Saturday, May 31, 2014

Objects in Time and Space: Sculptures and Such at the Hirshhorn

I was in Washington, DC, for a couple days. The first two days I was there, I never got farther than a frisbee throw from the hotel, but I did manage to get out for a few hours on my last day. I hadn't gotten much in the way of recommendations1, because literally everybody who had an opinion hated DC (with one exception, but I didn't hear from that party until I was on the plane home). Yes, our nation's capital city garners feedback like:

Enjoy yourself down there, to the extent such a thing is possible/practical.

the hotel bars are where it's at in DC--they all have their own weird, mildly off-putting vibes

I couldn't afford anything but canned beans and frozen berries the summer I was there so I literally did not try the food.

However, the hotel bar advice was both spot-on and well-targeted (my favorite bars are airport bars, with hotel bars maybe third on the list) and my own Noodles did come through with one perfect suggestion: try the Hirshhorn. And so, on my last day in town, when I finally dragged myself out of bed after a Rangers-fuelled hangover and endured a mildly hellish cab ride, I found myself wandering around looking at sculptures. An activity I literally could not review in more positive terms.

I did a couple laps around the building before starting to take any pictures. Needed time to think and to get into the groove of looking at the things.

(Claes Oldenburg, Geometric Mouse: Variation I, Scale A, 1971)
The first one to pull a reaction out of me, Geometric Mouse made me say -- aloud, to no-one -- "Oh, I get it." Not my proudest moment, as it's a wonderful piece, and not a hacky one-liner; but the aesthetic response is sometimes a little slow to awaken to its fullest. A particularly nice thing about this one is that it flatly forces you to orbit it: you can just tell that there's an angle you're really going to like. It took me a couple minutes to decide on the one in the photo above, which I probably like best because it's the one that makes the wit the most apparent. Something about the chains also compels my eye to them, but I haven't figured out just what yet.

(Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept: Nature 1959-60)
I've seen some of these before, and they never fail to compel my eye and brain. A lot of what I like about sculpture is embodied in these: incredible physicality, with one material evoking and highlighting another, with bronze looking like clay looking like something intensely organic, nearly living, and the inescapable sense of heaviness and density. (They're hollow, I discovered, which adds another layer to the tensions between what they are and what they appear to be.)

Soft, erupting eggs and slashed flesh, represented in cold metal. I could look at these all day.

(Kenneth Snelson, Needle Tower, 1968)
This one was a perfect fit for its location: all the vantage points you can see it from enforce its perspectival trick, where it seems to be narrowing more and faster than is possible. (Stepping back a ways would ruin the effect.) It's also one of those engineering/architectural pieces that you could stare at for a million hours just wondering how it...works. Mechanical without being cold, rigorous and passionate. A device carefully built to fuck with your head.

(Jim Sanborn, Antipodes, 1997)
Just around the corner, and much more human-scaled, was Antipodes. This was compellingly textural, with its wood and holed copper. The literally cryptic textual elements in the curved metal gave it a coded feeling: instead of being conceptually evocative or challenging, like the pieces before it, which said "this is like that" or "does this make you think of that?", Antipodes seemed to say "I have a secret." I should probably have spent more time with this one, as it seems somewhat slight, beyond the trick of advertising its hidden meanings, but I was more in the mood for scale, particularly after Needle Tower.

(Tony Cragg, Subcommittee, 1991)
Speaking of scale, I thought this one was a good but underwhelming example of the "here is a little thing rendered real big" school of sculpture, but upon circumnavigating it, realized it was much, much smarter than that. From the front, it's indeed just a big rendering of some little tools of bureaucracy. But from the back, you see that the tools become disturbingly evocative of human heads and shoulders, and that there's a strong implication of hierarchy, as the human stamps aren't just juxtaposed, they actually carve space right out of one another. From the front, it's a well-organized, if somewhat dull picture of human organization; but from the back, it shows disorganization and conflict. I liked this one quite a bit.

