This past summer, I vaguely remember watching an NBA TV special about undrafted players that touched on the now ubiquitous Jeremy Lin. At the time he seemed vastly less pitiable than the other aspiring pros featured—his Harvard degree guaranteed that he would not be banished to Slovakian league if he didn’t make it in the majors.
Lin has since become Linsanity, a subject for Saturday Night Live skits, or 林书豪 in your Tudou search. He is the current, brief king of New York City, whose Giants just won the Super Bowl and whose favorite basketball team features two high-paid All-Stars in Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. Less than a year ago the Knicks made the splashy signing of Anthony on the belief that he would become king of NYC if able to deliver a championship after years of disappointment. Basketball remains the only big four sport (basketball, baseball, hockey, football) in which a major New York team has not won a title over the past twenty years.
The primary thesis of Wires and Lights is that entertainment media tells the most about a people because it tries to tell us what we want to hear. So what does this season of American television tell us about Americans?
Culturally, Americans are going through an identity crisis. Beliefs about who we are as a people are being challenged and shattered left and right. Of course we want to believe that regardless of past imperialist adventures, the United States is a force for good in the world, and at heart an honorable nation. Even in the face of growing economic inequality we want to believe that the U.S. is an economic bastion and a beacon of prosperity. But seeing the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and the financial Hindenburg that is Wall Street—well, the comfortable truths we relied on are revealed to have never been true in the first place.