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Funbag

The Upside Of Shame

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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s new book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we’re talking about the Super Bowl, pubic hair, closing your eyes during a haircut, and more.

Your letters:

Dan:

Is shame, or even the idea of having a conscience, something that’s no longer considered a trait worth possessing? This could be 16 years of Catholic/Jesuit education asking, but I’ve always tried to avoid putting myself in situations that would put me, or the people I know, in a bad light. I’ve also tried to instill this ideal in my kids, as well as the importance of humility and self-respect. But maybe I’ve been doing them a disservice, and should start telling them that they should do whatever the fuck they want, regardless of the consequences, since it’s now obvious that beclowning yourself or your family is no longer a barrier to success, but an integral part of attaining it. Maybe the last four years should have rendered this question irrelevant, but something about seeing Rudy Giuliani unveiled as a Masked Singer has put me over the edge.

Not to be dramatic, but this is really the question of our times. We have an economy, a legal system, and a media-industrial complex that all reward shamelessness. Mandate it, even. And you and I have been raised to equate success with happiness, so it makes sense to wonder if shame and guilt are worth having at all. A lot of people, good and bad, will tell you that they are not. You go to therapy to rid yourself of shame. You listen to pop music that exhorts you to NEVER be ashamed of who you are. Shame is something only the bad people should ever have to feel.

But that isn’t how the human mind works. Shame is universal, inevitable, and—most important—vital. It’s the angel on your shoulder, whispering “You shouldn’t have done that” right after you polished off an entire box of Nilla wafers. Now sometimes that little angel turns into a complete shithead and is like, “Don’t you hate your nose? Don’t you hate that people will see it and think you’re ugly?” That’s bad shame, and you can spend a whole lifetime learning when shame is worth listening to and when it should get fucked.

I know this firsthand. When I got married, I invited a friend. The friend had a girlfriend I didn’t care for, so I told him, “You can come, so long as you don’t bring her.” He was allowed to bring anyone he wanted, just not the person he wanted. Can you fucking imagine doing that to someone? I wasn’t ashamed when I did this 20 years ago. At one point much later, my friend said to me, “Remember when you blacklisted my girlfriend from your wedding? That was pretty fucked, Drew.” And it was. I regret I didn’t realize that at the time, and I am HORRIBLY ashamed by it now. It’s a proper shame. I don’t want it to leave me. I’d still be an awful friend if I had no shame; in fact, I wouldn’t have any friends left at all.

Shame is part of the learning curve of existence. You get experienced in shame and you learn, hopefully, when you ought to listen to it. You also, hopefully, demand shame in yourself as forcefully as you demand it in others (I’m liberal, so I frequently try to use shame as a weapon on wingnuts; SURPRISE it never works). I’ve got more shame coming my way. Some of it will be dumb, but some of it will matter. You do a bad thing, you feel shame, you stop doing the bad thing, and then you and the people you love are happier and healthier for it. Shame, used correctly, is a driver of personal growth. Whether or not you come out the other end of this wealthier or not is completely beside the point. You have to embrace having a conscience for conscience’s sake.

God, between this and watching Drew Michael’s HBO special, I may overdose on introspection. Let’s take a breather for a moment.

Drunko:

Do you think it’s been more difficult for the Olympic athletes to fuck each other in China?

No. Never underestimate the power of the boner. Sex will always find a way. If two monobobbers have to fuck through a full-body dental dam to evade Communist Party scrutiny, that’s what they’ll do. Fucking, in any form, is better than not fucking.

Jon:

My theory is there are about 7-10 NFL teams happy with their QB (the QB could carry them to a title), another lot that are just okay with theirs (the right team around them and they wouldn’t lose the game for you), and then the lower maybe half the league with no confidence in the QB at all. As a Browns fan, discussing trades to replace Baker, like the Rams and Stafford last year, who’s the best they could hope to get?

I have no fucking idea what the quarterback market is gonna look like this offseason. I could argue that Stafford’s title increases the value of every unwanted quarterback currently on the market. I could also argue that Aaron Rodgers staying in Green Bay and Russell Wilson staying in Seattle, both scenarios now all but assured, will make teams desperate for QB help (Denver) even more desperate. Then again, look at the names available. The best of them are Kyler Murray and a 22-time-accused sex offender, both of whom may not even be on the block. The rest of them are innings-eaters fans will grow to hate within a month of their arrival: Baker, Kirk, Garoppolo,, and Wentz. This year, Wentz threw for over 3,500 yards and had 27 touchdown passes compared to just seven picks. Sounds good, right? Neither the Colts, nor their fans, agree.