(Juan Muñoz, Last Conversation Piece, 1994-95)
More distorted forms interacting. These are unsettling and somewhat alienating. The lumpy, vaguely fabric-like bottom halves contrast with the regular and realistic features of the admittedly blank faces. If Antipodes invited you to crack its code, Last Conversation Piece repels you from the very notion of listening in. The way the figures are distributed reinforces this repulsion, I think -- there's a palpable sense of exclusion and even evil here.

(Roy Lichtenstein, Brushstroke, 1996)
(Alexander Calder, Two Discs, 1965)
More scale! The Lichtenstein didn't do a huge amount for me beyond its exceptional size and verticality -- but in terms of verticality, it was tough to compete with Needle Tower, but it's certainly at the very least an exceptionally pretty sculpture, and provided a nicely light element. The Calder is a nice example of a huge, heavy, stationary thing appearing to be light, delicate, and nearly in motion. It's a Calder, in other words. The image doesn't properly show its size at all.

I spent a huge amount of time in the actual sculpture garden, across the street from the museum and the pieces arrayed around it, but didn't document it much. Suffice it to say that the garden was brilliantly organized, driving home the core experience of attending very closely to objects as they exist in time and in space. The layout of the garden invites lingering on one item at a time, and wittily stages things so that you're continually being surprised and taken off guard by motionless objects. The best example came of this at the end: I'd been instructed to look for a particular Barbara Hepworth piece, and I hadn't seen it at all. As I left the garden, planning to loop back to the museum itself, I saw this.

(Barbara Hepworth, Figure for Landscape, 1960)
Catching it from behind, then coming around to it from the front, as it opened up, was the perfect way to see this. And at the end of several hours of similar experiences was a good time for it.

Much of the museum itself was closed. However, there was a large Barbara Kruger exhibit, which reminded me of seeing her work at the Denver Art Museum in high school. A nice memory. And the combination of Kruger's aesthetic and the building's facilities made me laugh aloud at least once.

(Barbara Kruger and Hirshhorn Museum Operations, Women's Restroom, 2014)

And there were two interesting video art pieces. The first, Oliver Laric's Versions, was a nice video for people who enjoy fun with Google Image Search and witheringly saying "Uh, yeah, I've seen Debord's film Society of the Spectacle". The second, Jeremy Deller's English Magic, combined fat, powerful owls with some deeply whimsical music and an inflatable Stonehenge that I would like to have seen in real life.

After all that, essentially exhausted and done, I found that one large room had a hell of a lot of beautiful color field paintings, including Morris Louis' Delta Theta from 1961, among my favorites in the genre, and absolutely unreproducible. (Scale matters!) Reminded me strongly of our best museum day in Berlin, when we saw a number of these. Also reminded me that I ended up somehow with a Morris Louis bookmark of, I think, maybe, Vertical Horizon as a kid, around the same time of the initial Barbara Kruger visit to the museum. Being challenged to say what I liked about that bookmark really forced me to look at it, to learn how to look at it, and learn how to articulate how I was looking at it. To put it another way, trying to convince my mom that it was cool was the first moment at which I started thinking explicitly about form.

Anyway, I staggered out of the museum, went and walked toward the Washington Monument for a mile or so -- I'd never seen it from ground level, only from movies, which always show it from above, I suspect due to the limitations of the wide-not-tall movie screen -- and it was, from that perspective, much, much more...monumental than I'd ever thought before. It's also -- and this is not a dick joke -- much thicker than it looks from above. As I approached, I saw a cab, and I got in it; next thing I knew, I was writing Barbara Kruger postcards from an airport named after Ronald Reagan. Thus does art short-circuit time and enhance our days. Yay art!, the official significant form of Reviewiera.

--Fat, traveller

1To be fair, I did get a hell of a lot of restaurant recommendations, but I got completely hijacked by work functions and was unable to eat anywhere but the hotel, the shitty beer place next to the hotel, and the airport version of the shitty beer place next to the hotel. I'm never leaving California again.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

I Backissued It!



