I can hear the guffaws from the locker room already: “Giller is writing about sports? What’s the matter, did the VCR finally chew up his old VHS copy of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan?” Yeah, yeah, so my wife isn’t exactly a football widow. Sue me. But having a son who’s been a competitive athlete for the last eight years, I’ve gotten a pretty good insight on the sporting world—including the camaraderie that is integral to building both confidence and teamwork, not to mention what it means to be a fan. Even for a lurker like me, it’s infectious.
Plus I like beer and hanging out with the guys—two of the simple joys that come with carrying the Y chromosome. That’s why I reacted like most red-blooded American men did when they saw this headline on NBC News, by rolling my eyes so hard I had to slap the back of my head to keep them from popping out:
Oh boy, I thought, here we go again. Gender studies majors everywhere are probably sharpening their fangs over this one. Despite the clickbait headline, though, the article really isn’t as bad as all that—quite the contrary, author Shannon Ho takes what I think is a fairly balanced look at how Barstool Sports has achieved massive success by (get this) respecting the values of its target audience.
Now for those of a more Hollywood bent, this may seem counterintuitive. “Wait a sec,” the might say. “Aren’t we supposed to condescend to these sexist troglodyte male chauvinist pigs until they finally see the wisdom of our ways?” Well, sure—if you want a Lady Ghostbusters-sized disaster on your hands. If you’d rather make money, though, providing an entertainment experience that makes for lots of laughs is a much better business model. Toward that end, Barstool sports achieves its success by never forgetting who their audience is and what that audience likes—you know, kind of like what Jimmy Kimmel used to do in his Man Show days, before ABC gelded him into just another unfunny late night hack.
Some social critics actually get this, such as Marie Hardin from Penn State’s delightfully-named Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications—no surprise, considering that the department’s namesake is the man who gave us Airwolf and Magnum, P.I.
“In many ways, Barstool has resisted some of the more progressive discourse around sports. And I think there’s a niche for that,” she said. “There’s a market there and they’re able to capture that.”
Of course, saying there’s a niche market for resisting progressive hectoring in sports is a lot like saying there’s a niche market for Evian in the Sahara Desert: Trust me, you’re gonna get takers—especially since sports used to be the thing that united us. It didn’t matter what color you were, how much money you made, where you came from or even how bad you smelled. If you cheered the same team, you were a member of the club. But since that also involved a lot of drinking, yelling, belching and ogling cheerleaders, woke culture had to declare war on everything that made sports fun. Thank God Barstool Sports came along to counter that trend.
Not everyone is bellying up to the trough, though:
“I think Barstool is a nostalgic callback to the idea that the more offensive you are, the more free you’re being, and it’s also a kind of cultural preservation project for bros,” said Lisa Nakamura, a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who studies the intersection of digital media and race, gender and sexuality.
That someone can actually have a full-time job (that requires a PhD, no less) studying “the intersection of digital media and race, gender and sexuality” is a pretty devastating indictment of our entire university system, imo—but I also think that what we’re witnessing here is far more than simple nostalgia for days gone by. This is what pushback looks like—and you’re not just seeing it with sports. Comedians like Dave Chapelle and Bill Burr are also sticking it to the Man—or maybe in this case, the Woman—getting as nasty as they wanna be, crossing lines that the woke scolds have laid down for what’s permissible and what’s not, and audiences are loving it.
The critics, not so much.
Barstool Sports, Nakamura said, strikes a chord with its primary target audience — young white men — because it casts them as the “persecuted ones” of mainstream, politically correct culture. Men who feel disadvantaged by the world around them see the platform as a safe space where freedom of speech means voicing unpopular and sometimes offensive opinions without consequence.
Um, maybe that’s because young white men are the designated boogeyman of woke culture? According to the mainstream media, they’re responsible for everything from terrorism to global warming. Hell, the whole concept of “toxic masculinity” revolves exclusively around young and old white men—pretty much the only ethnic group you’re allowed to stereotype these days. More than that, progressives actually encourage it. If white dudes feeling a bit put upon, it’s ain’t like the culture has been valuing their existence lately.
Anyway, if resistance to this nonsense begins with sports—that last bastion of masculinity outside of auto repair shops—then let it rip like the juiciest of bean burrito flatulence. It’s long past due.
And viva Barstool Sports for helping to show the way!
Barstool has fired back with their own fisking of the NBC article. Ouch.