You could make the case, and perhaps a few NFL front offices will, that any team can do what the Rams did simply by trading for a capable but under-accomplished passer and putting him in the right environment. But the teams who currently employ these passers have already tried to put them in the right environment. There’s a reason Baker Mayfield couldn’t take advantage of Odell Beckham while Stafford could: because Stafford is a really good quarterback and Baker isn’t. Stafford’s situation isn’t replicable with other, shittier players.

The good news is that many NFL teams are either too stupid, or under too much pressure, to know it. At least I hope that’ll be the case. Did you know that Kirk Cousins has one more playoff win than Matthew Stafford had prior to this postseason? WOW. You talk about a flower ready to bloom! If the Broncos trade for Kirk, there’s no telling HOW many titles they could win!

In all seriousness, I have thought about my team’s offseason way more than is healthy. This is normally the time of year when I’m at peace with football ending and ready to move on to watching basketball, writing books, and thinking about sex. That transition has yet to occur at the moment. Trading my quarterback is the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about before I go to bed. Every time I get a push alert on my phone, I hope it’s news saying that the Vikings have traded Kirk for a day-old hot dog. I haven’t been this vigilant since Trump got COVID. I search “Kirk Cousins trade” on Twitter and marvel at what turns up.

That Steelers fan who is probably a misprogrammed Russian bot knows how to get my hopes up. If Kirk gets traded—literally for anyone—I will weep with joy.

But the uncertainty of it all only exacerbates my impatience. I can’t divine which teams want to trade their quarterback and which teams are willing to pay handsomely for one. To use Jon’s question as an example: I could not tell you, right now, what Baker Mayfield is worth to another team. He makes plays, but he turns the ball over a shitload. Maybe some NFL front offices will see his situation as a whole lot similar to Stafford’s. Or they just want a new face for selling season tickets. Or they all think he’s a fucking fraud. I don’t know, and I may have to wait months to know the answer. I really gotta find a hobby.

Scott:

How many murders are there on US naval bases on an annual basis? Based on the number of ads I’ve seen for NCIS spin-offs that take place in various cities around the country, it seems like the number would have to be in the hundreds at the low end, possibly in the thousands per year. That’s a lot of murders on naval bases. That seems like something that someone not affiliated with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service might want to look into.

I’d look into the numbers, but that’d make me Gregg Easterbook. I don’t expect my TV and movies to give me an accurate depiction of reality. HOWEVAH, current network TV offerings—especially those on CBS—are so insanely behind the times that they look like they were produced on another fucking planet. Networks stick with these shows because they make money, but Jesus Christ. You could make a good procedural where the cops are all bags of shit, the lawyers don’t wanna be lawyers, the doctors are all drunk, the victim’s relatives are all anti-vax loons, and local reporters don’t exist. Our current reality has plenty of meat on the bone.

Networks have used none of it. Instead I get Scott Bakula, gun in hand, walking around the same all-purpose outdoor set I saw while on tour with my kids at Universal Hollywood, hunting down a bad guy with an eyebrow ring. He’s accompanied by a female partner who’s hot but taciturn. To keep things topical, there’s a discarded #BLM protest sign somewhere in the background. I need more effort than this. I need to know that the people writing this shit haven’t been dead for 30 years.

Steve:

My biggest fear outside of dropping my toothbrush into a full toilet is not knowing which towel to use at someone else’s house. Was this the towel used to dry someone else’s genitals or is it for drying my freshly washed hands?  What to do?

Calm down. It’s just a fucking towel. It’s not like you’re gonna get gonorrhea from using one. Genital towel panic is the stuff of old Friends episodes. I don’t care if another towel touched another penis or another asshole. I’m just glad there’s a towel I can use.

Frank:

What city, that currently has one or more Big Four sports teams, won’t have any in 2050? Baltimore, Cleveland, St. Louis, and Green Bay all have among the slowest growing populations, but their fanbases are rabid and their franchises are institutional legacies (obvious Modell Browns/Ravens caveat aside). Then there are one-team cities like Portland, OKC, Oakland, and Salt Lake City, where all it would take is one team leaving to wipe them off the sports map. Finally there are the climate casualties. Miami, New Orleans, and Phoenix could lose their teams by virtue of being uninhabitable wastelands in the mid-21st century. Which city, or cities, are next to go the way of Fort Wayne, Syracuse, Moline, Rochester, and Decatur?

Jacksonville. The Jaguars have spent the better part of the past three decades arguing that Jacksonville never should have had an NFL team, and they’ve been more than convincing. Even now, after the Jaguars have been to two AFC title games, I resent that I have to think about Jacksonville multiple times over the course of any given season. Shad Khan keeps soaking with London every non-pandemic year, so eventually he’s gonna do the standard owner turn from “We love this city and would rather die than leave it,” to “This city has not shown enough of a willingness to keep us here.” Not only am I surprised he hasn’t done this yet, I’m disappointed. I want the Jaguars to move. Ship them to fucking Nome for all I care.