I went backissue shopping!
  • Avengers 283, 288, 291-293 (Avengers in Olympus; Avengers vs. hodgepodge of robot villians; Avengers vs. Namor's wife - Captain Marvel is chairperson of Avengers in these issues)
  • The Mighty Thor 396-397 (Asgard invaded by Egyptian death god; Thor loses his powers; Loki poorly drawn)
  • Doctor Strange 54, 57-58 (Doc Strange vs. the lord of decay; Doc Stange definitively does not seek new apprentice - I never really read much DS but it ain't half bad!)
  • Spider-Woman 44 (Spider-woman vs. HYRDA and a demon... and her mom?)
  • Captain America 274-275, 329 (Cap vs. HYDRA; Cap vs. Holocaust deniers - Cap was always a mess of a book, I thought, although I also always thought the fight art was a bit better, a bit more choreographed, than other titles).
  • Incredible Hulk 321-322 (Hulk vs. Avengers AND West Coast Avengers - Hulk and Banner are separate people in these ones, for those keeping score)
I was not looking for anything in particular, just impulse choosing based on cover art and whether less than $2.00.

-d.d.

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Thursday, May 22, 2014

(The Last) Outlaws of the NBA Marshes.

Today two (and final) heroes are: Tracy McGrady and Ron Artest!



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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes Part 7

Today's three outlaw heroes are Jermaine O'Neal; Dikembe Mutumbo; and Tim Duncan! Huzzah!




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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

5 Similarities Between the Directing Careers of Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood


I. Prince of Darkness DPs
     A. Woody Allen and Clint Eastwood's best shot films are by the 2 American directors of photography known as "The Prince of Darkness" for shooting high key scenes and creating shadowy spaces where characters immerse. Gordon Willis earned his moniker on Klute (1971, Alan J Pakula) and The Godfather (1972, Francis Ford Coppola). Willis worked with Woody Allen on 8 films from Annie Hall (1977) to The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985). Bruce Surtees shot 8 films directed by Clint Eastwood from Play Misty for Me (1971) to Pale Rider (1985).
     B. So both DPs did 8 films with the respective directors.
     C. Both DPs last film in collaboration with the respective directors was in 1985.

II. Albino Girlfriends Slash Leading Ladies
     A. These dudes both had blonde girlfriends and featured them in their movies. Mia Farrow appeared in 12 of Allen's films from A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy (1982) through Husbands and Wives (1992). Sondra Locke acted in 4 films directed by Eastwood from The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976) to Sudden Impact (1983) and costarred in both of his films with the orangutan.
     B. Neither men were ever married to their leading ladies, but they both had relationships lasting about a decade on and off screen.
     C. Farrow supposedly has translucent alabaster magic skin and Locke isn't really an albino but I have a friend who'd always called her that and it was convenient.

III. The 90s meant it was time to share the limelight.
     A. Both Allen and Eastwood were actors before they directed. Both typically acted in their own films and received top billing while rarely costarring with big stars (saved money no doubt?). 1991 Shadows and Fog included Madonna, Jodie Foster, Kathy Bates a year after Misery, and John Cusack. Allen wouldn't be as relevant if he didn't start throwing in the stars. 1992 Unforgiven co-stars Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, and Richard Harris. Academy Awards for best picture, best director, and Gene Hackman that year signifies the shift where Eastwood begins casting big stars and winning a shitload of Oscars for them.







IV. They began directing the same year.
     A. Allen and Eastwood both directed their first films in the same year. 1971 Bananas 1971 Play Misty for Me
 V. Both dudes really dig jazz but I don't so I'm going to leave it at that.

