Culture

Here Is What I Believe: Political Correctness Killed ‘Edginess’

A portion of the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Here Is What I Believe: Political Correctness Killed ‘Edginess’

Former ESPN host Bill Simmons has a new show on HBO, and the first promotional commercial is here.

I’m Bill Simmons and here is what I believe: I believe the defending NBA champs should wear championship belts to every game.

I believe that Kanye’s a genius. It’s just that he knows it, and that’s the problem.

I believe we should ban the DH, long putters, extra points, the NIT, and pick-off throws.

You really wanna know what I believe?

I believe in the four-point line.

I believe soup is the perfect food.

I believe in a Belichick-Popovich presidential ticket.

I believe every DiCaprio movie would be just a little better as a Matt Damon movie.

I believe the 2004 ALCS was an act of God.

And finally . . .

I believe that billionaires should pay for their own [f-wording] football stadiums.

You’ve seen this style of television personality before. We saw it in 1990s-era Dennis Miller, and Denis Leary’s old stand-up persona, and more or less Bill Maher today. This is not a comparison of their quality, just their tone and attitude: I’m the guy who’s got the guts to tell it like it is, whether you like it or not. In the sports world, we’ve seen it from Jim Rome and more recently, Colin Cowherd, who may have gotten me to yell “YOU ARE COMPLETELY WRONG” at my car radio more than any other host. For a while, Glenn Beck’s old CNN show offered billboards with a slightly obscured “Cut the cr*p” slogan.

But something about the Simmons ad bugged me, nagged at the back of my cerebral cortex, but I couldn’t articulate it until Ace from Ace of Spades groaned at the ad and asked whether we had reached “peak smug snarky opinion.” (He calls himself hypocritical in the extreme, and yes, I may have offered some snarky opinion myself once in a while.)

Those of us not terribly familiar with Simmons are supposed to gravitate to him based upon this ad, a series of short assertions delivered in a rapid-fire, defiant tone. But . . . did any of those assertions strike you as particularly controversial, or brave, or edgy, or even all that surprising, particularly for a Boston-area sports fan?

I can’t believe the climax of ad is about team owners paying for their own stadiums. Not that I disagree, but that has to be the single least edgy, least dangerous, least brave opinion you can possibly express in public. Nobody likes public financing of stadiums other than sports-team owners. “Damn greedy team owners” has been a staple — no, a cliché — of sports talk radio for decades. If you mention taxpayers being socked for hundreds of millions of dollars to build an arena, where the team owner gets to sell the luxury boxes, it’s a near-certainty that “Vinny on the car phone” will call in and start fuming about how overpriced the hot dogs and beers in the bleacher seats are, and how his dad used to take him to games at the stadium all the time, and how the average Joe can’t afford to do that anymore.

In an ad that’s supposed to introduce us to this brave truth-teller, Simmons gives us the least controversial view imaginable. He might as well declare, “I believe that puppies are cute,” or “I believe that mosquito bites are annoying.”

(closes eyes, concentrates) . . . No. Nope. I tried, I just can’t get that fired up about the assertion that soup is the perfect food. I’ve had really good soups and really bad soups.

Simmons’ closes with the sudden dropping of the “F” bomb — because gee, we’ve never heard that on HBO before. I’m not a huge fan of dropping the f-bomb in programming aiming for a general audience — again, hypocritical myself — but this is HBO, where the f-bomb is used more often than prepositions. This just isn’t shocking or surprising, Simmons; keep in mind that other shows on HBO, like Game of Thrones, are basically one hour of naked beheadings.

So why are we served up 52 seconds of non-controversy dressed up as edgy controversy? My guess is that in today’s society, genuine controversy is near-certain to run afoul of the forces of political correctness and social-justice warriors. And HBO, home of Bill Maher, Lena Dunham’s Girls, and that agitprop Anita Hill docudrama, doesn’t want to deal with that headache.

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