the idea of 'privilege.' Not even a little.

What? Leave Duke? But it's so perfect here! What with all the manicured quads, and white people named Tyler! What kind of beastly savage would ever voluntarily remove themselves from such an intellectual paradise? If you want to leave Duke early, you clearly must be some cynical money-grabbing street urchin who never really appreciated the sacred halls of our fair institution to begin with. You were not a real KOACH K KID. You were a mercenary. From the street! And Duke does not abide by mercenaries. That is strictly the province of crass programs such as, I dunno, MICHIGAN.

Bullshit. Total, utter bullshit. None of this crap, and I mean NONE, is in Cusack's open letter. Most of the shit isn't even about Duke! More than half the letter talks about the pitfalls of the current NBA situation. And the Duke-centric stuff is about winning titles and playing with great players and maybe having an awesome NBA career despite staying for more than a year.

Right before this mini-rant, Magary linked the admittedly horrible Jennifer Taylor letter. And this stuff reads more like a direct response to that. Like most of the commenters on the Chronicle piece, it seems like he barely even skimmed the actual letter and just let his own anti-Duke prejudices run wild.

I know Magary isn't overly concerned with temperance, and in a world that's become absurdly cautious, that's usually a strength. But it's also hugely uncool to attack a college kid without basis and imply that he's elitist and racist. That's harder to shake, and it's ugly, and it's personal. In fact, it's more like cyber-bullying than comic writing.

The reveal at the end that the author was being sarcastic the whole time came as a complete shock to me. Only a Duke student would have the mental dexterity to pull off such a subtle and grandly comic illusion.

Because Cusack's an easy target, right? Hey, we all hate Duke! Let's pile on!

What's funny about this is that I bet Cusack reads and likes Magary. I have nothing to back this up, but based on his writing and the fact that he's a young dude into sports, he probably visits Deadspin on a regular basis, and Magary is probably the chief attraction. If that's true, there's something really sad about the fact that a kid's favorite writer took a minute out of his busy day to pen a diatribe and make him feel like an asshole. Especially when it's undeserved.

Drew Magary doesn't need my approval. Not even a little. And I'm in no place to judge him. Still, this sucked. It was a lazy grab for hits, which is bad enough, but the really ugly part is that he stomped on someone beneath him. Attacking the bigwigs is one thing. They should be able to handle it. If you're going to go after the little man, though, you should be damn sure your grievance is legitimate.

Otherwise, you're kind of a cruel motherfucker.

Unfortunately, based on all this stuff, Chris was forced to write an apology. Unlike the drama that went down here a couple weeks ago, his was completely unnecessary. But I know the panicky feeling that inspires a move like that, and it really sucks that he had to endure it.

In conclusion:

Chris, my support is almost completely meaningless. Sorry about that. Still, it's more than worth my time to tell you that I think you're a strong writer. You wrote a good set piece editorial yesterday, and I really want to emphasize that the reaction you faced was 100% Not About You. People brought their own hang-ups to this game, and you were the collateral damage. That sucks.

Try not to let it get you down, though. Ignoring the bullshit is easier said than done, but I hope you can pull it off. Believe me, this will pass.

26 comments:

  1. I love reading comments after reading an article I actually took time out for. Sometimes it kills me to read these comments because some people I feel are just commenting and probably did not read the whole article i.e. skimming. And no amount of me saying they are wrong will actually change their minds. I especially like that every article that remotely sounds against a person of color is automatically targeted as racist or bigoted.
    Would this article be considered elitism and take out of context if it was written for Kyle Singler had he been good enough to enter after his freshman year?
    Like I have said before I enjoy your writing and this Chris Cusack did a really decent job on this piece. It’s too bad people didn’t give it time and sit and enjoy it. My only hope is that one day everyone who leaves comments will actually take the time and really focus and read an article. This would save people the heartache of having something they worked so hard on be crapped on by a bunch of nobody’s and a possible mentor.

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  2. Chris Cusack owes an apology to the city of Toronto and to overweight Barons everywhere.

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  3. Sorry dude, I don't see how you can not .. see the douchiness. Even if it wasn't penned with malice like the Jennifer letter, it's definitely there. Some of those comments you've pulled out and highlighted are indeed ridiculous, I'll grant.

    Something about the pretension of backhandedly/sarcastically explaining things to someone who is SURLEY smart enough to know them already is just ... annoying.

