Monday, December 10, 2007

Why I'll be cheering for three Southern land grant schools, and so should you

Peach BowlThis year's bowl season includes Mississippi State against South Florida in the Liberty Bowl and a fantastic Peach Bowl matchup, Clemson versus Auburn. I will cheer for Mississippi State, Clemson, and Auburn (though at least one of them must lose). In MoneyLaw terms, here's why:

Michael Lewis explains the sociology of Southern college football in The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game 243-44 (2006):
Sylvester CroomA football game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State [is] more than just a football game — but then that was thought to be true of many Ole Miss football games. . . . "It's kind of like the situation in the Middle East," [says Ole Miss's dean of students]. "Fans of one grow up hating the other and really don't know why." The twist to the Mississippi State rivalry was that the fans knew exactly why they hated each other. The game served as a proxy for the hoary Mississippi class struggle, between the white folks who wore shirts with collars on them and the white folks who did not. The desperate contempt Ole Miss football fans felt for Mississippi State was echoed in the feelings of fans of the University of Texas for Texas A&M and fans of the University of Oklahoma for Oklahoma State — formerly known as Oklahoma A&M. These schools were not rivals; they were subordinates. Theirs was not a football team to be beaten but an insurrection to be put down. This notion was most vivid in the Ole Miss imagination: that the state of Mississippi, with the sole exception of the town of Oxford, was once a Great Lake of Rednecks. In recent decades the earth had warmed, and the shores of Great Lake Redneck had receded, so that, strictly speaking, perhaps it should not be described as a lake. But still, the residue was a very large puddle. And the one place in the puddle deep enough to ruin a shiny new pair of tassel loafers was Starkville, Mississippi.
Mississippi State football
Lewis rightfully analogizes Texas A&M and Oklahoma State to Mississippi State — and Texas and Oklahoma to Ole Miss. These days, with the emergence of Mike Leach's spread offense, Texas Tech represents another thorn in the Longhorns' side. My own cultural loyalties and proclivities run toward that portion of the South that scorches swine rather than cattle in barbecue pits. Looking eastward, then, I'd add Clemson and Auburn to Mississippi State's side of the ledger, while equating South Carolina and Alabama with Ole Miss.

Egg BowlThese Southern land grant colleges have historically educated their states' (white) rejects. They award degrees that tell you in occupationally precise terms exactly what their graduates will be doing after graduation. They wage class war against the scions of "fine families" at Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina. (I defer for another time a discussion of historically black colleges and their part in the South's class wars.) In Southern-fried terms, schools such as Mississippi State, Auburn, and Clemson — and FAMU, Alabama State, and Fort Valley State — symbolize the upstart spirit that MoneyLaw embraces. This year, the football gods saw fit to smite South Carolina and Ole Miss — the Gamecocks honked five games in a row after securing bowl eligibility after seven games and reaching the top 10, while the Rebels lost every conference game — and to exile Alabama to the most expensive Independence Bowl bid in its history. Meanwhile, the gods took pleasure in sending Mississippi State, Auburn, and Clemson to fine bowls.

For all that, I give thanks. Go Bulldogs, go Tigers2.


Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Jim: Aren't you saying in a way. "red necks rule?"

12/10/2007 5:20 PM  
Blogger Jim Chen said...

I'm not saying it "in a way." I'm saying it. As if you'd object. "Rednecks" represent a core constituency of the class warfare that you and I scrutinize.

12/11/2007 8:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are rednecks whose necks are red because they've been outside all day laying asphalt, fertilizing peach trees, directing backfill at a construction site, or supervising dodge ball on the school playground. And then there are rednecks whose necks are red because the forgot to put sunscreen above the collar of their pink polo shirts before the golf tournament at the local "ladies and gentlemen only" country club.

As you note, these two species of rednecks are different. The former scorns the latter as 'working class,' and rates their universities nothing more than trade schools, unfit for Southern ladies and gentlemen.

When it comes to the common enemy, both quickly put all differences aside. They unite with a fury that makes the rivalries you observe seem like tiffs over seating at the family dinner table. When it comes to defending the aristocratic status quo, make no mistake, rednecks and their privileged rivals stick together like cold grits to the back of a spoon.

12/12/2007 2:30 PM  

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