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Culture Wars & Fandom

In this podcast, Emory Marketing Professor Mike Lewis discusses how culture wars impact fandoms in sports and entertainment. Lewis defines culture wars as the conflicts that arise when different groups have opposing views on cultural values, norms, and beliefs.

Professor Lewis notes that these conflicts can seep into the products that fans are passionate about, including sports and entertainment. Lewis cites examples of how culture wars impact fandoms like the Star Wars community - as well as the change in how sports fans interpret the actions of now controversial players like Rudy Gobert.

Lewis also discusses the challenge cultural division poses for professional sports leagues. He notes that sports have historically been seen as a way to bring people together, but in recent years, they have become more politicized. This has led to challenges for leagues as they try to navigate issues such as player protests during the national anthem.

Watch/listen here:


[00:00:00] Mike Lewis: Hey, welcome everyone. Welcome to the Fanalytics podcast, brought to you by the Emory Marketing Analytics Center at the Goizuetta School of Business. My name is Mike Lewis. I'm joined by Doug Battle. How are you, Doug?

[00:00:16] Doug Battle: I am doing great. Mike, n b a, nearing the playoffs and man, this time last year, you and I had a field day with the Minnesota Timber Wolves. When they made the playoffs celebrating as though they had won a championship, that team has never seemed to have leadership. They have a lot of talent and they never act like they've been there before.

Well, this year, this time of year, we've got Rudy Gobert,the Covid cougher himself, punching a teammate toward the end of the season or attempting to punch a teammate and in the same game. Jayden McDaniels fracturing his hand, punching a wall. And so a lot of punches thrown by the T Wolves [00:01:00] Organization.

I believe that's a team that's gonna be in the playoffs.

[00:01:05] Mike Lewis: I think that's right.

[00:01:06] Doug Battle: it's like the whole Justin Field situation. Like if they're on tv, I am watching the Timberwolves because inevitably, yeah, they're right there at eight. So they're gonna be in that play-in tournament. So potentially we could get another championship celebration if they make it into the playoffs through the playing tournament

[00:01:24] Mike Lewis: Rudy Gobert is one of the most consequential figures in modern sports Doug. I mean, he.

[00:01:30] Doug Battle: and American history,

[00:01:32] Mike Lewis: No, he is right. he's on the poster for shutting down the culture. Right? I mean, he was essentially the, he was the straw. He was the guy that did it. And I can't recall anyone s punching someone elseon their own bench.

[00:01:49] Doug Battle: I can Not in basketball. In football, Alabama National Championship 2018, after the 2017 season, they had a player do it on the sideline and they won the [00:02:00] game, by the way, they won the national championship. I was there.

[00:02:02] Mike Lewis: so I think I heard on the espn, I was sort of half watching this morning that one of them, one of them saying, now, who was the other player? Who was the player that he hit? What was his name?

[00:02:11] Doug Battle: Kyle Anderson.

[00:02:12] Mike Lewis: I think they said Kyle Anderson did call him the B word. Okay. And then they, and then it, the talking head sort of went into the idea, but that's not sufficient.

So maybe you could throw a punch at practice, but not during a game when the cameras were on. It's always Doug. I'm not even kidding. Rudy Gobert seems to be perfect for the 2020s in terms of what he brings to the, in terms of what he brings to the media table.

[00:02:40] Doug Battle: Yeah, I got a buddy who's a T Wolves fan and he just bought a Rudy Gobert jersey last week. I was talking to him a week ago and he was telling me about getting a Rudy Gobert and I said, you didn't wanna get Anthony Edwards? And he said, Nah, man, I gotta go with Gobert. Like he just, he keeps it, he keeps it interesting.

And as much as I [00:03:00] love the stories with Gobert, I love his response, his attempt to pretend to be genuine. Cuz we saw this with Covid. He had to come out and apologize about blatantly coughing on everyone's smartphones and coming out and saying, you know what I, I realized that wasn't the best decision given that there's a global pandemic and people are dying and that I actually gave covid to some of these reporters.

But he came out and said, here's his quote on Twitter. Emotions got the best of me today. I should not have reacted the way I did, regardless of what was said, which is kind of a backhanded apology there. Regardless of what was said, a K a, I was justified. I should not have reacted the way I did, regardless of what was said.

I wanna apologize to the fans, the organization, and particularly to Kyle, who is someone that I truly love and respect as a teammate. And then Kyle Anderson's statement was, Crap, that's a substitute. Crap happens. It's not the first time something like [00:04:00] this has happened indicating that there's a cultural issue either with the Timberwolves or particularly with Gobert.

yeah, he continued. We'll move forward. We wanna win games. It is what it is. We'll keep it in-house. I mean it. It ain't the first time someone has swung on me. I think our tempers just flare. That's all it is what it is. We'll move on. We're grown men, so this is just guys being dudes.

[00:04:24] Mike Lewis: Well, I mean, look, I've actually got some sympathy to that, I mean, the heated anger that, that occurs is fine. I think it's. sometimes too much of, too much is made of that. If both sides are good with it, it's sort of, passions were inflamed, something happened, move on quickly.

