CE 10: Nobody Knows Anything Edition

by: Steve Tignor | February 23, 2009

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Vw“Nobody knows anything” was a pithy description of Hollywood coined by screenwriter William Goldman in the 1980s. What he meant was, if anyone said they had a clue as to what had made a movie a hit or what had made it a bomb, that person was lying. Reading and watching the financial news over the last few months, I think it’s time we expanded Goldman’s mantra to cover more than just the movie industry. In fact, I’m predicting that “nobody knows anything” will be the defining philosophy of every aspect of life in the coming century—to answer any question, all you’ll have to do is raise your hand and say, very quickly, “NKA." Goldman himself will be looked on as a modern-day Aristotle.

With that in mind, make what you will of these 10 thoughts.

1. Andy Roddick
His withdrawal from Dubai hardly had the ring of righteous anger to it—“I don’t know if it’s the best thing to mix politics and sports, that was probably a big part of it. It’s just disappointing because that reflects on a tournament that didn’t have much to do with the decision. Nevertheless, I don’t feel there’s need for that in a sporting event.” But Roddick did say something and do something in light of the Shahar Peer situation.

He also won his 27th tournament this weekend, in Memphis. Roddick has taken more criticism than virtually any perennial Top 10 pro I can remember, and even his fans concede he isn’t the prettiest player in the world to watch. But while he hasn’t continued the tradition of No. 1 U.S. male players, his doggedness over the years has helped him build a quietly impressive résumé. By the time he retires, it will likely stack up well against the careers of many more talented and celebrated men.

As for Roddick’s game right now, I should have more on that after I watch the Memphis final on tape tonight.

2. Venus Williams
Are you disappointed by her and her tourmates’ measured reaction to the Peer affair? On the one hand I am—firebrand speeches and boycotts are better copy, better publicity for the tour, and more satisfying all around. Venus, with little time to react to the situation, didn’t argue for this choice. She said she supported her colleague, but that the tour had to consider its sponsors and couldn’t simply boycott the event. Then she obliquely mentioned Peer at the trophy presentation. "I felt like I had to talk about her. I thought it was brave of her to come here and try and play despite knowing that it is not going to be easy for her.”

Second question: Is there a conflict between Venus' reaction in Dubai and her and her sister's continued boycott of Indian Wells after they were booed and allegedly subject to racial taunts there in 2001? By that standard, she should support other players' right to be welcomed everywhere. But I don't know if not boycotting Dubai amounts to hypocrisy, honestly—what do you think? I’m guessing that Venus feels like the world is fragile as it is, and messed with only when necessary. She has consistently said that tennis and politics shouldn’t mix; it’s just that in this case that stance came off sounding compromised and corporate. But I also felt like Venus addressed the situation honestly, that her calm approach might be the right one in the long run, and that there is a leader, rather than just a player, inside her. Maybe she’ll take more chances next time. Maybe she’ll realize that taking a riskier stand is more satisfying, whatever the consequences. Maybe she’ll trust that she has some real say in how the tour is run, not just how she does on the court.

3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
A second title for Jo-Willie this weekend, in Marseille, and a win over Novak Djokovic. I didn’t see this tournament—was he doing anything differently? I like that he’s kept up his momentum after a good run in Oz, but I can’t help but hear his injury clock ticking—when’s it going to go off? I guess I should stop worrying and just hope he makes it to Indian Wells, where we can watch him again.

4. Victoria Azarenka
The Bulgarian up-and-comer won the singles and doubles in Memphis this weekend. I wouldn’t put a ton of stock in that, except that she beat another, even more highly touted, up-and-comer, Caroline Wozniacki, 6-1, 6-3 in the final.

5. Stat Abuse
As shown last week in this excellent NY Times Magazine article by Michael Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side), the stat geeks have invaded the NBA. I guess there’s no way to transfer this kind of analysis to an individual sport like tennis. Over the long haul, you’re pretty much as good as your ranking. This is one of the beauties of the sport—there’s no hiding—but also one that leaves little room for stat-based speculation and revision by obsessive fans. As it is now, you can pretty much “prove” your favorite tennis legend was the greatest of all time by weighting the stats any way you want.

6. Oscar Watch, Part I
Despite his conspicuous self-regard, I actually don’t have much against Sean Penn. This is the man who is responsible for the creation of Jeff Spicoli, which is more than I will ever give to this planet (see clip below). I mostly liked his speech, even if I couldn’t tell whether he ever thanked his wife, and even if it won’t be remembered next year. (Very few acceptance speeches are remembered for anything other than being embarrassingly over the top. The only one that has stuck with me in a non-laughable way was Russell Crowe’s for Gladiator.)

At least Penn mentioned his “brother,” Mickey Rourke, the guy I was hoping would win. I thought Penn was overrated in his last Oscar performance, in Mystic River, but maybe it was just the movie that was overrated. (I’ll have to see Milk now.) Is wearing your political convictions on your sleeve the way Penn does such an awful thing? As long as they’re not Republican convictions, of course.

7. Oscar Watch, Part II
A night’s worth of adulation at these awards can grate. These people are actors doing their jobs, I always end up thinking; they may also be “stars,” but that fact alone doesn’t seem worthy of a standing ovation.

I rented a movie this weekend called The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, directed by Roberto Rosselini for French TV in 1966. It's story of how the shy Sun King outsmarts his backstabbing subjects, including his mom, and reclaims control of the country. The lead actor had never appeared in a movie before and couldn’t remember his lines. Rosselini had him read them off a chalkboard, and you can see him doing it throughout the movie. His performance is utterly stiff, but it’s perfect for the role of the stiff but willful king. There were no histrionics, which is usually what gets called “good acting." For another example of this, see The Wire, which used local Baltimore kids to play local Baltimore roles. They were convincing just because they looked and sounded the part.

Then again, the other movie I watched this weekend was The Harder They Fall, a boxing flick from the 50s starring Humphrey Bogart and Rod Steiger. It’s worth seeing for Steiger’s performance as a vicious, fast-talking fight-fixer alone—without his acting, the movie is worthless. Steiger won an Oscar for a very different performance 10 years later, as a racist cop in In the Heat of the Night. Like Penn, he could play a wide range of roles. OK, maybe actors are worth clapping for.

8. TV Watch
I’ve asked this before, but do you follow Friday Night Lights? The show started brilliantly, went into the pandering toilet in the second season, but has rebounded in the third. It’s not hip—there are many, many lectures about what it means to be a man, which I guess I should try to take to heart. But it’s also the most novelistic show on the tube today. The sarcasm is actually funny.

9. Album Watch
Best new record I’ve heard this year: Hold Time, by M.Ward.

Record I’ve listened to the most this year, even though it is from 1968: Nefertiti, by Miles Davis. Good for all moods, places, and times.

10. A Philosophical Question
Last and probably least, Tommy Robredo has just won two straight tournaments. I’ve tried all day, but I cannot decide what this means. Can you?

See what I mean? "NKA"

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