The Language of Packers Love: On Fandom and ‘Going Clear’

By Rob Casper

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Let’s consider the religion of football and its legion of zealots.

Adam, I think you make a good point in your post about those who commit heinous acts in the name of their religion. Which reminds me of the surprise I felt reading the epilogue of Going Clear. First there was Lawrence Wright’s takedown of Joseph Smith for The Book of Abraham, followed by arguments how Scientology resembles other religions new and old — for instance, the “clinging of absurd or disputed doctrines,” “alternative ways of healing” and attacks on “mainstream medical practices,” and “the practice of disconnection, or shunning.” Wright is probably the only writer to connect the Amish/Mennonites to David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. I find this line of thought/argument compelling, for the way it challenges the line between norms and transgressions.

coverI can’t help but extend Wright’s argument further, to include the religion of football and its legion of zealots. And why not turn to Scientology’s scapegoat, psychology, which Wright says “cannot honestly claim to be a science, either.” This article in The Seattle Times, at a time when the Seahawks were the dominant team in the NFL, seems to cover a lot of ground. It also includes this amazing quote: “Laundry matters to us quite profoundly. We get a ton out of it in ways that are deeply emotional.” An article on The Huffington Post, also featuring Seahawks fans, argues for the benefits of fandom in five points:

  1. Fandom gives you built-in community.
  2. The community, in turn, boosts your sense of well-being.
  3. Fandom gives us a common language.
  4. Fandom is a safe space.
  5. Sports fandom allows others to experience success.

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Therapy of the Masses: On Scientology, the National Football League, and ‘Going Clear’

By Ryan Henry Joe


What’s the psychological sensation realizing, all at once, that something you once held very dear is based on a scam?

Last weekend was fascinating for college football in Arizona.

On Saturday, my alma mater UCLA, lead by a true freshman quarterback named Josh Rosen, completely annihilated the University of Arizona, 56-30.

[EDIT: Annnnd UCLA just lost in an upset against Arizona State. FML.]

The next day however, my other college team, the San Francisco 49ers, showed up in the desert all dehydrated and shrivel-dicked, and that’s not good when you’re up against a pro team like the Arizona Cardinals.

If later in this post I reference this game again — an important match, as it was against a division rival — I will use only vagaries. Delving into specifics is kind of painful right now.

If this site were hosted on Tumblr instead of WordPress, I’d even call it triggering.

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Nothing’s Shocking: On Lawrence Wright’s ‘Going Clear’and the Lies We Tell Ourselves

By Adam Boretz


Why do we find the story of Scientology so shocking?

I have a confession to make: I was laboring under a significant misapprehension when I nominated Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear for Football Book Club. My thinking at the time went something like this: Here’s an interesting book full of wacky/weird/funny/ridiculous stories about Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. That will be a fun read.

coverAnd while Going Clear does document a host of such stories and offer up all sorts of strange details about Scientology — everything from Thetans and E-Meters to Xenu and the Bridge to Total Freedom — the book is actually a dark and disturbing catalogue of systematic abuse, corruption, torture, broken families, and ruined lives left in the wake of Scientology.

From the religion’s early days with Hubbard — he once punished two members of Sea Org by forcing them to push peanuts across the deck of a ship with their noses while shouting “Faster, faster!” as they left “a trail of blood behind them.” — to its more recent history under the leadership of David Miscavige – who has been repeatedly accused of punching, kicking, and choking various church members: “When another executive spoke up about the violence, he was beaten by two of Miscavige’s assistants and made to mop the bathroom floor with his tongue.” — the facts about Scientology documented in Going Clear are undeniably shocking.

And yet, it is my reaction to all of this: my shock after finishing Going Clear — which is brilliantly researched and reported and at times reads like a thriller — that I find most interesting and worthy of interrogation. Because while imprisonment and torture and brainwashing and financial vampirism are all awful things, they are nothing new — certainly where religion is concerned. And this begs a simple question: Why do we find the story of Scientology so shocking?