I think that's fine. I, here's my other thought though, Doug. As you're talking about Rudy Gobert, if we were casting a kid's movie, you know how they would always cast a kid's sports movie and it's like, there's the fat kid and then there's the kid with the glasses that can't run. And then there's the girl that's really a good athlete.

[00:04:57] Doug Battle: Yes,

[00:04:57] Mike Lewis: if we were casting an nba. I [00:05:00] think you and I could agree that we would have Rudy Gobert as one of our players. Patrick Beverly is another one of the players. I don't know who else we would

[00:05:07] Doug Battle: and they were on the same team last year.

[00:05:09] Mike Lewis: but they might be our first two picks in terms of slotting this, putting this organization together for hilarious hijinks.

[00:05:15] Doug Battle: I think, you know what I, I gotta pull this up, but I made a list at one point on my, like first team all pesky and Gobert was starting at Center Point Guard. I think we had Patrick, Beverly, Draymond Green at the four. I'm trying to think of the three. We'll do this in a later episode. I have a full list of my team.

I had a six man, I had a whole team built out and I was like, I'm gonna make this team on 2k and I'm gonna just commit so many fouls and try to cause chaos and annoy everyone that I play. So, but, crazy thing about Gobert is he got this last off season. Timberwolves gave up a haul to bring him in.

I mean, they traded for him as if he were gonna be the cornerstone of the franchise, which to me was a head [00:06:00] scratcher when Kevin Durant was on the market, was on the trading market. and when Gobert's, maybe not an M V P caliber player, he might play in the Olympics

[00:06:10] Mike Lewis: Missing piece probably was the idea,

[00:06:12] Doug Battle: Yeah, I think that was the idea.

But was he like, a team that already had Carl Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards? I don't know that was the piece they needed, but they gave up four first round picks, A rookie of the year candidate and 1, 2, 3, 4 veterans, including Patrick Beverly, by the way, to bring in Gobert four veterans, four first round picks, and a rookie of the year candidate from last year Walker Kesler.

For this one guy. I mean, that's the kind of trade package. Historically, you would think, okay, they're bringing in a Kevin Durant, they're bringing in a top five MVP caliber player. So to come in and be hitting your teammates in the first season, get the feeling these guys don't love each other.[00:07:00]

[00:07:01] Mike Lewis: Okay, Doug.

[00:07:02] Doug Battle: I'm calling BS on that. I'm calling BS on the We love each other.

[00:07:05] Mike Lewis: and that's fine and I can't help it. It's not anything I would say, but I'm sure there's folks out there saying that Rudy Gobert and the Minnesota TWolves may suffer from some toxic masculinity. One of your favorite entertainment properties? I actually took some time and was reading, after watching the latest episode of the Mandalorian Delve into Reddit, which is probably a mistake.

[00:07:28] Doug Battle: a deep dark hole.

[00:07:29] Mike Lewis: A deep, dark hole, but the word toxic masculinity and whether or not, the Mandalorian suffers from toxic masculinity was a cornerstone of the debate about the last episode. I know you've got some thoughts in terms of the celebrity guest stars and where Disney's going with that, but you know, what did you think of the last episode?

The Mandalorian, Doug?

[00:07:51] Doug Battle: This pains me to say, because I am, I've been, I think I've been in denial for years about Star Wars. I watch every new episode

[00:07:59] Mike Lewis: [00:08:00] Oh, you have my friend. you have totally suffered from the notion of like, I love this franchise and I'm gonna view everything that comes out from that starting point of I love this franchise and I want it to work.

[00:08:12] Doug Battle: Yeah, and I feel like I've been grading everything on a curve. That's how it feels because you sit back and you watch some of these scenes. You touched on cameos, Lizzo, and Jack Black and Back from the Future, dude all in one scene, in the Star Wars cinematic Universe.

[00:08:34] Mike Lewis: I think his name is Christopher Lloyd.

[00:08:36] Doug Battle: He's the back to the future guy.

[00:08:38] Mike Lewis: Oh, he was on a show called Taxi in the late seventies, Doug. I mean, it's astonishing that he's still around.

[00:08:45] Doug Battle: Yeah, it, Mike, I couldn't stop thinking that. This is actually Canon, cuz it feels like an SNL sketch. We have an SNL hosted by Jack Black, musical guest, [00:09:00] Lizzo, but she's making a cameo in one of the skits and the random cameo, Christopher Lloyd as the token angry old man

making his way into the show as a villain. it felt like, SNL I can't believe that this is what they're doing with the Mandalorian. A show that had a really solid first season. A lot of promise built a lot of fandom. And what's the crazy thing to me, cause this is a fandom podcast, we look at things from a fandom perspective is how fans perceive it because, You go on Twitter during this, you type in Lizzo's name, that's it.

Lizzo. Mandalorian. And half of the tweets are, yes, queen, you slayed like Lizzo Slade, she's an actress now. Like she's in the Star Wars universe. she's the best actor in Star Wars history. Like the Lizzo fan base coming in.

