Remember Zelmo Beaty: Race, Religion, and Basketball in Salt Lake City

One of my favorite weekly podcasts is Slate’s Hang Up and Listen, a sports podcast that deconstructs sports media and culture with a wry wit that deflates American sports of all its self-seriousness. If sports talk radio is Duck Dynasty, Hang Up is 30 Rock.

Every week host Josh Levin signs off with the phrase “remember Zelmo Beaty.” Beaty, a basketball star in the 60s and 70s passed away recently and this past week Hang Up and Listen reminded us why we should indeed remember him. Stefan Fatsis’ obituary of Beaty opened by staking out Beaty’s importance as a pioneer for black players in professional basketball. But what caught this religious historian’s attention was the confluence of race and religion that surrounded Beaty’s move to Salt Lake City to play for the Utah Stars of the American Basketball Association in 1970.

Free agency in sports was still years away, so Zelmo had to sit out a season in order to be released from his NBA contract. But during that season, the Stars were sold to Bill Daniels, a pioneer in cable television. Daniels moved the team to Salt Lake City, the population of which was literally 99 percent white. Beaty announced that he wouldn’t report if the team went to Salt Lake, in part because of tensions between black athletes and the Mormon Church, which didn’t let blacks serve as priests. Sports Illustrated reported at the time that that local leaders assured Daniels that his players “would be well treated.” Beaty and his wife Ann made their own visit, were satisfied with their housing options, and agreed to go. All of the other black players on the Stars followed.

Beaty then led the team to the 1970-71 ABA title and won the MVP for the playoffs. But even more than that Beaty changed the face of basketball in Utah.

The Stars eventually started an all-black lineup in all-white Salt Lake City. Beaty wound up playing four seasons there, and he deserves clear credit for making the city a viable place for pro basketball. As SI wrote in 1974, “Beaty quickly gained acceptance from the Utah fans, not only by leading the Stars to a championship in their first season, but by remaining quietly congenial and displaying his considerable innate dignity. He remains the only black player who owns a house in Salt Lake. And, according to other players, Beaty passed the word around the ABA that Utah was an all-right place to play.” The Stars would fold when the ABA and NBA merged in 1976, but the city regained a franchise when the Jazz moved from New Orleans in 1979.

We would never have gotten Stockton to Malone without Zelmo Beaty.

So, for historians interested in questions of race, religion, and sports: Remember Zelmo Beaty.


Reza Aslan and the Impossibilty of an Expert in Religion in America

I think there has been one thing missing from all the blogging and twittering and Facebook posting over the Reza Aslan interview with Fox News:

For many Americans, the idea of an expert in religion is impossible. Sure, you may have a Ph.D., you may know texts in their original languages, you may even have written some books about the history of religions. But you aren’t an expert, in their eyes. Because you don’t REALLY KNOW. You haven’t FELT IT. DEEP DOWN. For most of America, to be an expert in religion one must be a TRUE BELIEVER.

For these Americans, to be an expert in religion makes as much a sense as being an expert in someone else’s mother’s lasagna recipe.

So, when the host, Lauren Green, asks Aslan why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus she is channeling a popular understanding of religion in America. She is denying that Aslan could be an expert in anything other than his own Islam. Thus, Aslan’s response that he has a Ph.D. and that this is his job and that he has lots of footnotes will never satiate Green and her audience because they all fall short of expertise. Unless he is a true believer in Jesus, these folks believe, it is impossible for Aslan to be an expert.

It’s like being a true vegan.

What does a real commitment to a certain way of thinking, speaking and behaving look like? Internally it means the idea gets such a hold on your brain that it would be impossible to abandon it without tearing apart the fabric of your being. You must tie yourself to the mast and make it neurologically impossible to change your mind on this one issue. You must be equivalent to your veganism such that to end your veganism would be to end yourself.

So how does one externally manifest this and, short of dying, authenticate a lifelong commitment to veganism? Some suggestions:

  • Refer to meat eaters as “carnists” and “corpse munchers.”
  • Address nonhuman animals in an inclusive manner that doesn’t obscure our own animality. Nonhuman animals are “other animals” or “animal others,” not “beasts” or “it.”
  • Get a visible and potentially career-undermining vegan tattoo.
  • Include a reference to anti-speciesism or sentience in your email address.
  • Bring most IRL conversations back around to the oppression of nonhuman animals.
  • Get a vasectomy, if a man, and an IUD if a woman.
  • Write a living will in which you ask to be euthanized if your memory degrades to the point that you don’t remember what veganism is.
  • Denounce so-called former vegans and call ex-veganism impossible.
  • And most important: Don’t stop believing.

Don’t stop believing, indeed.


American Journalists and the Always Reforming New Pope

Much of the recent coverage of the newly named Pope Francis I has focused on his role as a reforming pope for a church in crisis (e.g. this and this). It struck me that the “reforming pope” seems like an easy narrative to tell about a new pope so I did a quick search of the Making of America digital archive for “new pope” during the nineteenth century.