 What's the point of these comparisons? Nothing. There isn't one. If I actually thought this was important I'd be delusional and insane. But I have spent a huge amount of time watching all the films directed by these two American actor-directors and I think that historically both of their careers are important because they seem to pursue projects that they believe in even if they seem risky financially. Allen being a writer and Eastwood being a producer may have different effects on the pictures, but each work creatively on assembling the projects they'll be delivering.
 Plus I wanted to write something other than a movie review.
 --Dregs

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Outlaws of the NBA Marshes Part 6

Today's three outlaws are: David Stern; Deron Williams; and Carlos Boozer! Yay!




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Monday, May 19, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes. Part 5

Today's heroes are: Andrei Kirilenko (and MaLo); and Chris Webber (with cat)!


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Friday, May 16, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes Part 4

The three heroes (plus one) of today are: Shaq; Kobe; and Tony Parker/Eva Longoria!
 



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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes Part 3

Today's marshy heroes are: Rasheed Wallace; Allen Iverson; and Juwan Howard(?)!
 
 


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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes Part 2

Your heroes of the marsh today are: Phil Jackson; Steve Nash; and Lebron James!




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Thursday, May 08, 2014

Outlaws of the NBA Marshes (c.2007) Part 1

Based on the exif data for these graphics, sometime in 2007 a Chinese NBA-fan forum started posting images of NBA players blended with characters from the classical Chinese fiction 'Outlaws of the Marsh'.  The were momentarily lauded and then everyone moved on.  About a month later or so it occurred to me to try and capture as many of these as possible since forums are not the most reliable of archives.  So I fished about with varieties of search terms and mangaged to locate 21 images.

YAO MING.

These then sat on my portable hard drive archive, completely forgotten until I stumbled upon them a few days ago whilst looking for something else. Also included with the 21 was the below "parchment print-style" Yao that I generated (apparently). 

 
I think this was my ultimate goal in retrieving these images: to create a collection of "prints" of NBA players as Chinese heroes.  I also think at the time I was not happy with the resultant Yao, mainly because you can't tell its him.
 
More to follow.

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Great Urinals of the Pacific NW

I forget where this one was!

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The mid-range jumper is dead (this time it's for real)

Jump shots used to be central to the game of basketball. No more: in the digital age, not only is the jump shot in decline, but the very idea of 'difficult' shooting is being challenged. The future of the serious mid-range jumper, argues Fat Contradiction, is as a specialised interest

If you happen to be a basketball player, one of the great benisons of having children is that your personal culture-mine is equipped with its own canaries. As you tunnel on relentlessly into the future, these little harbingers either choke on the noxious gases released by the extraction of decadence, or they thrive in the clean air of what we might call progress. (Yes, these are the only two options.) A few months ago, one of my canaries, who's in his mid-teens and harbours a laudable ambition to be the world's greatest ever rock musician, was messing about on his electric guitar. Breaking off from a particularly jagged and angry riff, he launched into an equally jagged diatribe, the gist of which was already familiar to me: everything in popular music had been done before, and usually those who'd done it first had done it best. Besides, the instant availability of almost everything that had ever been done stifled his creativity, and made him feel it was all hopeless.

A miner, if he has any sense, treats his canary well, so I began gently remonstrating with him. Yes, I said, it's true that the web and the internet have created a permanent Now, eliminating our sense of musical eras; it's also the case that the queered demographics of our longer-living, lower-birthing population means that the middle-aged squat on top of the pyramid of endeavour, crushing the young with our nostalgic tastes. What's more, the decimation of the revenue streams once generated by analogues of recorded music have put paid to many a musician's income. But my canary had to appreciate this: if you took the long view, the advent of the 78rpm shellac disc had also been a disaster for musicians who in the teens and 20s of the last century made their daily bread by live performance. I repeated one of my favourite anecdotes: when the first wax cylinder recording of Feodor Chaliapin singing "The Song of the Volga Boatmen" was played, its listeners, despite a lowness of fidelity that would seem laughable to us (imagine a man holding forth from a giant bowl of snapping, crackling and popping Rice Krispies), were nonetheless convinced the portly Russian must be in the room, and searched behind drapes and underneath chaise longues for him.