But look, that’s a boring answer. I just watched all four major North American men’s leagues survive both a pandemic and an attempted overthrow of the US government. These teams are hardier than the average cockroach. But can they survive Civil War II? Or Yellowstone erupting? Or Hurriblizzard Frank? Or a bout of profuse, nationwide diarrhea? Yes, but let’s dream a little. Somewhere in the near future, I see Texas seceding from the union, hoarding all the oil, and declaring a football embargo on the remaining 49. In that case, no more Cowboys and Texans. Halle-fucking-lujah.

HALFTIME!

Peter:

I rooted for the Rams. I told people that I wanted to see Matthew Stafford win one after all his tribulations with the Lions. But if I’m being honest with myself it was because, as a Bills fan, I couldn’t stand the thought of another non-Super Bowl team winning it all before my team. I’m not going to ask if I’m the metaphorical crab in the bucket, because I am. My question: did you feel the same way as a Vikings fan?

No. I wanted the Bengals to win, because I love Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Also I had $20 on them to beat the spread. Not much more complex than that. If I was gonna root for the Rams, it was only gonna be because I wanted Stafford jacking up Kirk’s trade value and Kevin O’Connell taking over my team with a ring on his finger. I ended up getting that, plus my money. I’m the big winner in all this.

Matthew:

When you go to the barber, do you keep your eyes closed throughout the haircut? I keep mine closed the whole time and zone out. Do other guys do this?

My wife cuts my hair at home, so I only close my eyes when she’s cutting my bangs, because I don’t want hair clippings in my eyes. This is me using the power of logic.

When I was a kid, it was an entirely different story. I fucking hated going to the barber, just as my youngest son does now. I hated the smell of the barbershop. I hated all the weird old men sitting around in it. I hated the magazine selection. I hated sitting in the chair, with that floppy footrest. I hated the barber tying a ribbon of what felt like crepe paper around my neck before putting the smock on. I hated him spraying my hair with ice cold water from a bottle. I hated watching him cut my hair in the mirror and the AGONIZING silence between us (and him attemoting small talk was even worse). So yeah, I closed my eyes for all that. Matthew up above has far more Zen reasons to do so. I was just trying to will myself anywhere else in the world. Then I’d open my eyes and there would still be a 55-year-old dude dusting my neck off with talcum powder.

Mike:

The other day I casually, and without thinking, tossed two grapes in the air and caught them both in my mouth at the same time. I was so impressed with myself, but then I realized no one was around to witness it. When I told me wife about it, she was earnestly impressed and wished she could have seen it. If only instant replay was possible for mundane life moments. What’s the most mundane thing you wish you could have instant replay of your life for? 

Normally, readers don’t add the “mundane” stipulation to this question and I end up inevitably answering that I would just re-watch all of my life’s sex scenes over and over. But Mike, clever boy that he is, wants something a little less obvious. So lemme outline a few things on my amended wishlist:

  • My naps. Specifically, I’d like to watch Past Me napping in relatively atypical places: in hotels, on planes, on floors, etc. One time I took a nap on a big stretch of lawn outside the U.S. Naval Academy. When I got up, there was an imprint of my entire body in the grass. It was super cool. I’d like a replay of that.
  • Cool passes I’ve executed while driving. Need the outside shots of those.
  • Me chugging a full beer stein at Hofbräuhaus in Munich before throwing it all up.
  • All of my karaoke performances.
  • Anytime I was super high on painkillers at a hospital and said weird shit.

But mostly the naps. I’d like to nap to a video of me napping. Very soothing.

Todd:

Today, as I’m writing this, I’m exactly one year sober! And as crazy as I feel saying it, it probably would not have happened if not for COVID. I was already struggling with my drinking and severe depression before the pandemic, the first year of the pandemic only made things worse, and eventually things got bad enough that I was forced to ask for help. Thankfully I was able to get help, and in a year I’ve gone from suicidally depressed to the happiest I’ve been in years! My life feels like it is back on track for the first time in ages. A year ago I felt like my life was over at 32. Now I’ve remembered I’m only 33, and I’m already looking at grad school for next fall; I’m looking at social work programs so I can get into counseling and help guys down the road the way I was helped. It’s a pretty great personal silver lining to come out of this godforsaken pandemic.

So I guess my question is what, years from now, might we look back on as a society/humanity as a possible silver lining from these pandemic years? There must be something, right?