[00:09:53] Mike Lewis: look, and Doug, I'm not saying this from my perspective, and then you see this, I'm just quoting folks on [00:10:00] Twitter, so do not attribute this to me, even though it's coming outta my mouth. Yeah, Lizzo looks like Jabba the Hu's wife. I mean, that's literally the other, right?

[00:10:07] Doug Battle: Yeah. And I saw the,

[00:10:09] Mike Lewis: on hate.

[00:10:09] Doug Battle: yeah, the, well, Lizzo fandom is an interesting one because it's like you have like the fat shaming haters, and then you have the like, who partially like her music, partially like her personality and partially like what she kind of stands for of just being happy, being yourself and who you are and being prideful about that.

And so she's kind of a, like a little bit of a political figure, even though she's not right, because there's so much politics tied up into that. Some of the ideologies on both sides. For people that hate her and people that love her. And so she was such an interesting choice. But yeah, I saw the tweets of, oh, Lizzo was cast in Star Wars.

What planet is she gonna play? the just really mean stuff. And then I also saw the kind of over-correction of she was phenomenal. She was the best, character in the Star [00:11:00] Wars universe. And so you saw that right out the gate. And then there was the division over Jack Black, where I, a lot of people like Jack Black, like I love School of Rock.

There was a great movie. I know a lot of people love, nacho Libre. But it does feel, especially for a franchise that largely. Been built on unknown actors, with the exception of like Harrison Ford. you don't have Leonard DiCaprio playing Anakin, like they, they casted pretty unknown dudes that are now very well known.

[00:11:26] Mike Lewis: I mean, Harrison Ford was probably unknown at the very beginning of this.

[00:11:30] Doug Battle: I mean, of course I wasn't around, but my understanding is

[00:11:33] Mike Lewis: and I was about, and I was about 10, but

[00:11:36] Doug Battle: yeah. My understanding is,

[00:11:38] Mike Lewis: But they didn't cast Clint Eastwood

[00:11:40] Doug Battle: even in the sequels, like we didn't have Zendaya we didn't have Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith in Star Wars, that doesn't feel Star Wars to me. you don't put Daniel Radcliffe.

[00:11:52] Mike Lewis: Doug, they could be having a conversation at Disney right now where they're saying, we need star power. Let's get [00:12:00] Daniel Radcliffe and Hermione for the next group, for the next trilogy.

[00:12:04] Doug Battle: I'm say I a hundred percent expect that, and that's the problem I think, is that people, Star Wars fans, a large sector of them feel abandoned.

[00:12:14] Mike Lewis: and Daniel,

[00:12:15] Doug Battle: Watson.

[00:12:16] Mike Lewis: I don't wanna.

[00:12:18] Doug Battle: Yeah. but that's what I'm saying. They're pulling in these actors that are synonymous with other characters. And with Lizzo, it's Lizzo.

Like that's her character. That's her whole thing. So you just see Lizzo with Back to the Future. The guy, it's, oh, that's the guy from Back to the Future. He's in Star Wars now. And with Jack Black, you're sitting there saying, oh, it's Kung Fu Panda. It's,it's Ned Schley. It's Nacho Libre entering the fold.

And so it, it doesn't feel. I don't know. I think the fans feel abandoned or they feel that it, like these kind of cheap cash grabs, these little ploys to generate buzz

[00:12:56] Mike Lewis: Christopher Lloyd is 84, by the way,

[00:12:59] Doug Battle: yeah.[00:13:00]

[00:13:00] Mike Lewis: the back of the future, dude.

[00:13:01] Doug Battle: Yeah. He's honestly, I thought he was 84 in that movie. He might have, he might be traveling back in time to act in this.

[00:13:12] Mike Lewis: Okay, Doug, let me give you my 2 cents in all those. this is one of these comments that is truly worth about 2 cents as I delved into Reddit and was reading the comments about the Mandalorian and these discussions about toxic masculinity and how, the Mandalorian does not suffer from toxic masculinity

because he is willing to accept female leadership. And all I could think was if you got a piece of art, a piece of programming of content, And the discussion on the webpages is all about whether your lead character suffers from toxic masculinity, and if anyone objects to the way the character is being developed, they are labeled, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, et cetera.

All I could think was, [00:14:00] oh, this has gone off the rails. I mean, I don't know what the viewership is for Disney. But this has clearly gone off the rails where one side is praising inclusiveness and the other side is being labeled Neo-Nazis. I mean, it's insane. And I have to think that the vast majority of Star Wars fans are sort of sitting out there going, can we get to blowing up tie fighters?


[00:14:22] Doug Battle: Yeah. Yeah. Well, here's the thing about Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, cause we, we did the same thing with rings of power, a couple months back, but, Fandoms are built on escapism. Like these are people who wanna watch, who grew up maybe as children, watching these other worlds and these mythologies take place and it's just an escape from reality in a totally innocent way.

There's nothing wrong with that. But when you take the issues of our present world politically, and the things that are, that bring tension and that bring division [00:15:00] and. Bring those into the mix, make those kind of the groundwork for the story. and that's something that's been done for forever, but I think specifically for an audience that wants escapism, they reject that so hard, regardless of if it's, I don't, if it's a Christian watching and the Star Wars is.