So recorded sound blew away the nimbus of authenticity surrounding live performers – but it did worse things. My canaries have often heard me tell how back in the 1970s heyday of the pop charts, all you needed was a writing credit on some loathsome chirpy-chirpy-cheep-cheeping ditty in order to spend the rest of your born days lying by a guitar-shaped pool in the Hollywood Hills hoovering up cocaine. Surely if there's one thing we have to be grateful for it's that the web has put paid to such an egregious financial multiplier being applied to raw talentlessness. Put paid to it, and also returned musicians to the domain of live performance and, arguably, reinvigorated musicianship in the process. Anyway, I was saying all of this to my canary, who had, I assume, fallen asleep at some point in the previous paragraph, when I was suddenly overtaken by a great wave of noxiousness only I could smell. I faltered, I fell silent, then I said: sod you and your creative anxieties, what about me? How do you think it feels to have dedicated your entire adult life to an art form only to see the bloody thing dying before your eyes?

My canary is a perceptive songbird – he immediately ceased his own cheeping, except to chirrup: I see what you mean. The polished mid-range jumper as an art form and a contribution central to our game is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean the jump shot tout court is dying – the kidult pullup and the soft corner three are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious mid-range jumpers will either cease to be taken or made. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man. In the early 1980s, and I would argue throughout the second half of the last century, the well-honed mid-range jumper was perceived to be the prince of artistic basketball, the cultural capstone and the apogee of solid balling. The capability jumpers have when deployed from say twelve to nineteen feet from the basket to both spark the free flow of human cheering and put points on the board; the way they may be banked off the backboard and thus create a believable simulacrum of either a commonsensical offensive set, or any number of invented ones; and the capability of the extended wrist-flick itself, which, unlike any other offensive maneuver, allows one to enact self-analysis and, yes, trash talk, by means of leaving the shooting arm extended, frozen, even when the work is done, to dagger other aesthetic modes of ball and even mock them. All this led to a general acknowledgment: the mid-range jumper was the true Wagnerian Gesamtsportwerk.

This is not to say that everyone walked the streets with their head buried in Jamaal Wilkes or the late Doctor J, or that popular culture in all its forms didn't hold sway over the psyches and imaginations of the great majority. (I am speaking, here, of the dunk shot.) Nor do I mean to suggest that in our culture perennial John Bull-headed philistinism wasn't alive and snorting: "I don't know much about efficiency, but I know what I like and what I like is either getting very close to the rim or getting three points for my troubles." However, what didn't obtain is the current dispensation, wherein those who reject the high arts feel not merely entitled to their opinion, but wholly justified in it. It goes further: the hallmark of our contemporary culture is an active resistance to difficulty in all its athletico-aesthetic manifestations, accompanied by a sense of grievance that conflates it with political elitism. Indeed, it's arguable that tilting at this papery windmill of artistic superiority actively prevents a great many people from confronting the very real economic inequality and political disenfranchisement they're subject to, exactly as being compelled to chant the mantra "choice" drowns out the harsh background Muzak telling them they have none. This can all be solved by a silky J from the free throw line extended.

Just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. Simply because you've remarked a number of times on the concealed fox gnawing its way into your vitals, it doesn't mean it hasn't at this moment swallowed your gall bladder. Ours is an age in which omnipresent threats of imminent extinction are also part of the background noise – nuclear annihilation, terrorism, climate change, zone defenses, PER. So we can be blinkered when it comes to tectonic cultural shifts. The omnipresent and deadly threat to the mid-range jumper has been imminent now for a long time – getting on, I would say, for a half-century – and so it's become part of culture. During that half-century, more shots of all kinds have been taken and made and analyzed by far than in the entire preceding half century since the invention of the ol' peach basket. If this was death it had a weird, pullulating way of expressing itself. The saying is that there are no second acts in American lives; the mid-range jumper, I think, has led a very American sort of life: swaggering, confident, brash even – and ever aware of its world-conquering manifest destiny. But unlike Ernest Hemingway or F Scott Fitzgerald, the mid-range jumper has also had a second life. The form should have been laid to rest at about the time the league average three-point percentage surpassed 33%, but in fact it has continued to stalk the corridors of our minds and the parquets of our floors for a further couple of decades. Many fine mid-range jumpers have been hoisted during this period, but I would contend that these were, taking the long view, zombie mid-range jumpers, instances of an undead art form that yet wouldn't lie down.

