Monday, July 18, 2011

Barbarians Beyond The Gate #1: James Harrison

The American Sports Idol In All His Splendor

First, I apologize to my readers for the ugly, offensive graphic.  However, it is an unfortunate necessity.  The purpose of The Jade Sphinx is two-fold: to celebrate beauty and to examine our current culture, both high and low. Sadly, today, we look into a particularly repulsive low.
The worthy pictured above is an individual named James Harrison.  He is probably unknown to my more cosmopolitan readers, but it seems that he is a football player of some renown.  He was the recipient of a fawning article on July 13 in the Men’s Journal ( and is the idol of millions. 
At one time in America’s (now seemingly distant) past, sports figures were revered by children and unlettered adults looking for images of heroism.  This practice continues today – it just seems that our ‘sport’s heroes’ are less and less worthy of the honor.
Before going into the article, let’s take a closer look at this photograph, chosen to illustrate a world-famous sports figure.  The guns that Harrison holds are his own.  (One can only infer that he has a remarkably small penis.)  The scowl is the look of a colicky child or school bully, not that of a mature man.  His steroid-enhanced physique is covered in tattoos, a strangely primitive practice of body ornamentation that has inexplicably returned to the modern world, and he squints in that patented way low-self-esteem cases often do when acting tough.
Let’s quote a few lines from the profile, so we can take an accurate bell weather of the state of American hero worship.  Author Paul Solotaroff mentions in passing Harrison is the “man who knocked two Cleveland Browns cold in the span of seven minutes last year … saying he liked to ‘hurt’ opponents. He amended that in the next breath, saying he tried to inflict pain without causing serious injury, but it sounded like lawyer-ese and was ignored.”

Let’s parse this for just a second: this is a leading men’s publication, highlighting a $9 million-dollar-a-year sports thug with a gun-toting photograph, lionizing his efforts to harm other human beings.  It is time that we acknowledge that the barbarians are not just at the gate, but they have invaded and restructured our civilization, our discourse and our aesthetic.

Solotaroff finds it “refreshing” that Harrison is the “same guy off field, as on,” which is, I suppose, his way of endorsing bullies, braggarts and probable sociopaths.  He also wrote of when Harrison “iced” (to use gutter argot) two players, in a deliberate attempt to injure.  Solotaroff writes that Harrison: “desperately loves football for its fireball explosions, the blood burn he gets from planting his right foot and blowing up the guy with the ball. It is all he’s ever craved since he discovered at 10 that he could smash another kid as hard as he liked and not catch a whipping from his mother, Mildred.”

Asked what drives him on Harrison grows reflective: “Likely as not, what drives him now is the fury that drove him as a boy, when, as the youngest of 14 kids in the house, he had some epic meltdowns. He punched holes in the walls when he lost video games, set fire to himself and an attic rug playing with lit matches and rubbing alcohol, and ran around shooting birds and squirrels in his yard in Akron, Ohio.”

Now, in most communities with access to proper psychiatric care, this would be a warning sign of a dangerous mentality.  To our good friends in the National Football League (NFL), this is a resume.

Harrison is not only a fast man with a debilitating blow, but with an insult, as well.  The article quotes Harrison at length, referring to critics and other enemies as: faggot, devil, dictator and mother-f----r.  (I must confess that I would find his opinion of your correspondent too delicious for words.)  Nowhere, however, is there any indication that it is probable that Harrison himself has suffered one concussion too many.

He has been arrested for domestic assault (over a religious issue – I kid you not!), believes that students and teachers should be armed, and is a great advocate of corporal punishment.  To the 50,000 people who have signed up on his Twitter account, his pearls of wisdom drop like gentle rain.

The questions that all of this raises are many and disturbing.  Why is a person like James Harrison playing professional sports?  Why is he lionized?  Why do Americans so adore their guns – so much so, that they are now fashion accessories?  More important – is the well of American manhood so permanently defiled that James Harrison passes for a role model?

The people a culture selects as its heroes are, perhaps, one of the most potent indications of its overall health.  I can only guess that the United States, or at least those who wallow in the orgy of violence, narcissism and big money called the NFL, is in great trouble indeed.


Xalaco Nice said...

Dear Mr. Abbott,

I always admire your stylish writing and uncompromising stance on what constitutes "correct" culture, although I often strongly disagree with it.

I can't say I find James Harrison to be a great role model based on what you've written. But I have to insist that culture can't be sanitized to suit genteel tastes (this applies more to your post on popular music than it does to this post).

There will always be prurient interest in thugs and gangsters and violent men and warriors, and we have to be willing to talk about it.

Ancient culture heroes like Gilgamesh and Heracles, could be, depending on what versions of the myths you read, mass murderers, rapists, etc. I realize it's foolish to compare fictional characters to real individuals, but masculine heroes throughout time have been intertwined with violence.

Thanks for the thought provoking post!


Christopher Adam Lessley said...

As the previous reader aptly responded, there always have and always shall be a natural attraction to the strong-armed, noble-savage. I think Mr. Harrison, in the image provided, represents this quite well and the obsession with the genre in general. The more I examine this photo, the more correlation I find to those of the Native or Pict savages seen through the eyes Theodore De Bry and can hardly take it seriously, though many a-young-man certainly and tragically do.

The Romantic characteristics of the noble savage we have struggled to debunk, along with many cultures across all of history, every generation. The noble savage is conversely admired for the very reasons the West has always feared them. They represent raw and undiluted natural power which is uncompromising and base; they are not hindered by social restraints like laws, politics or socio-economic barriers. They are the anthropomorphic equivalents of the destructive forces of nature. Has any person never not fantasized living a life free of worldly and/or religious ethical regulation? I'd hardly be bold in claiming that the far majority of Xbox Live's sustenance comes from perpetuating the execution of this fantasy for the far majority of subscribers.

These brutes are perfectly acceptable to remain within society as they themselves remain safely keyed away in their respective coliseums (professional sports being one of its many modern-day shades). If met outside your home at an inconvenient hour of the night, by any other name, would those same said fans be so enraptured? Would they glady open their homes to feed and comfort him without hesitation?

We can see great painters like Gerome putting similar emphasis on similar men in works like Pollice Verso but with a much different conclusion on their societal worth. The noble savage's individual permanence is short-lived like the fluidic preoccupation of the pin-up. They are both an easy to obtain commodity to be used and thrown away, only to grow and fester again in the loins of every civilization. It is a never-ending cycle to played out over and over again, reinvented every age.