Pushing Christianity on people, I, they don't feel escapism when the real world comes into the fake world, the escapism fans are mad. And so I think with Star Wars, you see on one side you see these mad people because they can't escape the world through Star Wars anymore.

And then on the other, You see people who are embracing it. People who say, Liz o's a queen. This is great. This is, it's great to see female repre. It's great to see Bo Katan be the leader. It's great to see female representation. It's great to see diversity. It's great to see all these things and like not the escapism crowd, but the people who want to see present.

problems in the world depicted through fictional [00:16:00] storytelling and addressed through fictional storytelling. So there's two sides, and I'm seeing that with the Lord of the Rings. I'm seeing that with Star Wars across the board. And so it's really interesting from a fandom standpoint, and we see that in sports.

It's interesting from a marketing standpoint too, because Right. I mean, we lack good data on this stuff. I mean, reports are that the rings of power was a massive failure that very few people stuck all the way through that and so, just touching on what you said, Lizzo is a queen or she slays, I'm not gonna try and do the voice. Does Lizzo need to be a queen slaying in the Star Wars universe? Right. and so, I think the argument of the marketers might be, well, we wanna bring, new fans to all of this but does that change the original IP sufficiently? And even if it, and look, even if the story is well set, There's always this issue, I think, of people in that fandom feel like the story is being changed.

[00:16:54] Mike Lewis: whether it's being changed to reflect current politics, and again, that's just boring. Please say this to all the writers in the [00:17:00] writing rooms. It's boring. But even if it's okay, Is the fact that it feels like you're being manipulated into s something different that they're sort of using you to create a new property that is something different from what you tuned in for.

Is that enough to set people off? and I would argue that look, Fandom is a special thing. Right. No one, look, I mean, here's a statement. No one owes fandom to anyone, right? There's no team out there. There's no celebrity to whom fandom is owed. So if you're producing, fandom oriented content, maybe you're walking a thin line and maybe that's not a comfortable line.

Today's environment, but that's part of the reality of all this. Look, Doug, I mean, we're kind of going off the rails here, so I'll wrap this up quick. Like, I don't feel, whenever I hear something like, there should be more support of this sport, or that support, that does not resonate with me.

I don't owe the NHL more time with my [00:18:00] eyeballs. I don't owe the W N B A with it. Right. If anything, maybe I feel like I should scale back my sports viewing. I don't feel like I need to, start, look, I'm started to watch F1 right from Drive to Survive. Right. I almost wanna take that back. I don't want expand it.

[00:18:16] Doug Battle: Yeah. And with Star Wars, I can't help but think like, what if you take those original films and you throw in Bono? What if Bono made a cameo and fights Luke Skywalker?what if Beyonce makes a showing in the prequels? Like I. It definitely takes you outta that. It takes you outta that universe and puts you back into

[00:18:36] Mike Lewis: let me, let me make it even worse. What if in the original Star Wars. Trilogy, you inserted Jane Fonda and you made the whole death star, massive weapon sudden suddenly related to the modern day concerns with nuclear power. Right? I mean, you're laughing at that, but that's essentially what they're doing with these

properties now, isn't.

[00:18:59] Doug Battle: Yeah. [00:19:00] Yeah. So anyway, uh, interesting observation and with fandom it seems like the direction we're going, like Disney's doubling down on this there, I think for a while after the sequel movies were really divisive. There was some thinking that maybe they'll rec con those. maybe they'll change the thing.

the Mandalorian first season did really well. Maybe they'll learn from that and start making more stuff like that. And the approach just seemed to be the opposite. And this week was theStar Wars celebration for Disney. announcing new projects. And it seems like more of the same.

They're doing another film with Ray Skywalker, whose trilogy was very divisive and largely disliked by traditional Star Wars fans. They're doing a new movie with her and so.

Doubling down on this seems to be the strategy. I think we're seeing it across media. I think we're seeing it in sports as far as like, I touched on how sports is similar. We've got fans who see, black Lives Matter painted in the end zone and say, I'm not watching another N F L [00:20:00] game. Then you've got other people are saying, this is great.

This is what they need to be doing. This is what their platform is for. And so there's division across the board and all of our entertainment products but with that said, I don't know that trajectory is two different directions. It seems like everybody's going in the same direction. Moving forward with, we're going to tie in, these real world examples or parallels or messages into our stories, into our sports, and into our fandom communities and fans.

[00:20:33] Mike Lewis: You know what I mean? This is the problem with Ted Lasso. Ted lasso season one was like the classic story of a fish out of water, right? Where, and you drop him into England as, as football coach in soccer. But then you had the great characters of, Roy Kent and Jamie Tart And, but it was, it was a relatively simple story about almost like the power of positivity, right?

And now it's about,I mean, it's issue after [00:21:00] issue. I think the culture is such that people actually can't help themselves everyone's sort of like been almost polluted with the idea of, I have a platform, these are important issues.

I need to address those important issue. be interesting to see how this, cuz I, I don't think we can keep going down this path and have people keep watching all of this stuff.