Sports writers – themselves a dying breed, a cause for considerable schadenfreude on the part of mid-range jumperists – make all sorts of mistakes, but some of the most egregious ones result from an inability to think outside of the papery prison within which they conduct their lives' work. They consider the codex. They are – in Yago Colas' memorable phrase – the possessors of Naismith minds.

There is now an almost ceaseless murmuring about the future of basketball. #hoopideas. Most of it is at once Panglossian and melioristic: yes, experts assert, there's no disputing the impact of advanced metrics on the whole culture of roundball; fewer scouts are being employed, shot doctors fold up their tents, summer clinics continue to close, leagues as well. But … but, well, there's still no substitute for the experience of the mid-range jump shot as we've come to understand and appreciate it – the capacity to bang home a soft one from eighteen feet out after running the picket fence; the ability to achieve deep and meditative wetness in others' faces. This circling of the wagons comes with a number of public-spirited campaigns: children are bored stiff with effulgence over the way Tim Duncan uses the glass; tshirts are distributed with slogans on them urging wearers to shoot long twos in them; shooters are hymned for their slick skills – their deft touch, their varied appearance, their transcendence of athleticism understood only narrowly – as if they were the bodily correlates of the game itself, which, of course, they are.

The seeming realists among the hoopçognoscenti say such things as: well, clearly, jumpers are going to become a minority technology, but the occasional splash will survive. The populist I-love-this-gamers prate on about how spectacular dunks and layups in traffic linked to social media will allow viewers to take part in a public conversation about HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT. What none of the TrueHoop network types are able to countenance, because it is quite literally – for once the intensifier is justified – out of their minds, is that the advent of dunks-and-threes only is not simply destructive of the game, but of the Naismith mind itself. There is one question alone that you must ask yourself in order to establish whether the well-tuned mid-range jumper will still retain cultural primacy and centrality in another 20 years. This is the question: if you accept that by then the vast majority of shots will be taken either at the rim or from three-point territory, do you also believe that those shooters will voluntarily choose to give up the prospect of the additional point (either baked-in, as in the three-point shot, or given/earned via free throw and foul, as with the contested close-in work)? If your answer to this is no, then the death of the mid-range jumper is sealed out of your own mouth.

We don't know when the form of balling that supported the rise of the mid-range jumper form began, but there were certain obvious and important way-stations. We think of Bob Pettit, born in 1932, just one year after John Miller Cooper first freed foot from floor, quipping that with the other facets of his game, "All I had to do was make a few jump shots and I was on my way to a good night." We can cite the career of Jerry West, deadly shooter and literal icon of the NBA – then comes that vast wave of the late '70s and early '80s, when every team seemed to have a 3 who could put up 20 nightly, from seventeen. (Eddie Johnson, Mike Mitchell, Purvis Short, Walter Davis, Jamaal Wilkes, Alex English.) Standardised coaching came with the arrival of decent amounts of money, and finally certain education reforms meant that every player was expected to be a skilled enough shooter to be at least passable from the free throw line. Just one of the ironies that dance macabre attendance on this most awful of impending losses is that the conditions necessary for the toppling of solitary and reliable shooting as the most powerful and important tool in the player's box were already waiting in the wings while these important advances took place. In short, by requiring even centers to face up now and again, the specialization of skill and codification of position started to bleed and fade: bigs wanted to shoot, littles wanted to post and dunk, and everybody decided that three was better than two.

