Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Old Hat

Well, they got the hat.

Northwestern's football season was plagued by misfortune and we spent a horrifying winter without the relief of a soothing, crappy bowl game.  But (and you know this because it happened apparently several months ago), the Wildcats somehow managed to outfox Beck Man, our Great Nemesis and retain possession of the most dapper football-related trophy in all of nineteenth-century fashion.  Equally importantly, I am pretty sure I ended up on some sort of list after sending a barrage of demented hat-tweets directly to whoever runs Tim Beckman's twitter feed:

Though I received no official response to these sophisticated and elegant tweets to the Illini Athletic Department, I would like to think that Beckman spent the evening prank calling everyone in Illinois named George McLellan and then ordering an absurd amount of hats off an internet haberdashery to hoard in his home's hat annex.

Rumors swirled in the treacherous college football offseason that Beckman might get fired.  Instead, the Illini will bring him and his absurd anti-Northwestern crusade back for another year because, according to highly-placed Illini sources, "someone playing up a football rivalry with Northwestern is the only thing we could think of that is funnier than Ron Zook."  I have no idea what Beckman has planned for next year.  For a small fee, however, I am officially making myself available to the University of Illinois to be their first Butkus Chair, Department of Northwestern Antagonism.  Together, we will rent orange blimps to constantly hover over Evanston, dropping anti-Fitzgerald propaganda; we will deploy larger and more aggressive tarps at Memorial Stadium; we will petition to ban Harold and the Purple Crayon, The Purple Rose of Cairo, and The Color Purple from all University of Illinois-affiliated libraries; we will put up billboards that say "Illinois's Big Ten Team and In Case You Noticed, That Includes the Entire Chicagoland Metropolitan Area, Checkmate Motherfuckers."

Anti-Northwestern Propaganda Leaflet

Hat or no hat, Northwestern football is past a disappointing season, and fans can look towards next year.  Venric Mark will return, along with several key players on defense.  Kain Colter, however, will be moving on, but not before attempting to organize a union of football players.  Colter and his supporters argue that football players are employees that should be allowed to collectively bargain with universities and challenge restrictions on transfers and loss of scholarships due to injury.  The Northwestern administration argues that the players remain in the nebulous "student athlete" category who play in exchange for a free education unrelated to the millions generated by television deals, merchandise sales, and other piles of money generated by college athletics.  After months of sophisticated legal analysis, the only way to resolve this is a strike by the nation's football players forcing university administrators to don helmets instead of canceling thousands of lucrative home games.  College football analysts will hastily reorganize their preseason rankings based on whether you can run the wishbone effectively in full academic regalia, which dean gets to be quarterback, and which university has the meanest, most bone-crunching vice provost.


What say you, Chris Collins?  Last year, Northwestern fired long-time basketball head coach Bill Carmody.  Carmody led the 'Cats to several NIT berths, but could never quite make it to the promised tournament.  I prefer to think that the methodical Princeton offense secretly irritated the brass, with high-ranking Northwestern administrators throwing things at their television every time they saw a backdoor layup developing or an opposing player working his way through the 1-3-1 zone to brutally dunk on a hapless defender.

Chris Collins was brought in to try to mold the Wildcats into a tournament team.  He brings youthful enthusiasm, a commitment to recruiting the Chicago area, and an association with the universally-loved Duke basketball program.

Chris Collins and Mike Krzyzewski are temporarily overwhelmed 
by visiting fans' awe and respect for Duke basketball, America's 

The transition to Chris Collins basketball has been bumpy.  The 'Cats are dead last in the Big Ten.  They will likely not play in a post-season tournament unless they somehow manage to win the Big Ten Tournament or every single other Big Ten team loses its eligibility because all of their players were replaced with doppelganger ringers that play professional basketball in the off-season in the secret European country that is ruled by Victor von Doom.

Despite these setbacks, there have been some positive things to take away from the season.  We got a full season of Drew Crawford, who was injured most of last year.  JerShon Cobb also returned to the team before succumbing to a broken foot.  There was a brief period of time when Northwestern turned into a defensive juggernaut and somehow beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center for the first time and a fairly bad Indiana team on the road, and Big Ten teams occasionally had to cope with becoming Tre Demps victims.  Then they lost seven in a row, including one game where they scored 32 total points over 40 minutes of basketball.

Collins leads 'Cat Basketball into next season with some of his recruits joining the fold.  Big man Alex Olah showed some flashes this season, and Sanjay Lumpkin returns to play some defense and provide a really fun name to yell at people getting dunked upon.  No one expects Northwestern to crash the Dance any time soon, but that's part of being a Northwestern fan; anyone who is not prepared to die without seeing Northwestern lose the first match of an NCAA tournament, cheering the Cubs in the World Series, or proclaiming to a mortal enemy that you and me are not so different is setting him or herself up of a lifetime of cruel disappointments.


The early Victorian scandalous press was a nest of innuendo, bawdy suggestion, extortion, and feuds.  In other words, it was the best possible use of presses ever devised by human beings.  Donald J. Gray's "Early Victorian Scandalous Journalism: Renton Nicholson's The Town (1837-1842)" is available in the Joanne Shattock and Michael Wolff-edited collection of scholarly articles The Victorian Press: Samplings and Soundings, and it's a pretty good way to spend a half-hour.  Gray's study of The Town, a relatively cheap periodical that traded on scandal and innuendo, offers a number of trenchant insights into the early Victorian press, the transmission of ideas about social class amongst its working and lower-middle class readers, and how Victorian scandal challenges and reinforces scholarly understanding of Victorian mores in the 1830s and 40s.  Instead, however, BYCTOM will pillage this wonderful article for bawdy anecdotes and strip them of context and analysis for cheap laughs because this is a dumb internet blog about a football team.