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If Only There Wasn’t Egon: Searching for L. Ron Hubbard’s Charisma in ‘Going Clear’

By Dan Bjork


I’d like to open with a huge thanks to the New York Jets. I planned my Sunday workout for kickoff and they did not disappoint me: by the time I finished, it was halftime and the Jets were down by 17. Making it so very easy to instead spend the second half with Going Clear instead.

covercoverThe first third of the book chronicles the life of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology and (somewhat) messiah. Maybe soon-to-be messiah is more accurate, if Scientology can last a couple more generations. With Winesburg, Ohio, we talked about a clockwork narrative structure (here and here, mostly), and this feels necessary for any work in biography: you talk to people who knew him, who were also present for such and such, and report back what they remember. And, as a consequence of nothing more significant than thorough investigation, the result is a picture of a person pieced together by tiny fragments from multiple sources. A mosaic of how this person interacted with others. There’s nothing of note about this whatsoever; it feels silly — obvious or mansplaining or worse — except in L. Ron’s case, the only people willing to talk about him are the disaffected. The spurned. The information about him is so controlled that either you get the standard company line (a few generations away from full-blown messiah), or you get the people who’ve ultimately rejected him and/or Scientology.

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Book 4: Steven Millhauser’s ‘Edwin Mullhouse’

coverThis week, Football Book Club will be reading Steven Millhauser’s Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright and talking about Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear — and the sadness of life without the NFL.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Millhausuer’s debut novel operates as a biography of the late Mullhouse — the fictional and precocious novelist died at the young age of 11 — as written by his best friend, Jeffrey Cartwright.

Adam nominated this title for Football Book Club because: “This is yet another book that I’ve wanted to read for years — and one my pal Chandler insists I will love. I feel like reading it for FBC could be the beginning of a long and unhealthy Millhauser binge.”

Her Headspace: On ‘Brain Fever’ and the Five Stages of Chicago Bears Grief

By Adam Boretz


Because my body is a wreck and due to a week of innumerable medical appointments[1] , I read Brain Fever in a fragmented, desultory fashion: in fits and starts and fragments — a poem or two in waiting rooms or between visits to neurologists and physical therapists and physicians.

coverThe effect was a strange one: Because of this splintered reading, I remember few of the individual poems in the collection. Instead, I am left with an uncanny feeling: that of having passed in and out of the weird and often wonderful mind of Kimiko Hahn. Even now, when I think about Brain Fever, the impression is that of occupying another person’s unique headspace — with all its fears, obsessions, desires, fetishes, and compulsions. And as a reader, I find this to be a rare and rewarding experience.

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Torrential Output From Meager Input: On ‘Brain Fever’ and Transcending Any Available Evidence

By Dan Bjork


When I was 19, David Hume hit me like the holy ghost. It’s a typical story really: In high school, I was a slightly above-average student who hid inside the security of playing socially acceptable sports; a 10th-grade honors English open essay assignment found me sunk inside The Waste Land (which was my first adult literary holy ghost moment, I guess) — I spent the better part of three weeks living between the lines, writing an eight-and-a-half-page paper for a five-page assignment. Which I was told I was “incapable of writing” and then promptly failed for plagiarism. Which then made me ineligible for the first two games of the basketball season because I was failing English. I never invested again. (Huge public schools are amazingly effective at hammering students back into the meat of the bell curve; it’s a typical story, really.) I spent the next four years (two and a half of high school, one and a half of college) as that specific sort of hustler who paid extra attention in class and could pump out a fully formed essay the morning it was due, simply by detailing exactly how the teacher/professor felt on said subject. I was an A-/B+ machine. And my bio is true: I went to Hofstra solely because the New York Jets practiced there. At 19, I was well on my way to a future of managing a Crunch Fitness in southwest Suffolk County (or rather, this was the assumed realistic goal). I was majoring in floating around the dorms, running other young men in Madden during that early-evening, pre-gaming window as much as anything else. I was in The History of Western Philosophy solely because it fit my schedule. I didn’t even open my copy of The Treatise on Human Understanding until after our first class on it. But I became a philosophy major at some distinct moment inside that class session.