[00:21:21] Doug Battle: I think a lot of people are tired of watching it, and a lot of people aren't, but it's, nonetheless, it's divisive. And you know something else I mentioned this to you earlier this week, Mike, is that I'll see headlines on E S P N. That could be on Fox News or that could be on cnn. And I'll see headlines on CNN or Fox News that could be on espn.

And we need to start a segment where I read off a headline and you have to try to decide where it's coming. Is this from a sports outlet? Is this from a political, or a politically? Charged news outlet.

it's like ever since 2020, I mean, I guess things have [00:22:00] probably been moving in that direction prior to then, but ever since then, it's like everyone doubled down on turning their entertainment product into a platform.

[00:22:08] Mike Lewis: I did see Mike. I did see one thing we're talking about everything moving in one direction. Baseball is kind of a traditional sport, and I don't know that we've seen all of this in baseball quite yet to that degree.

[00:22:25] Doug Battle: know, baseball's back, MLBs back. We had a player try to toss a ball to a young lady and clearly was throwing it to specifically one young lady and a man intercepted the pass and gave it to his kid.

Didn't even look at the. very rude, and it had its movement on the internet and the little boy got the ball and he was all excited

[00:22:48] Mike Lewis: Look, Doug. I mean, two things. that video was a thing of beauty, right? I mean, that video looked like it was scripted. but again, I'm gonna push back, Doug, because I've started to read the comments on the Innerwebs. [00:23:00] Okay. I've started to read the comments, so I know the, there's only like two or three characters that we can play in all this.

And so yes, there's one character that comes out. It's like, How dare they, back in my day, men were gentlemen and blah, blah, blah. But then the other character that quickly jumps in is women wanted equal rights.

[00:23:19] Doug Battle: Oh no.

[00:23:22] Mike Lewis: and so, you can also imagine the, someone taking it a little farther about what about the sexism of the outfielder that chose to throw to the young woman instead of the young man? And the father was just merely writing the wrongs of that implicit bias

so there are layers upon layers of this. And I thought, I even read some comments that said, wait,this might be a camera angle that's telling a lie here. We don't know who he was throwing it to. We just have the perspective from the young woman's friend who was filming her, getting the ball.

[00:23:52] Doug Battle: Right.

So Doug, my takeaway on that is, again, the internet and social media seems to be a universally [00:24:00] bad phenomena for everyone. Yeah, we talked about like post-Trump, post 2020, people just digest the same information very differently. Like I think prior to 20, I don't know, I don't remember watching videos like this and thinking about, huh. Patriarchy and bias, bias and, favoritism and equality for women and thinking about those things when a baseball's being tossed into the crowd.

But you read the comments for anything now, whether it's Star Wars, whether it's a baseball being tossed into the crowd, and inevitably someone's gonna interpret it through that lens. And that's where the discussion goes. And that's largely our society and that's why it's so hard to. Sports.

There's no separation of sports and politics. There's no separation of entertainment in politics. It's all the same. It's all become like this one big blob of mess that we're all everyone's arguing about all the time.

[00:24:59] Mike Lewis: let's [00:25:00] keep it simple. I mean it's, I think people used to talk about the culture war, and I think a lot of people would almost tune out when they're talking about the culture wars. We're in the midst of a culture war.

[00:25:10] Doug Battle: Oh, yeah.

[00:25:11] Mike Lewis: There's an episode of the Manda, I mean, come back, coming full circle, right?

There's an episode of the Mandalorian and the internet chatter on places like, again, sort of the low IQ environment of Reddit is all about, toxic masculinity. I mean, it's, we, it, the whole thing is just, it's completely absurd, but it's also dug. I mean, to your point, it's also what we've decided.

This is what we're doing. Right. and my joke about there's like only two or three characters, I swear to, you go on Twitter, I feel like, everything on Twitter could be directed by like three or four people because it's the same perspectives without any nuance on both directions.

just back and forth, just back and forth. And depending on the initial seed and who, what the nature of the followers of the initial post you get. [00:26:00] I mean, you can predict exactly how the conversation's gonna go. maybe we're already, maybe the ais have already taken over.

Right? Maybe the ais are arguing with them with each other on Twitter at this point, Doug.

[00:26:13] Doug Battle: I mean there, there's basically two robots and they have infiltrated people's brains and they're just going at it constantly. And they're also writing all the scripts and they're writing all the news headlines. But,that definitely seems to be, I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I don't actually believe this.

I'm. Just saying it's, it seems that way based on the discourse we see buy these fandoms in response to sports and Star Wars and little things that used to be escapists utopias.

[00:26:47] Mike Lewis: I don't like the term conspiracy theorist, because

it, it

[00:26:51] Doug Battle: you don't.

[00:26:51] Mike Lewis: of course. I don't,

[00:26:52] Doug Battle: Most conspiracy theorists don't, Mike.