    As an actual letter to Kyrie it's non-functional because 1) surely he knows & has thought about all this shit, none of it is arcane visions of a basketball soothsayer 2) the ham-fisted rhetorical turn of sarcastically listing negatives as positives is so hammy that absorbing it with your eyeballs probably counts as breaking kosher. Who would want to be addressed like that?

    Honestly if this editorial had been written much the same way but without the pretension of addressing/advising Kyrie directly, it still would have been boring but it probably wouldn’t have been quite so obnoxious.

    I don’t totally understand why or how anyone brings race into this, but to address Annette – speaking for myself, yes, this article definitely would have been exactly as annoying to me if it had been addressed to a post-freshman Kyle Singler (or perhaps a more relevant example, Mason Plumlee).

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  4. I just have to say, this whole thing is very offensive to me. His offensive remarks coupled with your offensive remarks really offends my sensitive racial sensibilities. I'm going home to tie a deep blue sweater around my skinny neck and cry myself sleep, where I can dream of a utopia where nobody's feelings will ever be hurt!

    Wake up America, this is your cultural Waterloo!

    -Dr. K

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  5. But Bam, it's not an actual letter to Kyrie. I highly doubt the author would expect Kyrie to read this and take it seriously. It's a piece of entertainment directed at Duke fans, specifically the student body. Sure, it's nominally "an open letter to Kyrie," but that's just a surface thing. The point is the satire.

    Totally fine if you don't like it, that's personal opinion, but the dude wasn't trying to educate Kyrie. He doesn't even think Kyrie needs education, which is the essential flaw of all the critics. He was just writing something he wanted to be funny for students. I just think the negative reaction is silly.

    -Shane

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  6. eh... gotta agree with Bam-- a little too much condescension for my liking. Heavy sarcasm will in no way persuade Kyrie to stay, which is the hopeful outcome of the writer and readers.

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  7. I realize, and yet somehow for me the "Dear Kyrie" just kicks the whole thing into a place where I have a hard time enjoying it, my involuntary reaction is "who the fuck is THIS guy", and I didn't think the writing was strong enough to overcome that.

    And maybe I'm just reading it all wrong, but where, exactly, is the satire? I'm seeing a lot of sarcasm and eye-rolling (directed mainly at the NBA situation as you pointed out) but who is being satirized? Is the intention to satirize the entitled Jennifers of Duke? That would be a worthwhile pursuit, but if that's what's happening here perhaps it was just a touch too subtle for a dullard like me.

    In any case, we can definitely agree that a lot of the backlash went way over the top.

    Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read a treatise which promises a novel solution to poverty in Ireland, I'm looking forward to learning more.

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  8. It seems to me that Cusack perceives the stay-or-go discussion to be dominated by the assumption that going pro is something every talented player should do as soon as he is able, as if college basketball had nothing particularly wonderful to offer and the NBA were a kind of Big Rock Candy Mountain. So, yes, he is satirizing a person who takes the benefit of leaving school early for granted, and especially those who self-assuredly promulgate this opinion. Whether or not this open letter was effective, well-written, or funny really has nothing to do with its being deemed offensive, ridiculous, insulting, etc.

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  9. And I realize I missed the point of the super secret double-irony. Most likely because I scrolled to the bottom of the page and just started typing. Sorry.

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  10. If you position the letter as light satire directed strictly at Duke students who peruse the Chronicle, then it was fine. Not the most cutting or original humor, but pleasant enough, especially the last line.

    The problem is that even the Chronicle doesn't exist in a vacuum. And whether you like it or not, Duke has a certain image to deal with, which has been exacerbated by all the Uncle Tom back and forth in the news the last few weeks. You can blame this situation on weak-kneed liberals who squirm about how Duke's perceived image if you're looking for a convenient target, but I started reading the piece and immediately felt some condescension/insecurity coming from the author about the whole Kyrie issue. There are some hot buttons where engaging in satire is a field of landmines, and that includes the topic of Duke players going pro early.

    Is that fair? Maybe not. Maybe it's "entitlement profiling". But Duke is a constant target for misunderstanding, and private school students at an institution with the national profile of Duke are *never* going to get the benefit of the doubt. That's what makes issues like this impossible to view in a tiny bubble. Why else would Deadspin have jumped all over it?

    Magary's a huge asshole that overreacted wildly, consistent with his asshole site. But Cusack can't play with matches and then claim he didn't see all the gasoline cans around him after the five alarm fire breaks out.

