Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Vacation Book Report #7

Friday Night Lights
(1990) by H. G. Bissinger

**** 1/2 out of five.

Friday Night Lights was approached from my low expectations. I had seen both the movie and the TV show, and felt that they glorified racism, sexism, and football as religion. Turns out that is because the film and the television version stripped the book's exploration of those factors and reduced this fine complex book to the simple story of Permian High School's 1988 football season. If you've seen the celluloid versions, you must read the book.

Racism? From the book I learned that Odessa, Texas public schools were not integrated until 1982. 1982! 28 years after Brown v. Bd. of Education was decided. 19 years after George Wallace blocked black students from entering the University of Alabama, and John F. Kennedy sent in the National Guard. In 1982 I was 25 and had graduated from integrated public schools and college. I couldn't have imagined that segregated schools still existed in the USA.

Sexism? Pressure on girls at Permian High School to conform was so intense that girls scored on average 75 points below the boys on scholastic aptitude tests.

Football as religion? It's the whole book, but especially the chapter near the end about how Permian's foe in the state semi-final game changed their entire grading system to ensure that no football player would be suspended for failing to maintain a 70 average. And woe to those who challenged the orthodoxy. A 35-year teacher, Will Bates, who refuses to give a star football player a grade he didn't earn, is drummed out of the school.

And as a bonus, I enjoyed the chapter about the great oil bust of the 1980s, which led an anonymous Texas oilman to say: "After all, we're just another Middle East war away from another boom." (p. 230)

Odessa is just 15 miles from Midland, Texas, where Chimpy McFlightsuit grew up.

On to the next tome!

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