Is Grantland the Whitest Website on the Internet?
For a long time, I thought that there would never be a Whiter web site than McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. The place oozed a sense of hip White detachment and used as its cultural touchstones the stuff of Stuff White People Like legend: Ikea catalogues, Star Trek, anti-depressants. Skim down the table of contents for “Open Letters to People or Entities Who Are Unlikely to Respond” and tell me if you think a non-White person wrote any of those. “An Open Letter to the Occupants of a House on the Nintendo Game Paperboy”? Probably brainstormed while the author was snorting cocaine off the top of a smoothed armoire as an undergrad at Middlebury.
I thought that no notable website could ever out-White McSweeney’s–its patron saint-cum-mascot is named Timothy McSweeney, for God’s sake–but then here is Grantland.com, which out-Whites McSweeney’s name origin and then out-Whites it in its content, too. But first, the name: Grantland Rice was a sportswriter in the early 20th century, a time period in sports history that is most notable for the fact that no black people were allowed to play. I mean, just look at Grantland Rice’s white-person bonafides: he was the son of a cotton dealer, he was the grandson of a Confederate officer, he attended Vanderbilt–need I go on? The only way Grantland’s founders could have gone Whiter is if they had named their site Stonewall; I guess they went with Grantland since RushLimbaugh.com was taken.
Grantland, in case you missed the grand countdown clock on ESPN’s home page, is a new Bill Simmons creation that covers mostly sports with flecks of pop culture. Its writers are polished, incisive, quirky, and–perhaps most unifyingly–easily, conversationally readable. To this point Grantland is a pleasant, uncontroversial, breezy daily read; it is also very, very, very White.
For me the site has thus far been defined by its overwhelming Whiteness–not in the sense that all the writers are White (they aren’t)–but in the sense that the subjects, the asides, the soliloquies and the detached postmodern cool are all totally, unarguably White. Today’s edition of Grantland, for example, features a narrative history of hockey’s Stanley Cup; a write-up on the Congressional Country Club golf course, which will host the Tiger-less U.S. Open this weekend; a list of reasons that Canadians should still be proud of their hockey teams despite losing to Boston in the Finals last night; and, in pop culture, a Freudian analysis of the lyrics of Kanye West, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj.
And, oh yeah, an article by two white guys whose comedic premise is that white guys don’t understand Cricket. The tagline for this escapade:
With labor trouble threatening the ’11-12 season of two of our four major sports, two red-blooded Americans look overseas to fill the potential gap.
Manifest destiny! Classic white-people sports humor.
Am I cherry-picking? Perhaps. But anyone who has read the site thus far should not debate that Grantland is looking like the Princeton men’s basketball of web-based sports journalism. Grantland doesn’t have a theme song, but if it did, it would certainly be something by Vampire Weekend.
It is not surprising that Grantland is so preciously, inexorably White. Bill Simmons, Grantland visionary, has made a nice career out of coming across in print like your funny, smart, very White friend. When ESPN dubbed him “The Sports Guy,” it did so with a disconcerting hint of inherent racism: while Simmons might be the Everyman Voice of sports in most suburbs and Northeastern college towns, he is not the Voice of anything in any inner city barber shop or playground basketball court, I would imagine. His hallmarks are all traditionally White hallmarks: a love for Boston sports teams, an obsession with The Wire, total fascination with and astonishment at the behavior of Real World cast members. It is no surprise, then, that Simmons’ vision writ large does not so much resemble the hip future of sports journalism as it does a terrific little factory that churns out think-pieces on White culture from a White perspective written by a bunch of writers who write like Bill Simmons.
There is nothing wrong or racist about Grantland’s Whiteness, because, first, know your audience, second, know your audience, and third, know your audience. Grantland is not out to “challenge the orthodoxy” or “push any buttons” or “change the way anyone thinks,” or anything revolutionary like that. It is simply sailing along with the wind (oh, how the wind picks up as it blows out from the Vineyard!), establishing itself as the website of choice for highly-articulate sports writing about White concerns. Criticizing it for being so overwhelmingly White seems a bit like criticizing Jezebel for writing too often about women; Whiteness is written into Grantland’s DNA. It is not essential for Grantland’s long-term success, but it is essential for its short-term success at maintaining its status quo.
And so let Grantland be White. I, for one, welcome our new Whiteness-overlords, complete with its David Foster Wallace footnotes, its 8,000 word hockey think-pieces, its textual analysis of rap verses, and its token Colson Whitehead cameos. Move over, McSweeney’s: there’s a new website for 19-year-old liberal arts whiteboys to forward each other the links from, and it’s name is Grantland.
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