Last week Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wrote a review of HBO’s “Girls.” His review was critical of the show’s whiteness, how self-involved the characters are and said ultimately they’re not that funny.
This time around he’s written a piece to respond to those that were surprised that a former basketball player could actually deconstruct and analyze pop culture.
There was much reaction. Some questioned why a man my age would watch a show about girls in their twenties, as if they’d just discovered me hanging around a school playground with a shopping bag full of candy in one hand a fluffy puppy in the other. Of course, these critics are right. When I read Moby Dick I first had to convince the bookseller that I was a former whaler named Queequeg. When I read the poetry of Sylvia Plath, I had to pretend I was a depressed white woman with daddy issues. Don’t worry, I used a fake ID.
Why did I review Girls? As I said in the review, we should all be intently listening to voices of the next generation, hearing what they have to say and, when they are struggling to say it, help them to articulate better. That’s the advantage of growing older in this youth-centric society — maybe the only advantage.
The overwhelming reaction to my review was complimentary which, because it was my first foray into pop culture reviewing, made me feel both appreciative and humbled. But even among some of the positive response was an underlying head-scratching theme: isn’t it amazing that a former jock can have opinions on pop culture and articulate it with words and references to books and movies? Some mentioned my height, as if I was so tall that the air up here could not support intellectual development. It was as if, after climbing the Empire State Building and swatting bi-planes all afternoon, I suddenly decided to write a fashion article critiquing Ann Darrow’s dress (“The tattered jungle look is so five minutes ago.”).
What do people expect when an ex-jock discusses pop culture? “Hmmm. Magic light box have good shows. Me like some. Others make me puke Gatorade. Me give it three jock straps.”
Maybe this will help: I have a degree from UCLA. I’m an amateur historian who has written books about World War II, the Harlem Renaissance, and African-American inventors. I read a lot of fiction as well as non-fiction. I watch TV and movies. I have acted in both. I have been a political activist and an advocate for children’s education. How should an aging, black jock like myself know anything about pop culture? Man, I am a living part of pop culture and have been for nearly 50 years. Beyond that, I think pop culture expresses our needs, fears, hopes and whole zeitgeist better than some of the more esoteric and obscure forms of art.
Abdul-Jabbar was named a cultural ambassador last year by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The goal of his position is to talk “with young people on the importance of education, social and racial tolerance, cultural understanding, and using sports as a means of empowerment,” according to the state department.