[00:26:55] Mike Lewis: yeah, exactly. But you know, I mean, I mean, there [00:27:00] is a serious point there, right? It's like the notion that there aren't conspiracies when sort of human history is a bunch of conspiracies and people trying to get things done. But you distracted me, Doug. But it was a fair point. It was fair. It was a fair distraction. Where were we though? Like this issue of baseball and so is baseball less politicized than the other sports

[00:27:21] Doug Battle: Yeah,

[00:27:22] Mike Lewis: perhaps. But you know, I


[00:27:24] Doug Battle: I just haven't heard the same level of discourse with baseball. Maybe it's cuz people just aren't talking about it in general, but baseball and like hockey, like, do they have stuff in the outfield? Do they have like in the nfl the in zones have some kind of messaging in them and nba, they seem to always have the t-shirts for like social movements.

[00:27:43] Mike Lewis: I mean, hockey's been in the news of late for, the pride events and in particular asking people to wear pri, asking players to wear pride sweaters. I

[00:27:53] Doug Battle: I didn't know about this.

[00:27:54] Mike Lewis: Sweaters during warmups and several players refusing, and then certain teams [00:28:00] saying no as well because they had Russian players who would be in danger if they wore those pride events.

And then you look at the NHLs Twitter and seemingly the NHLs all in on, all in the middle of it. and again, I have, I'll say this, I have tremendous. I, in a way, I feel bad for the leagues, right, for the NHL and mlb because there, there's this challenge.

You actually don't have a choice to stay out of it, do you? Right. You cannot, at this point, staying out of it is viewed as taking sides by at least one side. And so all these sports organizations are either, I think the NBA is kind of proudly progressive and wants to be associated with that political side of the aisle.

MLB and the N H L I suspect that their viewers vote Republican 75, 80% of the time, probably something fairly astonishing that they really don't have a choice because not only are they appealing to their fans, they [00:29:00] also have to manage their athletes who are probably more progressive than their fans, but they also have to exist in a media environment that is much more progressive than their fans.

And so it's truly threading a needle.

[00:29:13] Doug Battle: I don't envy that situation. I mean, I think a lot of institutions are in that position, whether it's corporate companies, whether it's churches, whether it's,these sports franchises or leagues. And so, I think a lot of people are trying to navigate that and it seems as though, There's certainly a kind of a mainstream approach to that that we've seen with like the NBA and even the nfl.

And the mlb, I haven't seen that as much. And I guess it, it does come from how much does this, if this is just catering to, and managing the expectations of your audience, where like maybe the N F L and B A audience is different than the MLBs, but the MLB wants a younger audience, so they're in a really tough spot where they can't, they're gonna offend.

They're gonna offend their core audience if they go too hard. [00:30:00] but they're gonna always seem old timey if they continue their, their current approach. it's all complicated for these organizations.

[00:30:07] Mike Lewis: the other part of it, and again, I think this is something that people don't wanna say out loud, is that the players in the NBA and the NFL might be much more progressive than the players in mlb. and in the nhl. And so now as an organization, you've got this dilemma of trying to manage your fan base, your media contacts, your media coverage, and the happiness of your players.

And if the politics of those three groups are misaligned, they're misaligned and look, maybe they've always. Misaligned. maybe nb, maybe back in the day when Jordan was saying Republicans buy sneakers, that NBA players still voted 90% for, DS while the fans voted for, 50% Democrat.

the NBA's always been sort of different from some, but. back then I think there was this sort of different [00:31:00] cultural set of standards where the debates were more acceptable. But in 2023, it's not a matter of I'm opposed to the Republicans or I'm opposed to the Democrats. It's that the Republicans are evil in one direction, or the Democrats are evil in a different direction.

And it is that word of, and I think that's, I don't use that word lightly. I think it is. That idea that my political opponents are evil, that makes this essentially impossible right now.

[00:31:29] Doug Battle: So I have a question for you, Mike, is it possible in this day and age, in this climate to create an entertainment product to. Like could Star Wars or could baseball, or could any of these properties put out content that is universally received?

is there a formula for that or do you have to just pick side and just go hard at it? Like, cuz that kind of seems what, couple of these. Organizations are doing in their approach, but would it be possible, like, would it be possible for the MLB or for if [00:32:00] someone else had control of Star Wars, could they make a universally accepted and loved product?

[00:32:05] Mike Lewis: I think sports has more freedom in this regard than, be. Look, the NFL has largely shut down any protest dealing with the Anthem, right?

[00:32:15] Doug Battle: Yeah.

[00:32:16] Mike Lewis: So the NFL has figured it out, right? The b I think, still has some messages. There's still some messaging, but they've largely shut that stuff down. And again, the l, the shield to protect the brand.

In terms of artistic content, I don't think you can, I mean, and I don't know if that sounds pessimistic or sort of an overly harsh opinion, but I think when there's politics in the writing, That you cannot create great art. I think, great art, the stories that resonate with people are almost always gonna be relatively, simple story structures, right?

Good versus evil. it's a journey. characters aren't on a journey trying to save the world. I've said it before, right? But [00:33:00] again, if somehow, You're trying to tell the story of the Lord of the Rings, right? Classic battle of good versus evil. But you also want to explicitly deal with boomers, toxic masculinity, right?

It's not gonna, it's not gonna.

[00:33:18] Doug Battle: the Lord of the Rings is actually an interesting example because, it's not an allegory, but there's a lot of religious significance in those stories, those books,in the same way that there is with like CS Lewis's, Narnia books. It's not preachy though, like it doesn't, you don't watch Lord of the Rings and feel like you just got the Bible stuff down your throat.

