RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition. He does have an amazing PATREON, but also *normal* ARTIST WEBSITE too.

Saturday, February 12

MNZ: Sports Illustrated January 31, 2011

Sports Illustrated is one of those vanity magazine subscriptions that offer up more purty color pictures than actual worthwhile content a lot of times, but they have to try and hold down their reputation as a place where actual quality pieces get published, so they bust out a good one now and then. This issue of SI was just such an issue, talking about Aliquippa, Pennsylvania – a shithole rundown mill town just northwest of Pittsburgh that has produced a good number of great football players over the decades (Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Ty Law, Sean Gilbert, Darrelle Revis). Ever since a trip a few years back where me and Boogie Brown ended up in Weirton, West Virginia, I’m intrigued by these rust belt mill towns that are all fucked-up now. Like, the ‘80s have culturally sensitized us to rundown inner-cities, but all these whole industrial towns are turning into wastelands too. In southside Virginia where the textile factories split in the last decade, there’s wastelands there. In fact, the guy in the hospital bed next to me right now is from one such place – Martinsville – and the preacher who was preaching at his bedside talked to me about used to being a weed smoker, and now is a preacher, but also a survivalist. I was halfway expecting them to bust out a rattlesnake. But that’s how it works in those types of places – hard times, hard struggles, but people who can get it together enough to get past the obstacle course have an internal drive that you don’t often find.
Aliquippa itself was interesting because of the racial tensions, and sure, the article played the whole corny “football unified us as one” storyline, which whether it’s true or not, is still corny. But people coming from hopelessly fucked situations, finding success, and yet still being drawn back to that completely warped sense of home, that’s something I enjoy reading about. I feel like it’s somewhat a characteristic of the American success story to move away from the shithole you come from, distance yourself from it philosophically and geographically, to get on the other side of the fence and abandon your roots. This has helped add to the problems of shitholes, and ensured that shitholes remain even more of a shithole. How do we make shitholes no longer shitholes? Same way we have a bunch of shit ass kids become football champions – work hard as hell, set up good discipline, and smash everyone else in the face. Thing is, most of us want to be on the other side of the fence, not in a bad place, and our the financial cultural ways of our predatory credit system has allowed a lot of us to pretend we got it good in suburban enclaves as opposed to trapped in the obvious decay of semi-urban communities like Aliquippa, where there’s at least a good rundown part of town to show and prove that, yeah, shit ain’t like it once was, because there used to be things for sale in all those empty windows. But we tend to remove and shelter ourselves now, so we don’t know if we have it bad or our neighbors do or what. We just keep poking along, making minimum payments, hoping it all picks back up. It won’t though. A lot more of us are doomed than we realize.
Of course, some of us have always learned how to get by. Like the survivalist preacher for the dude next to me in the hospital room was saying, a country boy will survive. Except it ain’t just country boys. You grow up in the wasteland, you learn how to survive. So really the same thing that ended up making Aliquippa football a powerhouse in western Pennsylvania high school athletics will end up either making or breaking America on the world stage again. When times get worse, as they will, will this be a breeding ground for ass kickers who come up hungry to conquer the world anew, or will we just end up a slowly dying nation of overweight weaklings not understanding why we don’t have all the same nice shit our parents had.

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