Well first of all, big-ass congrats to Todd for getting sober and being happy. We’re closing in on the virus killing over a million Americans, so it’s hard to yank out positives from it without sounding like Tom Brady. I can’t be like, “Well we all learned just how darn important our essential workers are!” That’s one of that lies that tens of millions of Americans told themselves while, this whole time, acting as if the pandemic was never happening at all. The only two indisputable societal upsides I saw come out of the pandemic were A) It cost Trump the 2020 election, and B) This website went live during it. That’s about it.

Otherwise, I can only look at the positives at the individual level. I wouldn’t have sacked up and gone to therapy had the pandemic not occurred. I got better at parenting my oldest kid. I stopped freaking out over unforeseen expenses. I also discovered a level of basic cleanliness that’s FAR more effective than my pre-pandemic level of basic cleanliness. I wash my hands more thoroughly, like I always should have. I wear masks in crowded spaces, like I always should have. And I keep a more respectful distance from others, like I always should have. Most important, I upgraded all of my casual wear. I’m better in a lot of ways. I shouldn’t have needed all that mass death to get here. I hope all of you discovered your own personal silver lining.

Jon:

I’m 37, so I’m on the earlier side of the generation that started grooming its pubic hair on a regular basis. Are we all just doing this for the rest of our lives since we formed the habit in early adulthood?

The rest of your life? No. When you turn 70, you won’t give a shit about having a forest down there. I know. I’ve been to the gym.

Cory:

I was curious if you had any friends, legit friends you regularly keep in contact with, who don’t like or follow sports. I say sports, in general, but I mean the major league sports like baseball, football and basketball. I have a few, they’re just so rare and granted, I probably don’t hang out with them as much as my friends and family who do follow sports.

Yeah, I have friends who don’t care about sports. They’re useful to have if you spend your whole day talking about sports with your colleagues (and thinking about Kirk Cousins against your will all the time), as I do. I have other interests. I need other interests.

Plus, talking sports gets fucking boring. Chances are if an acquaintance has a sports take for me, it’s gonna be a remedial take that either bores me or tempts me to break it apart and refute in 500 separate steps. I don’t have the energy for that shit. I’d rather have a friend tell me about the time they went to South America and woke up drunk in a canoe. That’s the intellectual diversity I crave.

Mike:

My brothers and I are starting a podcast. We have a theme, a format, and some good ideas. I have a three tiers of goals to define success. Top tier: be purchased by Spotify for so much money I can go to board meetings and tell Bill Simmons to shut up. Middle tier: Have enough success that we can recruit some sponsors who will provide us with just enough free food and beer to feed brothers and me before we record once a month. Low (read: real) tier: Have more than four downloads that include people other than us hosts and our mother. You’ve done this a while. What’ll make us crack five downloads?

Just pick a popular old movie or TV show and discuss it with so much excessive granular detail that I wanna puke. Not even kidding. Fanboys’ll gobble that shit right up. I did Vince Mancini’s Sopranos podcast once and even I understood the appeal. It makes sense from a creative standpoint to really limit your scope, because then the conversation has a single thread to it.

Now, does the podcast I co-host strategically limit itself in similar ways? No. In fact, we recognized earlier this year that we had gotten TOO loosey-goosey with it, so Roth and I made the rundown for each show more detailed, so that we, and therefore the audience, have a better sense of where the show is going. Good thing it only took me 10 years of podcasting to sort out that little magic trick.

John:

Why is that if a baseball players uses PEDs it’s the crime of the century, but if a football player tests positive it’s only a couple games suspension?

Because everyone expects football players to be roided out of their minds. Football is the mean sport, so your expectations follow suit. By contrast, the keepers of baseball are so hellbent on preserving the veneer of innocence that, for them, pissing and moaning about steroids is something of a branding exercise. The same shit is true of the Olympics, which operates on the flimsy premise that it’s a of global peace movement while the Russians, and other countries, dope up their athletes like they’re running a Perdue chicken farm. Then an athlete gets caught and everyone is like OMG WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE OTHER CHILD ATHLETES? Pretty shrewd way of doing business. No one ever sees through it.

Email of the week!

Mark:

So, your listing of future titles for Mike Lupica books reminded me of Christmas, damn near 20 years ago. It was one of my first Christmases home after moving out at 18. Anyway, my lovely mom got me a book as one of my gifts, which, awesome, I love books! Normally, my step-dad couldn’t have cared less about any book, but this book just so happened to have been written by, you guessed it, Mike Lupica! The way he looked at my mom and said, “A Mike Lupica book?” will forever be etched in my memory and cracks me up every time I think about it.

Same here now.