I don't feel that way watching it. Maybe someone else does. but there still was, there's always been messaging in a sense, and I think people with Star Wars would say, well, they were, Darth Vader and the empire that was based on Nazi Germany and all this stuff. Like, it's always been political or it's always been religious or it's always had some.

Right and wrong [00:34:00] basis. That's rooted in our real world. but

[00:34:04] Mike Lewis: Yeah.

[00:34:04] Doug Battle: so specific now. it's so specific to the issues that are going on in our real world that there's not that escapism that I mentioned that Lord of the Rings seems to achieve because Lord of the Rings, While it was created by someone of a certain belief, that's a uni that was a universally accepted by, I mean, there are atheists who love Lord of the Rings.

There are agnostics, there are people of all kinds of religions that enjoy Lord of the Rings, and I don't know that.

[00:34:32] Mike Lewis: one sort of supporting point in what you're saying and again, I. I don't know how much of this path we want to go down because suddenly we're like going down a path where it's, things get very complicated. But I think if you think about the classic stories they tended to come from, when you say they come from like a religious background, they tended to sort of be reinforcers of traditional values, right?

and in some ways you can imagine that a religious. Is [00:35:00] basically the accumulation of traditional values put in story form, right? And so a lot of the classic stories, look, fairy tales were all about kind of good versus evil and sort of lessons for life, right? And again, being kind of simplistic here, but that's at the heart of it.

But now a lot of this stuff is almost more, it's, I agree with you. It's too topical. And it's also sort of revolutionary, right? And it's going against the traditional values, right? and so these things end up being much more complicated to, they're actually hard to,to put out there in a way that's gonna be compelling to a truly mass audience that is steeped in those traditional values.

Now, and I think the problem is right, that a lot of the notion is, well, the traditional values are problematic and we need to, use this as a platform to overcome those. That's a bad starting point for creating, art that [00:36:00] people are going to consume with their sort of free time. Right?

I mean, again, we could get more complicated. this is like a PhD dissertation, but I think there's also some simple principles that are going on here.

[00:36:12] Doug Battle: it's fascinating because, I think creators and these co like companies like Disney, I think they have to make a choice of, I, I probably think in their eyes it's right and wrong. and they want to do the right thing for society, in their eyes. Objectively speaking,I, and so they have to make a choice of, do we want to create something that's gonna be more universally appealing or something that we believe is gonna shift society in the right direction? And I think that's where people come in and say, That's propaganda where people watch something and say, you're trying to, you're trying to affect society.

and of course people can go to extremes with that. But I mean, I do think there is a choice of, we've, we want to make something that [00:37:00] is projecting these values that. You used the word revolutionary that are counter to what the traditional crowd is going to want to see and hear.

And so that's where we're seeing this divisive nature in media where people are getting ticked off over Star Wars or people are getting ticked off over the N F L or an N B A playoff game, not because of the outcome of the game or anything having to do with the story, but the messaging in it and the undertones that go into it.

And so again, We're in a world where it's hard to decipher whether it's even possible to create something, because even if you make something that's absent of all of that, inevitably it, it seems that it will be accused that it's not helping the problem and therefore it's

[00:37:46] Mike Lewis: I mean, let me, lemme say this and I don't think you're gonna disagree with me. We are in. A cultural inflection point in that the culture has changed, like over the course of my life. The culture has changed a lot. A lot of people my age look at the [00:38:00] world now and go, what is happening? This is very confusing.

Right? And I suspect that even for someone of your age of, about 27, that it is also kind of true that we're living through something where, the culture is being shaken up for a lot of reasons, demographic, immigration, et cetera. we don't know what it's gonna look like on the other end.

I don't think we're in an equilibrium where we're gonna stay at this kind of, in this kind of tone for a long time. I'll tell you something else. I did an interview this morning with someone at npr National Public Radio, and they want to talk about, high school. Controversies with high school mascots that had Native American themes or images.

And so, the classic case has always been the Washington football team, the Washington Redskins to the Washington football team, to the commanders. But this is also something that has happened a lot, at the high school level. it's a funny topic, right?

Because we think, look, like Emory did a little skiff for April Fools Day, where they're saying, kind of laughing at the idea of mascotting [00:39:00] as a major mascots. And team names are important parts of American culture, right? I mean, they are largely kind of unifiers of cities. the, they're the personification of the brands for the high, what was your high school mascot, Doug, or high school?

[00:39:17] Doug Battle: The lions.

[00:39:18] Mike Lewis: Okay, so you were a lion. Okay.

[00:39:20] Doug Battle: Yeah. And I wear, I wear a G on my hoodie and I was at the grocery store the other day and somebody asked me, are you a bulldog? Are you a bulldog? Yeah. Which in any other culture, like, no, I'm a human, but I said, yeah, I'm a dog.

[00:39:34] Mike Lewis: But it's a point of connection, right? and so it's something that, it's something that matters, right? It's the fo and like we, we talk about this all the time, the dog nation, I was a Naperville, north Husky, I'm part of the Illini Nation, right? And these are meaningful things.