From the August 1846 issue of The American Whig Review regarding the new Pope Pius IX:

It is hoped, and confidently predicted, that he will administer the Papacy with moderation and discretion, and that he will introduce into the Papal states some of the reforms which have been so long and so greatly needed…

Caution and sou discretion, as well as boldness and vigor, will be required to introduce a new order of things.

From The Atlantic Monthly May 1878 regarding Pius IX’s successor Leo XIII upon his election:

Leo XII is certainly no fanatic, nor is he ignorant of the times in which he lives…Whatever the ends he may propose to himself, he will not seek to meet political antagonism by organizing medieval crusades; nor will he attempt to resist Protestantism or to put down infidelity by decreeing new honors to saints in paradise, or by accumulating new dogmas upon an already seriously overladen faith…

[If he] is to be an ecclesiastical reformer, as so many hope, he is not the name to make effusive announcements of his designs to the world beforehand, nor prematurely to arouse the violent resistance of the ultramontane party and the Jesuits by abrupt innovations or startling reversals of the measure of his predecessor.”

My point with these two examples is not to say anything about these popes and their status as reformers, but rather to highlight how American observers are always imaging and hoping for a reforming pope. For Protestant non-Catholic American observers, the new pope is always hoped to be a reformer, whatever that may mean at the time.


19th Century Evangelical Print Culture or 20th Century Digital/Social Media?

Found in Candy Gunther Brown’s The World in the World on page 169 whilst doing some evening dissertation study:

Rather than providing novel information, communication networks so employed regularly portray and confirm a particular vision of the world already assumed by its participants. Readers and writers engage in a dramatic confrontation between opposing forces–such as pure and corrupt Bible doctrine–and even when the act of communicating does not change the outcome of this conflict, they feel satisfied by rehearsing a familiar explanation of how things are in the world.

She’s describing 19th century evangelical periodicals. But it sure seems like it could apply to our current media landscape. The more things change…


Twitter is Too Cool for School

Twitter is shutting down the development of any more 3rd party client apps. Has Twitter gone to the cool kids?

Maybe Twitter’s not really for free-form posting anymore though. Maybe what Twitter leadership really wants is to create a Hollywood-glossy, TV-comfy place for “mainstream users” to read Tweets from famous people and big media brands. Maybe they’re too cool for school and don’t need the earnest nerds that built their ecosystem in the early days anymore. Now they’ve got Charlie Sheen. If you want to build an app that helps big brands figure out how to give Charlie Sheen money to post a photo holding up your product – more power to you. If you thought Twitter was a place for outlaws, for free thinkers, for innovators – you need to tuck in your shirt, cut your hair and get a clue. Stop even risking confusion on the part of mainstream users. If that’s not the message, Twitter sure didn’t make much effort to avoid sounding that way.

It’s like when the X-Games made skateboarding cool, all over again.


Religion Dispatches: Zeitgeist A Blend Of Skepticism, Metaphysical Spirituality, and Conspiracy

As Sarah notedGood Morning America reported last week that Jared Loughner had been influenced by the documentary Zeitgeist, a film that depicts Christianity, 9/11, and federal banking as conspiracies meant for social control. Since that report, the internet has been abuzz with attempts to locate Zeitgeist—and Loughner—on either the right or the left. Much of the analysis of Zeitgeist and Loughner has focused on its ideas about an international banking conspiracy that uses currency to foster debt slavery with the goal of instituting a one world government. But such analysis only accounts for part of what is going on in the film.

As Jesse Walker points out, in the case of Zeitgeist the labels “left” and “right” are pretty useless descriptors. Rather than placing the film, and by proxy Loughner, on the political spectrum, the religious elements of Zeitgeist provide another set of insights into the themes and theories that may have appealed to him. Although Walker calls it, for lack of a better label, “New Age paranoia,” the film defies easy categorization, but mixes anti-Christian polemic with metaphysical spirituality in its narrative of conspiracy, manipulation, and social control. And while it draws on different American strands of skeptical thought, from the founders through the present, and attempts to present a utopian vision of shared humanity that would overcome the dark conspiratorial world it depicts, ultimately that dark world is the film’s predominant theme.

Continue reading at Religion Dispatches>>>


Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

If you’re in Boston or headed to Boston for the AHA be sure to come check out my panel on Methodist media. I’m talking about representations of Hinduism in the Methodist Christian Advocate and Emory’s own Russ Richey will be responding to the panel. It should be a great time.

125th Annual Meeting (January 6-9, 2011): Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

Methodist Media: Comparing Means of Communicating the Message

American Society of Church History 26

Saturday, January 8, 2011: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM

St. George Room C (The Westin Copley Place)

Chair: Richard P. Heitzenrater, Duke University

Papers:

Evangelical Encounters: Authenticity in Early Methodist Worship

Erika K. R. Hirsch, Boston University

An Evangelical Public Relations Campaign: The Methodist Episcopal Church and Print Culture, 1792–1834

Elizabeth A. Georgian, University of Delaware

“The Spirit-Filled Teacher”: Methodist Educational Missions in Nineteenth-Century Asia

David W. Scott, Boston University

Methodists and India: Mapping, Contact, and Travel in the Christian Advocate, 1860–90

Michael J. Altman, Emory University

Comment:

Russell E. Richey, Emory University


Everything I Learned About Hanukkah Was On TV

I’ve got a new post up at Religion Dispatches where I present a different Hanukkah TV clip for each night of the holiday. If you haven’t seen the Hanukkah episode of The Nanny than you have missed out.