Gray discusses The Town, as well as other scandalous periodicals including The Age, John Bull, and The Satirist.  John Bull initially targeted Queen Caroline, an enemy of her estranged husband, George IV.  George, a bloated, pickled, raffish king was repeatedly thwarted by his father's recoveries from mental illness and stubborn refusal to die.  He hated Caroline and attempted to divorce her using legislation based on allegations of infidelity (though George himself had been secretly and illegally married to a Catholic woman, Maria Fitzherbert).  The bill did not pass and the marriage remained a fraught battlefield.  As Gray relates, John Bull fanned the flames of her alleged affair, describing her as "mixed up with a disgraceful and criminal affection for a menial servant."  After the Queen's death in 1821, John Bull transitioned into a milder, less scandal-driven publication to my personal dismay.

George IV had the unfortunate luck to live at the same time as British cartoonist 
George Cruikshank, who delighted in drawing the despised, spherical monarch. 
Here, Cruikshank demonstrates how George successfully fended off radical 
petitioners  by becoming more buttocks than man

The Age, The Satirist, and The Town were all reliable factories of spectacular Victorian vitriol.  The Age, for example, dismissed the renowned essayist William Hazlitt as "Bill Pimple," "an old weather-beaten, pimple-snouted,  gin-smelling man, like a Pimlico tailor, with ink-dyed hands, a corrugated forehead, and a spirituous nose."  Yet, this gossip was not only directed at literary lions or axe-grinding aristocrats. The columns were filled with gossip about less luminous figures.  Those who wished to avoid a public humiliation about unthinkable indiscretions such as young women asking a man to dance could scrub the record for a modest fee.  Gray describes this kind of blackmail as an important revenue stream for these publications.

Gray's article, however, focuses mainly on The Town and its founder, Renton Nicholson.  Nicholson, a self-styled baron (invariably the best kind of baron), was a colorful figure who gained fame in the 1840s for holding mock trials satirizing infamous divorce cases.  Warrick Wroth, the author of a 1907 book called Cremorne and the Later London Gardens, described Nicholson as "a man who knew a thing or two" who had acquired a "remarkable knowledge of the 'flash life' of London in all its grades."

"After a minor experience of gambling-houses and doubtful premises of various 
kinds, he became (in 1841) proprietor of the Garrick’s Head in Bow Street, and here, 
in a room holding about 300 people, and fitted up like a law-court, he presided—as 
Lord Chief Baron Nicholson—over the judge and jury trials that were so attractive to 
the Londoner of the forties and fifties.  The causes that came before this tribunal 
 were chiefly matrimonial—the crim. con. cases of the time—and were such that 
their obscenity and heartlessness (mitigated, it is true, by flashes of wit) often made 
the most hardened sinner shudder."  Quotation and illustration from Warrick Wroth,  
Cremorne and the Later London Gardens

The Town was a monument to the seedy underbelly of the Victorian press.  It allowed Nicholson to attack his enemies.  In the late 1830s, he feuded with Barnard Gregory, the editor of The Age, whom he described as "a common extortioner, gaming-house keeper, and brothel spongee."  It contained bawdiness.  As Gray relates, "Often the Town was simply coarse in its unrelenting play on words like 'work,' 'thing,' 'getting up the linen,' 'working under the butler,' and [Prince] Albert's German sausage again (and again)."  More importantly, the Town, which avoided the official stamp duties and sold for a fraction of the cost of its rival publications, served as an instruction manual for its working and lower-middle-class readers with raffish aspirations.  Gray describes Nicholson's Town as "something of an enormous guide through a loose and well-populated network of places to drink, eat, smoke, sing, gamble, flirt with pretty women, and meet women of the town..."

 Alas, this golden age of scandalous journalism eventually was ground under the heel of Victorian moralism.  By the 1850s, the Town and its ilk became unfashionable, with proprietors open to libel suits and obscenity laws.  This had to be greatly disappointing to right-thinking people who needed clumsy double-entendres, fist-shaking vitriol, insinuations of social gaffes that are baffling in the twenty-first century, and descriptions of badger-baiting accidents or pheasant hunting chicanery.  According to Gray, imitators did spring up with incredible names like Sam Sly-- or, The Town; Paul Pry; Fast Life; Cheap John; and Peeping Tom.  I'm not entirely sure that Fast Life, Cheap John, and Peeping Tom are not currently the names of a Morning Zoo radio crew on Z108.5 GUYS, AM I RIGHT? 

Perhaps, though, there is nothing more useful I can do than to leave you with the opening paragraph of Renton Nicholson's autobiography, which is how I should start all BYCTOM posts:
Exquisite reader, I have a right to believe you perfection.  Let me shake hands with you at starting, for we are bound to travel together in sunlight and in shade, in lively day and dismal night-time; through narrow, devious passages and the mansions of wealth; with Lazarus and with Dives; o'er flowery meads and banks of wild roses; through cities, towns, and hamlets, where humanity dwells 'mid innocence and corruption, where base metal contrasts with unalloyed gold.

Exquisite reader, I have the right to believe you have wasted time and are now considerably misinformed about scandalous publications and Northwestern men's revenue sports.  Let us make fist-claws with you starting, for we are bound to travel in sunlight and in shade, in lively wins and dismal losses, through Wildcat alleys and Welsh-Ryan arenas; with Fitzes and with Collinses; o'er Victory Rights and wild option pitches, through Pizza cities, pizza towns, and pizza hamlets, where humanity sits 'mid legends and leaders, where base helmets contrast with unalloyed hat.

1 comment:


Glad you're back. Sophisticated and elegant, your prose, unlike the BC offense, has been missed.