Chicago Bears fans can find themselves across the world and have a conversation in a bar and Abu Dhabi, right? And so, when you think back to. when you're talking about these high schools and some high schools take a lot of heat as they're slow [00:40:00] to change the mask outta the team name over, I brought up, I will always bring up the part of the story that, while they will say like, the Crosstown High School in Naperville was the Naperville, Redskins.

Okay. And I believe they changed that in 1992. If you go back and you read interviews with the alumni, they were all sort of proud of the, of the team name, viewed it as kind of this very aggressive, fierce warrior, and that's reflective of what the high school was. There was never anything, I think, malicious or mocking in any of these team names.

Right. So that's the perspective of. That's the perspective of the alumni. and you're in high school for four years, it seems like an eternity. That's what you're, that's this point of linkage, right? On the other side. Absolutely. it, it's viewed as a racial slur and it's viewed as something that, continues to marginalize, native Americans.

[00:40:52] Doug Battle: But the, I think the point is, and neither side is actually coming at this from a bad. Right. Maybe there's a [00:41:00] miscommunication and you can make the argument that it's a team name, and so we may as well get rid of it if some people find it offensive, because it's not particularly, it's not really producing anything.

[00:41:10] Mike Lewis: it's not. But on the other side, it is something that has, a point of linkage for that Naperville Central community, for those Washington DC football fans. So, The problem, and I think is all these conversations are just completely lacking in nuance and in sort of good faith in terms of understanding the other side and the issue.

Now of course, these AI bots that I'm speculating about, they're not good faith arguments, right? So there are also a lot of people on the internet that are not good faith. They're just stirring the pot, having some good fun with all this.

[00:41:44] Doug Battle: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Okay, Doug, I'm looking at the, I'm looking at the clock here. every once in a while, given how much of this society has built around these culture war themes, it's almost like he can't help but sort of dive in. So we will, We'll push off our discussion of the [00:42:00] N F C South, which is actually, again, one of my favorite divisions in terms of looking at the quarterbacks because this might be the most chaotic division in all of sports in terms of players retiring, unretiring, swapping between teams, a lot of really high draft picks.

[00:42:15] Mike Lewis: So we'll get back to that next week. I'll give you the last word this week. Anything you're looking forward to a, at this point in the sport season or off.

[00:42:24] Doug Battle: I think the NBA a play. I enjoy it. I think that it gives, I've always wanted the NBA to have like a single elimination tournament in the mid, like a mid-season tournament, what I used to do. And when I played basketball, we would have tournaments throughout the season and this is as close as we get where something where.

We, we joked about the Timberwolves earlier and how last year it was like winning a championship for them to win their playing game and make the turn, make the N B A playoffs where they would get swept or losing five or six games, whatever. inevitably it is fun for me to see. [00:43:00] Professional basketball in a single elimination format.

Of course, it's not really single elimination because the lo there's a kind of a loser's bracket. but it's not a series format and I enjoy it. The Lakers are in the mix and that's gonna be the center of a lot of attention because the Lakers always are the center of a lot of

[00:43:17] Mike Lewis: Doug, it's perfect. It's the Lakers versus the Timberwolves

[00:43:19] Doug Battle: Yeah, it's per, the only thing missing, the only thing missing is Patrick Beverly.

He's played on both of those teams in the last calendar year. And to my knowledge, he's not on either of them right now. And that's kill, that's, that is just so infuriating to me. We deserve Pat Beverly in that game. but, pat Beverly aside though, I. Rudy Gobert, LeBron James playing for a shot of making the playoffs.

He's at a point in his career where he hasn't had a lot of playoff success since the bubble, and he's getting older. his kid will be N B A eligible. I don't know how much longer he'll be with the Lakers, Mike. And so it's kind of do or die for LeBron and I, I think he's kind of past [00:44:00] it.

I think he's kind of over it, but the perception's gonna be if he loses a playing game, we're gonna see people hating on him if he wins the playing game. If he wins a couple rounds in the playoff, if he led the Lakers to the finals, I think people would, Close the, they would close the goat argument and just hand it to him at this age in his career if he were to do that.

And so I do think the Lakers being in the mix adds, some national interests that may otherwise not be there. For this year's NBA playoffs. And so I'm bummed that the Mavericks and the Portland Trailblazers, some of my favorite players are not gonna be playing. And that kind of takes away from some of the excitement for me.

But nevertheless, I do love the N B A playoffs and that's kind of what I've got my eyes on. N F L draft is kind of creeping up on us as well. So it's that time of year where Even when it seems like the sports year's over March Madison's, ah, sports are over until college football.

Not so fast, my friend. We've got a lot going on. We've got MLB in full swing right now.

[00:44:58] Mike Lewis: Okay. And a little bit of look [00:45:00] ahead. We've also gotten the data back from our annual fandom survey. So we're starting to hit that point of the year where we'll get into some nitty gritty in terms of where American fandom is at. And of course, as always, there will be our. NFL fandom rankings coming up at some point over the summer.

Okay guys, as always, more content at www dot, and next week we will talk NFC South.


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