Tuesday, October 19

Roger Bennett of Men in Blazers: ‘It’s a universal coming-of-age impulse to idealize what you’re not’ | Football

SUBWAYMore than a third of Brits watched Dallas during the soap opera’s heyday. With only three television channels before 1982, there wasn’t much else. But the mass audience also implied a nation hungry for escapism.

“Eastenders, Coronation Street, Brookside, indirect delight in the tribulations of working-class Londoners or Mancunians, those were their options,” recalls Roger Bennett. “Their message was always: ‘Do you think your life is terrible? Look, you’re better than these people, so shut up. ‘

But in Dallas and Dynasty “the problems in life were having too many oil wells to drill, too much money, too many marble fountains in your driveway.” They were exotic, colorful, ambitious. And as for Hart to Hart and Miami Vice: “Beaches, bikinis, guys dressed in linen, just amazing. Holy shit, happy people! Teal! What color is it? It has not yet been invented in Liverpool ”.

(Re) born in the USA, the soccer announcer’s tribute to the United States, takes place primarily in his native Liverpool. This turns out to make perfect sense. Like many others, Bennett was weaned into American pop culture in the 1980s. Long before instant on-demand media gave much of the rest of the world a 24/7 American-style taste of abundance. of the week, music, television and movies took months to cross the Atlantic, adding to the anticipation. As English soccer rotted away, the NFL became a cult hit on the new Channel 4.

“Manchester felt more of a culture shock to me than Chicago,” he tells The Guardian via Zoom. “London was genuinely for the truly intrepid. If you moved there, it was as if you had walked through a hole in time and space. “

In well-written chapters packed with anecdotes, some very funny, some wincing, some both, Bennett writes that he felt like an outsider as a middle-class Jewish boy attending a private school in a strongly Catholic city and fighter. Given his descriptions of the sadism and brutality of his boys’ school (spanking was not prohibited in private schools in England and Wales until 1998, after all), it was not surprising that he fantasized about a different life despite his relative privilege. .

Although Bennett was not a right-winger – his school jacket sported a “Coal not dole” tag – his father Thatcher, a judge, insisted that they campaign for the Conservatives on council properties. “As soon as the brochures came out of our hands, we were attacked by dogs,” he writes. “Turd, who I assumed was human, fell from the open windows onto our heads. We become targets worthy of generations of pent-up anger. “

His great-grandfather, a kosher butcher in Ukraine, had planned to emigrate to Chicago, but ended up in Merseyside when he got off the ship prematurely. “The United States was always in the myth of our family, we should have been there. We should have been in Chicago. That is where we are meant to be. So it was always in our DNA that the journey wasn’t quite complete, ”says Bennett. “At night I would go to bed and look at the Statue of Liberty that was painted on the mural in my room and I would swear to myself that I was an American trapped in the body of an Englishman.”

At age 15 he spent a magical summer in Chicago, where he upset the Chicago Bears at O’Hare airport and William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry advised him to “live your dreams.” The trip deepened his desire for an American future. So did some depressing hooliganism in a Beastie Boys Concert in Liverpool in 1987. “It’s a very English thing that you can enjoy making other people feel like shit,” he says.

Now 50, he moved to Chicago in 1993, entered the United States on a three-month tourist visa, and stayed longer. “There was no long-term plan,” he says. “I came in with no money and it was really just about keeping my head above the water. I was a baker in the early hours, the 4-8 shift. I worked in a library in the afternoon, stacking books, most of the time I fell asleep on the shelves, if I’m honest. Then he worked as a waiter, the worst waiter in the world, at night. Life was about handholds, footholds at different times. “

Bennett left Chicago after four years for New York, where he served as a vice president of a philanthropic organization, and in 2000 he married Vanessa Kroll, a writer and entrepreneur whose father, Jules, founded the pioneering corporate research firm, Kroll Inc. His -in-law brother is comedian Nick Kroll.

At a wedding, the Evertonian met Michael Davies, a Chelsea fan and fellow Brit in New York who was the executive producer of the American versions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and exchange of wives. They came together for the terrible moment, it was the same day as the 2006 World Cup final, and they created Men in Blazers, an ESPN podcast that became a television show.

Combining the quirky self-loathing of the British with sincere American positivity, his broom closet set and fondness for urinating are a welcome contrast to the bright, screaming earnestness of much of the American sports pundit.

Broadcast on the NBC Sports network, which has the American rights to the Premier League, it attracted celebrity guests and a loyal fan base in a country where following the world’s most popular league in the world’s most popular sport is still a pursuit of niche. Soccer, as the show says, is “America’s sport of the future. As it has been since 1972 “.

Bennett became a US citizen in 2018, when Donald Trump was attempting to replace Lady Liberty torch with a no-entry sign. That a television star could take over a major political party and win elections for the nation’s highest office was, in a way, the ultimate affirmation of the influence of American show business. The Trump presidency, and the racism, violence, lies and extremism that it underlined and unleashed, was also alarming evidence of the gap between image and reality; the harsh truths behind soft power.

“Having lived in the United States for more than half my life, I am well aware that The Love Boat, Pretty in Pink and Miami Vice are not the real United States,” Bennett writes. “I also understand that the real United States has flaws, like all nations. But that knowledge doesn’t diminish the amazing power these images had over me growing up, because they were so different from the sad everyday reality I was exposed to. This was the power I acted upon, moving here, shaping my life and changing the destiny of my family. “

The brand may be tarnished, but perhaps the United States, dominant today and still glowing with the promise of a better tomorrow, retains a unique appeal to would-be immigrants. Bennett realized that it is a natural tendency for teenagers to define who you are by where you are not.

“Many Americans who have read the book say, ‘My God, you idolized America like I idolized Britain. I grew up obsessed with The Smiths, with New Order, with The Cure, I dreamed of living in Salford, ”he says.

“The experience I had is actually an incredible universal. It is a universal impulse of most young people to idealize essentially what you are not and think about another reality. “


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