Through the decades, consternation over Porgy and Bess has inevitably reflected its own era’s black class anxieties as well as white misconceptions about black life—for black audiences desiring characters like themselves to identify with, the question hasn’t always been one of representation so much as the much trickier one of surrogacy. In its own day, even those critical of the opera’s racial modus operandi credited it with at least giving a flock of talented, conservatory-trained opera singers a foot in the door. But Porgy and Bess achieved far more than that.
I write about Kenny Smith, and his miraculous new projection toy, with a heavy heart. Last night, the Inside the NBA gang revealed their newest gag: Kenny cringes at a vaguely homoerotic acrobatics show (Staples at halftime); Charles takes it easy and reminds us of his infinite heart of tolerance; Kenny mistakes “time out” for “pause” before correcting himself, then hammers it home with a tweet and an LOL. Granted, overly-muscled Slavs contorting each other in bulging gold briefs certainly warrants some comment. It would just be nice if the league’s resident “cool dads” could have handled it with their usual combination of snark and earnestness—or at least realized that, after Kobe’s misstep, uncomfortable catharsis probably wasn’t in their best interest.
But that’s not what I want to talk about; nor I do have any interest in calling for Kenny’s head (or his Keys, or his Pictures). One of the most exciting developments of the 2011 playoffs has been the arrival of Kenny’s latest tool for detailed analysis, an exercise in literalism, grandiosity, and high-tech silliness that’s really too funny to not have a form or brand attached to it. I suppose it’s an extension of “Kenny’s Pictures”, and the quick-on-his-feet Smith christened it “The Picture Show” last night. I had tried desperately to get “The Temple” or “Kenny’s Temple” to catch on in the Twitter-sphere (which is to desperation what Venus is to toxic gases). But it also calls to mind the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the curtains drawn back at an palatial old theater, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, mega-church evangelists, and this year’s celebrity game, where Eric Gordon donned a costume and acted out a scene from Gladiator in front of a green screen. It is at one toweringly stupid, instantly accessible—I just bought an iPad for a baby, btw—and maybe, despite it all, immortal. This could be TNT’s Gone With the Wind.
What’s so peculiar about The Picture Show is how little it accomplishes, at least in terms of what we’ve come to expect from this kind of gimmick. Technology has generally served to enhance the viewing experience, allowing us to see the game through the eyes of an expert by slowing time, zooming in, and scribbling all over a Telestrator. It makes us better, smarter fans, and in the right hands, provides a reason to not watch games on mute. The Picture Show, though, just gives us a life-sized Kenny inserting himself into the action to point at shit. There are very few pauses or slow-motion indulgences. Kenny stands there, in the middle of it all, and yells. It’s a distant cousin of an earlier feature, where the crew would get up out of their chairs and pretend to coach each other. While unmistakably technical and instructive, it also had obvious limitations—i.e. it demanded the viewer correlate these out-of-shape buffoons in suits with the game in progress. The Picture Show has no drawbacks. The game is present, a hallowed object blasted out at us from megaplex-sized screen, and Kenny is its high priest, wandering about to simply point out that, literally, he walks among it still. It’s a walking tour of the heavens, and only Kenny can ascend those steps and part those curtains.
Somehow, the best comparison I can think of is Longreads. Is it tradition, with all its lofty mystique, colonizing technology, or technology co-opting the past to uncertain ends? In writing, the past is shit previously considered too long to survive on the web. In basketball, it’s a way of seeing the game that depends on life-sized figures and an informant standing amongst them. What interests me most is that, in both cases, there’s a distinct sense that something well-branded and prestigious is being accomplished. Well, at least that’s what I want the Picture Show to be. If the name sticks, and that walk up the steps becomes ritual, it might be getting there. The question is, does a sports fan really crave distinguished atavism?