Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Letter from California-August 30, 2004

If you ever want to know how much this country has changed in the last thirty years, go down to your local Blockbuster and rent Bad News Bears. It’s now been 28 years since Bicentennial moviegoers forked over their $2.75 by the millions to see a comedy that couldn’t even be made today.
If your memory’s a little hazy, Bad News Bears details the rise of the most wretched group of Little League baseball players ever assembled under the care of an abusive, alcoholic coach. Today, parents practically put crash helmets on their bright-eyed little soccer stars before they’re allowed to clamber into the 3rd row of the Lincoln Navigator. In 1976, by contrast, no one was scandalized by the scene where a tipsy Walter Matthau (as Coach Buttermaker) drives through the Southern California streets with a half-dozen un-seat belted 10 year olds piled into his rust-bucket convertible. Dangerous and despicable, yes, but in 1976, it was very, very funny. Little League movies today tend to focus more on angelic spirits helping the less fortunate children win miraculous victories and teach life lessons; back in 1976, the players all swore at each other and had Chico’s Bail Bonds as a sponsor. Kelly, the league’s star player and juvenile delinquent, arrived at practice on what had to be a stolen motorcycle. He didn’t even wear a helmet! Today, some moms won’t even let the little ones practice unless they’re bubble wrapped from head to toe. One wonders: if Kelly were a real person and not just a fictional character, he’d be 40 now. Would even he have gone soft or would he dust off the old 80 horsepower street bike and point Kelly junior toward the park?
Still Bad News Bears was inspiring in a way. The Bears, despite being foul-mouthed, overweight, asthmatic, juvenile delinquent, obnoxious and hostile, managed to work together as a team, climbing the ranks of the league. In the end, the Bears faced the dreaded Yankees for the championship. The Yankees had it all: talent, nice uniforms, taller, better-looking players, a coach that shaved more often than he drank and a record of winning. In short, everybody hated them. Every team wanted to see the Yankees lose, but none of them actually believed that their own team could do it. In the end, even the Bears lost out. (Sorry if I ruined the ending for you; I mean, you have had 28 years to watch it.)
So if you’re nostalgic for times when drunk driving, alcoholism, grand theft auto, and verbal abuse made perfect fodder for children’s entertainment, don’t despair completely. Teams, people, groups or companies like the Yankees still make people mad, envious, and spiteful. Who didn’t enjoy seeing Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez mildly humiliated in the press for the movie Gigli, for example? Harried homemakers all over the country had a guilty chuckle when Martha Stewart took a fall. The Yankees symbolized all those things that are too successful, too polished, and too happy with themselves.
You could say that the Yankees were the Microsoft of the Bad News Bears league. That may explain why about a dozen cities and counties in California have decided to take the company on in a lawsuit this week, claiming that Microsoft used its success in the computer software market to charge higher prices for its products. The cities and counties, in turn, bought these products and now claim that they should get some of that money back.
Let’s review: Microsoft writes software that people like so much that no one even considers buying from the competition. Check. Microsoft charges a price that customers are willing to pay, though some think it’s high. Check. This goes on for a long time and several potential competitors to Microsoft appear. Cities and counties around California yawn and keep buying Microsoft. Check. Cities and counties sue Microsoft to get a few billion dollars back because Microsoft forced them to buy at prices they didn’t want to pay.
Let’s see. I must have missed a step in there. Where’s the part where Microsoft forced Los Angeles and San Francisco counties to buy all these products? Notice that they’re not going to return the software; after all, their employees all use the products everyday, for just about everything they do. They really, really need the stuff Microsoft makes. In fact, that may be just the problem: Microsoft is so good at what they do, and gets paid so well to do it, that it just makes you want to see them suffer.
You can’t blame them entirely, I suppose. It does seem to be an American tradition since at least 1976. The Yankees had beaten the Bears in the championship after a bitterly fought game. There were hard feelings between the teams, and Yankees, as a group, decided to make a heartfelt apology for any unsportsman-like conduct on their part. The crowd hushed, and the moment was perfect for the Bears to return the generous sentiment.
Angel-faced Tanner finally broke the silence: “Hey, Yankees, you can take your trophy and your apology and shove it…”
There was a little more to that sentence, but this is 2004. We’re not really allowed to talk like that anymore. Not in a kids movie, anyway.


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