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  11. The letter wasn't nearly as offensive as it's been portrayed. But this reaction was 100% predictable. It's not Cusack's fault that there are morons out there, but he should have known better than to bait them so heavily.

    If this column had been legitimately funny, this wouldn't have been an issue. But it just wasn't that funny. It was a neat writing trick to lace the column with satire, but that doesn't make it funny. If he wanted to attack the issue from this angle, he needed to do something to dispel the air of condescension that hovered over this piece. A bit of self-deprecation would have gone a long way toward mitigating the reaction to this article.

    Or, on the other side of the spectrum, he could have turned the subtlety up to eleven, which, though it would have provoked even stronger reaction from the commentariat, those reactions actually would have been irrational and unable to really stick. In fact, creating a war between those who don't get the joke and those that do would not only have created a thoroughly entertaining debate, but also reframed the debate in a way that Cusack couldn't really lose.

    But by trying to hold the middle ground between absurdist lampshading and Swift-esque hard satire, he managed to give those who are looking to confirm their pre-existing stereotypes of Duke students an easy, easy target. He tried to be cute, and he got burned. I hate that it happened, but I really can't bring myself to feel sorry for him.

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  12. Whatever. Duke haters will always be Duke haters. And it's not like Kyrie Irving is looking to the Chronicle to figure out his future.

    I really just have a two questions. Is Cusack a Yankee fan? And was he as angry as I was after the Yanks bullpen pissed away a great performance by CC and gave the game away?

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  13. And Kyrie just declared. Bummer, but I won't begrudge him the opportunity (and it's probably one I would take as well). It's going to be interesting to see how many people blame Cusack for "causing" Irving to go pro.

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  14. Oh my god, I love this article. You basically put my feelings yesterday into words. Well, into better words than I did—on the DBR.

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  15. Bahaha karma's a bitch, dookie.

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  16. Hmmmm Shane the Duke grad jumping to the defense of another white, elitist Duke student? Very predictable.

    By the way, I only skimmed this article before drawing my conclusion. In fact, the only words I read were "Duke", "elitist", "apology", "racist", and "the".

    -Craig J.

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  17. I agree with Craig.

    -Shane

    Seriously, though, good comments from anyone. I don't necessarily disagree with anyone, but I just felt like he needed to be defended somewhat. I see what people are saying about an overall image, but at the same time the dude never thought he was going to be a standard-bearer for the Duke empire. That's my only thing; we're asking a lot of a guy who was just trying to be funny. I just thought it needed to be said that the reactions are crazy.

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  18. Oh, and Scooter, I'm with you 100%. Such a frustrating game. Come on, Soriano. 4 friggin' runs?

    Sorry, but that guy is an entitled Yankee silver spoon prick.

    -Shane

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  19. I don't know if we read the same article. That article was condescending to Mr.Irving and completely ignored the risks that Mr. Irving would potentially face. If Kyrie got hurt next year he would be out at minimum $10,000,000. To risk that type of money is reckless and regardless of one's financial position they have to take the money. Cusack completely ignored this angle and just talked down to Irving.

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  20. Love that article, almost as much as this defense of it. Cusack put together an article subtle enough that the legions of Duke haters saw it as evidence that all the crap they spit out is true, and went to town gleefully.

    Any and all Duke fans reading saw it as what it was, chuckled, and said to themselves: "Yeah, KI has a lot to accomplish yet at Duke."

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  21. Please message me with any tips on how you made this blog site look this awesome, I’d be appreciative!

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  22. Blogger spam filter does it again!

    -Shane

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  23. Clearly you guys are all rich, white racists from New York or New Jersey (or Chinese)!

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  24. "The reveal at the end that the author was being sarcastic the whole time came as a complete shock to me. Only a Duke student would have the mental dexterity to pull off such a subtle and grandly comic illusion." That explains you, Shane

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  25. The article is poorly written. The article is an affront to the school. This gives those that dislike the school more ammunition. Drunken douchebag's from Jersey losing the big game in lacrosse and annoying little punks form the suburbs who never made the JV writing about basketball. Seth Curry, good god, your support includes every douche bag trait associated with the school. People got the article. They got it. It was poorly wriiten and the guy shouldn't apologize for anything excpet being a poor writer

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  26. ^At least spell things correctly if you are going to criticize someone for their writing skills. And the fact that I saw Kyrie on campus in a mercedes convertible today makes me feel no pity and all the more enjoy this letter and response. Well done gentlemen.

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