The game, then, has already changed. The emphasis on drawing fouls, as a strictly and definitionally limited resource of the other team; the brute fact that shooting 33% from three is the same as 50% from two (if you are foolish enough to ignore the number of rebounds generated); the abandonment of the screen in favor of the pick and roll; the ease of jacking one up from so deep that nobody's bothering to guard you versus the it-takes-the-whole-team artistry of generating a clean look from twenty feet out – these were always latent in the problematic of the mid-range jumper form, and in the offensive set more generally, but in the late 20th century, under pressure from other, juvenescent, scoring forms, the mid-range jumper began to founder. The polymorphous multishotal perversities of the later World B. Free, and the extreme existential asperities of his fellow journeyman, Otis Birdsong, are both registered as authentic responses to the taedium vitae of the form, and so accorded tremendous, guarded respect – if not affection.

After Free, we continued to shoot; we shot a great deal – after all, that's what you do when you're wheeled out into the sun after school: you shoot. You may find it difficult to concentrate, given the vagaries of your own adolescent Naismith mind, while your handle, shot, your game itself may also have a senescent feel, what with its ground-bound nature and aching knees – the equivalent, in hoops form, of amateur poets sitting aggrieved and aggressively forlorn with their Cure records and all-black ensembles. Yet shoot you do, closing your ears obstinately to the heckling of other dudes in the park, squinting so as to shut out the bluey light from the screens that surround you, resolutely ignoring the time you ended up on YouTube for falling down trying to ape AI's crossover to free yourself for a sweet J, turning your head in order to block out the agitation of your neighbours' fingers as they tweezer info panels into being. I've often thought that western European socialism survived as a credible ideological alternative up until 1989 purely because of the Soviet counterexample: those on the left were able to point east and say, I may not altogether know how socialism can be achieved, but I do know it's not like this. So it was with the mid-range jumper: we may not have known altogether how to make a mid-range jumper again, but we knew we sure couldn't dunk. Now dunks, too, are losing their narrative hegemony, after increasingly spectacular (and alienating) contests, and so the mid-range jumper – the cultural Greece to its world-girdling Rome – is also in ineluctable decline.

I repeat: just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. It would be amusing to read the meliorism of the Panglosses if it weren't also so irritating; the "story" "broke" a few months ago: NBA executives have discussed adding a four-point line. Surveying all of the changes wrought by offenses built around the rim and the line – offenses we could call offenses of the excluded middle – changes that funnel together into the tumultuous stream of Erik Spoelstra's Heat – all any of us can think to think is a return to where our understandings all began, with the best of all possible quips implying we were in the best of all possible worlds: "Why do you shoot so many threes, Antoine Walker?" "Because there are no fours."

But what if there were?

Groucho Marx once said to a man with six children taking part in his TV show: "I like my cigar, but I know when to take it out." By the same token: I also like splashing threes, but I'm under no illusion that this means either the mid-range game, or the mid-range jumper – a form of hooping specifically adapted to it – will survive as a result of my preferences. Because I'm also very partial to pump-faking a man into the air, then either slipping to the side for a wide-open look or just taking it hard to the rack.

While I may have registered the effect of the lure of drawing fouls or draining threes on my sense perception, I by no means feel immune from them; on the contrary, I've come to realise that the kind of psyche implicit in the production and consumption of serious mid-range jumpers (which are what, after all, serious basketball players produce), depends on a medium that has inbuilt teamwork: we must all be the distributors and facilitators we wish to play with. In a recent and rather less optimistic article in the Classical on the basketball phenomenon, Bethlehem Shoals acknowledges the impact on the watching industry of endless dunks-and-threes: the scattershot "too busy flashing by to bother...both exhilarating and deadening"; and the removal of what might be termed the breathing room required to allow the "cycle of discovery, resolution, and sensible forward motion." He foresees a more polarised world emerging: with big things-happening commanding still more attention, while down below the narratives seethe and fail to become trends. Shoals observes that this development in watching parallels the way the game itself is played. Both are parallel to the neoliberal economy, which sees market choice as the only human desideratum. But, really, this is only the latest skirmish in a long war; the battles of the 1990s, when new defensive technologies made the (slow, patient, five-person) mid-range game almost impossible to execute.

