Grantland.com is an online blog from ESPN’s Bill Simmons (he does not write all the posts by the way) that covers sports and pop culture—two subjects that have always, but especially in the last few decades, been very important.
For nearly all of us—adolescents and adults alike—popular culture is as real as anything else in our lives. Professional sports, television shows, and movies have the ability to not only deeply affect individuals, but also shape the wider culture in a very immediate way. (This is not to claim the World Cup Final is as important as, say, foreign policy or global warming, but as emotionally influential.)
Right now, sitting in front of my computer, I would be willing to guess that I, in some way, shape, or form, have access to 90% of all movies and television shows that have ever been made. The Internet has made pop culture omnipresent. Anyone can have access to everything. This has turned us all ADD. Bored with this? Try that. Think this is funny? Watch this, too. We have so much available at any moment of any day to watch and read and listen to that our attention spans have shrivelled up like a prune. Look at Twitter: unlike long-post blogs, you have 140 characters to make a point and then I’m moving on. What about the GIF: no time to watch an entire video, loop the funniest part. Pop culture is expanding in front of us and we’re trying to move our eyes quickly enough to see it all. People are preferring the “light engagement” distributed by Web 2.0.
This is no good, though. If all we do is consume and move on, consume and move on, where does reflection or growth or knowledge fit into that?
Before Grantland was even live, the internet was abuzz with scepticism (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2011/06/bill-simmonss-grantland-is-doomed-even-before-launch/240095/). There were haters who blatantly wanted it to fail (read some of the comments in that hyperlinked article), but also those who simply doubted there would be a demand for this type of content anymore as everyone was tweeting. These same feelings have continued over the two years since its launch. I have friends—friends who are wider readers and more culturally aware than I am—who dismiss Grantland for its over-indulgence. Does one really need 3,000 words on the Forbes’ list of richest rappers? Or a substantial essay on the NBA nearly everyday of the season? And what about Breaking Bad—they’ve practically written a graduate school thesis on it three times over.
It’s easy to see how this style of online journalism could slip into territory of overkill—or even silliness. But I would disagree.
Sure, writing solely about sports and pop culture might not be the most noble of topics to dedicate a life’s worth of intellectual pursuit on, but Grantland’s writers are better at it and more thoughtful than anyone else. I find it hilarious—and hypocritical—when someone criticises Grantland for spending too much time thinking about music or TV. Consuming said music and TV like a starving animal is okay, but to stop and think and write about it crosses some line? And isn’t it a hell of a lot better than the alternative? Why shouldn’t we be given an incredibly considerate essay on the new Bradley Cooper movie or Patriots game when 95% of alternative coverage is short, colourful, shallow, and easy to digest? Even if we’re still escaping into pop culture and sports, why not challenge ourselves? Since these things matter so much to us, why shouldn’t we read 3,000 words on it? Being an intelligent viewer— an informed consumer—is so much more fun! And this is what Grantland does.
Of course magazines, websites, and sometimes even newspapers have covered popular culture to this extent for decades, but there’s something inherently different about operating solely online—about publishing within the medium that they’re ultimately commenting on. The immediacy is a really important factor in the relevancy, and ultimate success, of their criticism. Not to mention, with ESPN functioning so well, they don’t (I assume) have to sacrifice integrity, quality, or design for revenue.