During the Dominique Strauss-Kahn business, a writer for the New Yorker noted the anxiety with which “many in Paris” are witnessing “the ‘Italianization’ of French life — the descent into what might become an unseemly round of Berlusconian squalor…” Their country after all had not long ago produced (just like Italy) an accused rapist as a leading candidate for political office. Strauss-Kahn came close to being president; Silvio Berlusconi, convicted of tax fraud and sex with an under-age prostitute, was Italy’s longest-serving post-war prime minister.
UD has always been intrigued by the ways in which states fall into depravity, and the way they care about that (the French care, according to the New Yorker writer) and don’t care about that (the Italians don’t care). Italy is so depraved, and so indifferent to its depravity, that Italianization has become a globally portable noun, toted around to designate a national culture’s relaxed descent into moral turpitude.
Richard Rorty, in his philosophical essays about postmodernism, expressed anxiety about the Italianization of the United States. He routinely described us as “rich, fat, tired North Americans,” cynical about all of our institutions, and sinking back, in the absence of belief in the possibility of social improvement, into our comforting consumer goods (Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise, is the best fictional evocation of this cultural mood).
But that was only our high culture, Rorty was quick to caution; our elites – financial, intellectual – are Italianizing, as in figures like Lawrence Summers, who despite his remarkable moral grubbiness, seems set to become our next federal reserve chair. (Hm. Not so fast, UD.)
One way to understand the Oklahoma State University story is to suggest that Italianization has now invaded our great plains states, the country’s symbolic center of rectitude.
Look at Iowa’s long-serving senatorial scold, Charles Grassley, and tell me whether, when you look at him, you can think of anything but rigidly upright stands of wheat. Then look at this dude. The expression on President Obama’s face says it all.
So traditionally America – especially America’s heartland – was the exception, the clean place, the corny, cock-eyed optimist of nations, with the corniest locale the plains of Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming. “Blondie and his frau out of the plain states came!” says cruel sophisticated George, mocking the newly arrived wholesome faculty couple in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Now that the plains states are epicenters of football scandal (yes, given structural corruption, there are plenty of other football scandal locations), you see the beginnings of Paris-style anxiety about Italianization even on the plains.
From Penn State to the Miami scandal to Johnny Manziel’s autograph saga to alleged violations at top college football programs across the country, the NCAA has never faced more “culture” issues than it does today.
“Culture” here designates not merely the corruption itself (everyone knows college football is rancid), but indifference to it, everyone’s fine Italian hand waving away any embarrassment or shock over the fact that Nick Saban, recipient of $5.3 million a year from one of the poorest states in the union, routinely tells journalists to shut up when they ask about his dirty program. (“Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, stamped out of one news conference last week like a petulant child, all because reporters dared to do their jobs. He would talk about the football game, not the system of big-time college football, the system that made him rich and famous. Never that.”) Just like Joe Paterno, this guy’s got a fucking statue! These guys are our heroes!
UD’s pretty confident that Saban’s statue will meet the same fate as Paterno’s… But maybe not. Maybe by the time the massive Alabama scandal hits, the process of Italianization will have advanced to the point where no one gives a shit.
Anyway, my point is that the plains were our last bastion. Now it’s pomo meh. Meh. Rape at Montana, rape at Colorado, pimping at Oklahoma, drugs at Iowa, meh. The plain-spoken plains have spoken. They’re on board. Benvenuto!