covercovercoverIn that book, Hume is poking holes in the apparatus with which we successful maneuver through reality, the apparatus with which our minds by nature necessarily fill in the blanks. Silly, almost non-applicable concrete reality example: If you move fast enough past a wooden fence, you will see everything that’s on the other side; your brain will paste together all of the separate, eighth-of-an-inch images that escape from between the slats at synaptic speed. You are getting so very few of these pictures at the same time, yet you can see all of them as one complete picture. We successfully navigate reality because our minds are constantly filling in the blanks, by assumptions based on past experience — by nearly 100 percent accurate assumptions. Which then moves us to the inherent flaws of inductive reasoning, mistakenly taking a temporal relationship as a causal relationship, and on and on and on. Talking about abstractions is hard. Talking about the flaws in which we successfully digest reality is even harder. In lieu of taking on the last 400 years of epistemology (in a blog about quitting the NFL to read poetry), I’m hoping I can provide one quote, and then jump right into the collection itself. It’s a quote from W.V O. Quine’s “Epistemology Naturalized,” an essay which also states, “The Humean condition is the human condition.” I think it will help because it concerns the funky, abstract space between what we personally interpret as reality and what is accepted as concrete reality — the slippage, if you will — which I kept seeing as I read through Brain Fever.
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Undercounted Stars: The Elliptical Coolness of ‘Brain Fever’

By Yona Harvey


I finally broke down and told my family I wasn’t watching football this season. I heard a collective, audible gasp. It was a major say-what-now? moment. The general consensus: that’s family time! Followed with: OK, player. Suit yourself. On the one hand, my family’s response meant I’d described our NFL bonding time accurately in a previous post. On the other hand, what would I do without my family on Sundays? Maybe there was no other hand? Maybe that’s too peculiar? A little too Sherwood Anderson? At any rate, no one tried to talk me out of participating in the Football Book Club; but no one asked to join either.

Second only to family time lost was the continued loss of Mike Tomlin’s press conferences. What will I do without those Tomlinian moments of joy and disappointment, delivered with the same cool-as-a-cucumber pitch:

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So Much to Say: On Mark Strand, Dorsey Levens, and ‘Brain Fever’

By Rob Casper

This weekend was difficult. I knew the Packers were playing the Seahawks, for the first time since last year’s disastrous NFC championship.

Aside no. 1: To my mind, the only thing worse than being a Packer fan after last year’s NFC championship is being a Seahawks fan after the Super Bowl that followed.

Aside no. 2: During last year’s NFC championship I was at a memorial reading for the late Mark Strand. I remember turning on my phone afterwards to see what happened with the game — and feeling a flash of disappointment mixed with relief. And then a feeling of not caring at all, a feeling of being emptied out. It was a beautiful event, the memorial — with Mark’s family and many poets I know. Here is a lovely piece on Mark, and poem of his that I love:

“The Idea”

For us, too, there was a wish to possess
Something beyond the world we knew, beyond ourselves,
Beyond our power to imagine, something nevertheless
In which we might see ourselves; and this desire
Came always in passing, in waning light, and in such cold
That ice on the valley’s lakes cracked and rolled,
And blowing snow covered what earth we saw,
And scenes from the past, when they surfaced again,
Looked not as they had, but ghostly and white
Among false curves and hidden erasures;
And never once did we feel we were close
Until the night wind said, “Why do this,
Especially now? Go back to the place you belong;”
And there appeared, with its windows glowing, small,
In the distance, in the frozen reaches, a cabin;
And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.

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Making Connections: On Jim Tomsula, the 49ers’ O-Line, and ‘Brain Fever’

By Ryan Henry Joe

I was at the Toronto airport on Sunday, where the local team is the Buffalo Bills. So I couldn’t watch the 49ers at the Pittsburgh Steelers even if I wanted to.

And after a few Twitter updates, I really didn’t want to.

Here are some first half favorites:


At least airport security was pleasant.

Last week, I was treated to some sparse poetry when the denizens of online message boards collectively described 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula:

Tomsula somehow looks like he has just finished but is also preparing to eat a meatball sub.
Jim Tomsula looks like a raiders fan.
Tomsula looks like he owns a failing Italian restaurant.

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