Posts Tagged ‘Brian Phillips’

Lord, how my rational, progressive mind wants to hate the Masters.

But my hidebound, history-laden heart does love it so.

The players who made the cut are out on the course, the sun is shining over Augusta National, and soon Jim Nantz once again will manage to gush while whispering, rhapsodizing pine trees and azaleas and “a tradition unlike any other” into a right vision of heaven.1

Nantz has been doing his thing over at CBS for so long that we now have a parallel Masters-week tradition of pre-emptive anti-Nantz narrative, pinpricking the pompous reverence Augusta National demands of those who would broadcast their one public event.

Augusta National and the Masters are easy to prick, impossible (so far) to puncture: a bunch of (extremely) rich, (mostly) old, (almost entirely) white guys in ugly blazers hanging out in their own gated He-Man Woman-Haters Club (as far as we know) whose clubhouse was once an antebellum “big house” on a Georgia rice plantation.  They couldn’t make themselves an easier target, short of burning a cross on Magnolia Drive.

The volume’s been turned up a notch this year, thanks to Ginni Rometti’s ascension at IBM, a long-time tournament sponsor whose CEO traditionally becomes an honorary member, as well as the general fat-cats-bad unrest in the nation.

Not surprisingly, Grantland offers a couple of creative takes to the annual pile-on.  Wright Thompson leaves Augusta National in search of James Brown’s Augusta, exploring “the Terry,” the rough neighborhood where Brown grew up (in his aunt’s brothel).

At a greater remove, Brian Phillips compares the Masters to Mad Men, both selling “poisonous nostalgia” for a gone America we’re better off without.

Phillips’s critique of the Masters mystique is interesting: “the Masters is essentially Mad Men, season 51,” he writes, and he imagines an octogenarian Don Draper musing, “The golf course made sense.  The careful plan of the fairways, the pimento cheese sandwiches2, the creek.  This was order, civilization, tradition.  A place where a man commanded respect.  The kids would never understand this.”

The crux of Phillips’s argument is a question he asks about the tournament, but that applies equally to the TV show: “Why is something so clearly redolent of a past no one seriously wants to go back to capable of inspiring so much goofy affection?”

Let’s admit, first of all, that there are among us troglodytes who do, in fact, “seriously” want to go back to that past, part and parcel, and have long since been seduced by Augusta National’s vision of a world where the gals and the blacks are kept firmly in their places.3

Leaving those asshats out of the discussion, let’s now admit that the Masters inspires “so much goofy affection” in many of us because, apart from the regular occurrence of breathtakingly great golf, Augusta National thinks to wrap their sandwiches in green paper.

I’m serious.  Quit looking at me like that.

Please understand that in order to pass through the gates of Augusta National, you first have to pass along Washington Road, passing the pay-day check cashers, the Hooters, the TGI Friday’s.  Washington Road is the vomit of late 20th-century sprawl, all fast food and quickie marts.  If Augusta National is the last bastion of the “clubby, genteel” postwar America4 that otherwise died off in the early 1970s, then Washington Road is the apotheosis of what most of the rest of America has become: cheaply built and mass produced; baldly, anonymously commercial; disposable and impermanent and tacky.  It’s a four-lane insult to the American citizen, a congested, spluttering scoff at any notion of democratic taste or intelligence.

On the other side of those gates, though, someone thought to wrap those concession sandwiches in green paper, so that if a wrapper doesn’t make it to the proper receptacle, it won’t wander glaringly white or silver across the fairways in front of the TV cameras.  On the other side of the gates, the visitors who’ve paid (or finagled) their way in to see the tournament are patrons, not fans; they hold badges, not tickets; they abide by the strictest code of conduct this side of a Richmond cotillion.

You can call this as stuffy as Roger Sterling’s three-piece suits, as fussy as Pete Campbell’s tie clips, but there’s a reason why official Mad Men collections and clearly Mad Men-inspired designs are showing up in shopping malls across the country.  You can regret how Augusta National’s concern for aesthetic veers hard right into the unfortunate (all caddies, each of whom is a highly paid professional, must wear matching white jumpsuits and green Masters caps during the tournament), while appreciating the appeal of its effect.

The particular draw of the Masters and Augusta National isn’t always aspirational or exclusionary in nature and essence.  The draw is not some idea of an older, more hierarchical civilization, but an old civility, in which attention is paid to the little things, to appearances, and through which all – not just old, rich, white men – inherently are shown respect.  For some of us, the four days of the Masters isn’t a trip back to the “good old days” of discrimination and patriarchy; it’s a respite from the hollow, soul-leeching, offensive postmodernity of Washington Road.

1 In all fairness to Nantz, have you seen the course at Augusta National?  I mean, damn, y’all.
2 Which really are delicious, by the way.
3 What’s especially funny about these morons is that they never quite grasp that in that past they long for, they and theirs were kept firmly in their place, as well.  Idiots.
4 I don’t know that “postwar” America is what Augusta National’s going for.  If it is, it’s for a version of postwar America that was itself going for an imagined version of pre-Depression, post-Reconstruction America that saw the rise of the first and second of the four New Souths, in which textile and tobacco barons, bankers, and professional men were riding the crest of a new prosperity (Augusta National opened in 1933).  That era was, in many of its ways, going for the look and feel and codes of an imagined antebellum culture of moonlight and magnolias and mint juleps, which was itself – insofar as it ever existed at all – going for what it knew of the earlier plantation culture of the Low Country and the Virginia Tidewater, which was in turn trying to replicate a late-medieval European society that never really was, in the first place.  Thank you for entering the Dixie Babble Hall of Mirrors; we hope you enjoyed your trip.


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