I've no doubt that a specialized apparatus facilitating and rewarding shooting skills will be established: points from this form are simply too useful for the skill not to be assigned monetary value. It is mid-range jumpers that will be the victims of the loss of effective non-penetrating point guards (a position of quarterbacking and angle recognition that depended both on the ability to gain separation in the middle of the court and on having somebody who could do something with the ball when they got it out there); mid-range jumpers and the people who shoot them. Fortunately, institutions are already in existence to look after us. The men's leagues burgeoning throughout our cities and towns are exactly this; another way of looking at them is that they're a self-perpetuating and self-financing basketball set-aside scheme purpose-built to accommodate ballers who can no longer sustain the belief that running hard or jumping high are desirable ways to spend an afternoon, if they're even possible ways to spend an afternoon. In these care homes, erstwhile mid-range jumperists induct still more and younger ballers into their own reflexive hobby trajectories, so that in time they too can become mid-range jumperists who cannot really run or jump anymore.

In case you think I'm exaggerating, I have just shot baskets in the park for a full hour, concluded by shooting my traditional 25 free throws. With the exception of a half-dozen lead-footed layups and a handful of half-hearted hook shots, I shot nothing but mid-range jumpers. My mid-range jumper isn't bad – although nor is it Ray Allen's. It is, I'm told, what it is.

Whenever tyro mid-range jumperists ask me for career advice I always say the same thing to them: think hard about whether you wish to spend anything up to 20 or 30 years of your adolescence-into-adult life in solitary confinement, flinging the Spalding at the mocking orange of that 18-inch Grail; if you don't like the sound of that silence, abandon the idea right away. But nowadays many people who go out for the basketball team have only the dimmest understanding of what's actually involved in the balling life; the team offers them comity and, sometimes, semi-sympathetic support for their fledgling efforts – it acts, it essence, as a therapy group for the creatively misunderstood. What these people are aware of – although again, usually only hazily – is that some ballers have indeed had it all; if by this is meant that they are able to shoot as they see fit, and make a living from the points they produce. In a society where almost everyone is subject to the appropriation of their time, and a vast majority of that time is spent undertaking work that has little human or spiritual value, the ideal form of the sporting life appears gilded with a sort of wonderment. The savage irony is that even as these aspirants sign up for the promise of such a golden career, so the possibility of their actually pursuing it steadily diminishes; a still more savage irony is that the very form their instruction (coaching) takes militates against the possibility of the shots they desire to take. Hank Luisetti was accused of being "a lucky so-and-so", and set himself to shut up his critics by making sure the next one went in; the ball, he might well have said, don't lie.

As I said at the outset: I believe the serious mid-range jumper will continue to be taken and made, but it will be an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical scholarship rather than public discourse. The current resistance of a lot of the basketball fan to difficulty in the form is only a subconscious response to having a moribund message pushed at them. As a practising mid-range jumperist, do I feel depressed about this? No, not particularly, except on those occasions when I breathe in too deeply and choke on my own decadence. I've no intention of making my home out back behind the three-point line – nor do I see my future banging elbows with the tall trees in the paint. My apprenticeship as a mid-range jumperist has lasted a long time now, and I still cherish hopes of eventually qualifying. Besides, as the possessor of a Naismith mind, it is quite impossible for me to foretell what the new dominant art form of hoops will be – if, that is, there is to be one at all.

What I can do is observe my canary: he doesn't take much in the way of what I'd call serious mid-range jumpers, but there's no doubting that he's alive, breathing deep of a rich and varied culture, and shows every sign of being a very intelligent and thoughtful songbird. On that basis, I think it's safe for us both to go on mining.

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