Check out the videos here.


Shariah-Approved Sex Aids, Abstinence-Only Goes to China, and Abercrombie Hijab…The Week in Religion, Poetically

Ramadan is not only a time for fasting, it’s also a time for the best television around the Muslim world. A television serial in Egypt has stirred controversy: The Group explores the world of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s largest opposition movement. Similarly, a Syrian serial, What Your Right Hand Possess (it sounds better in Arabic) has drawn furiouscriticism for allegedly distorting Islam. A Malaysian TV station has axed a commercial wishing Muslims a happy Eid al-Fitr because viewers complained the commercial was too Christmas-y.

In France, halal food is going upscale.

Christian morality meets communist population control: evangelical group Focus on the Family has partnered with Chinese officials to bring its abstinence program to Chinese teens. Muslim couples can find “shariah-approved” products for “sexual health” at El Asira—an online shop attracting 30,000 visits a week.

Teetotaling Mormons in Idaho grow barley for beer brewers.

A Muslim mason who worked to rebuild the Saint Jean Cathedral in Lyon, France, has been immortalized as a winged gargoyle on the facade of the church. The inscription beneath his stone image reads “God is great.” In Germany, a team of researchers have built digital models of synagogues destroyed by Nazis on Kristallnacht in 1938.

Continue Reading at Religion Dispatches>>>


My Outside Area Exam List: “Media Studies and Religion”

This is the third of four posts which include my various exam lists for my preliminary exams. This exam is in my “outside area” of Media studies. There’s some great theory on here as well as a lot of  stuff dealing with ethnography and representation. It is a little light on the religion side but that’s the point of the “outside” in the title, I guess. The anthropological emphasis of the exam really pushes it into a true “outside area” for a historian like me. As before, if you’re interested in conversation about something you see here, let me know.

Michael J. Altman

Outside Area Exam- Media Studies

I. Theory

Adorno, Theodor W, and M. Horkheimer. 1977. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as mass deception.” Pp. 350-383 in Mass Communication and Society, edited by James Curran, Michael Gurevitch, and Janet Woollacott. London: Edward Arnold.

Appadurai, Arjun. 1991. “Global Ethnoscapes: Notes and Queries for a Transnational Anthropology.” Pp. 191-210 in Recapturing Anthropology, edited by Richard G. Fox. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Baudrillard, Jean. 1980. “The Implosion of Meaning in the Media and the Implosion of the Social in the Masses.” Pp. 137-148 in The Myths of Information: Technology and Postindustrial Culture, edited by Kathleen Woodward. Madison: Coda Press.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 1993. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature / Re Bourdieu ; Edited and Introduced by Randal Johnson. edited by Randal Johnson. New York: Columbia University Press.

Fairclough, Norman. 1995. Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language / an Fairclough. London: Longman.

Fowler, Roger. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London: Routledge.

Goffman, Erving. 1981. Forms of Talk. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Hall, Stuart. 1980. “Encoding / Decoding.” Pp. 128-138 in Culture, Media, Language, edited by Stuart Hall, Dorothy Hobson, Andrew Lowe, and Paul Willis. London: Hutchinson.

McQuail, Denis. 2010. McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory. Sixth Edition. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Spitulnik, Debra. 1993. “Anthropology and Mass Media.” Annual Review of Anthropology 293-315.

Spitulnik, Debra. 1999. “Media.” Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 9:148-151.

II. Discourse

Bakhtin, M. M. 1981. The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. edited by Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge ; and, The Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon Books.

Richardson, John E. 2007. Analysing Newspapers: An Approach from Critical Discourse Analysis. Basingstoke [England]: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wodak, Ruth. 1999. The Discursive Construction of National Identity. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Woods, Nicola. 2006. Describing Discourse: A Practical Guide to Discourse Analysis. London: Hodder Arnold.

III. Representation

Karp, Ivan, and Steven Lavine, eds. 1991. Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display / Ed by Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Lutz, Catherine, and Jane Lou Collins. 1993. Reading National Geographic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

MacCannell, Dean. 1992. Empty Meeting Grounds: The Tourist Papers. London: Routledge.

Pratt, Mary Louise. 2008. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Tomlinson, John. 1991. Cultural Imperialism: A Critical Introduction. London: Pinter Publishers.

IV. Religion

Hoover, Stewart M. 2006. Religion in the Media Age. London: Routledge.

Richardson, John E. 2004. (Mis)representing Islam: The Racism and Rhetoric of British Broadsheet Newspapers. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub.

Rothenbuhler, Eric W. 1998. Ritual Communication: From Everyday Conversation to Mediated Ceremony. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Rothenbuhler, Eric W, and Mihai Coman, eds. 2005. Media Anthropology. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage.

Silk, Mark. 1995. Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Walton, Jonathan L. 2009. Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism. New York: New York University Press.

V. Ethnogprahy / Anthropology

Abu-Lughod, Lila. 2005. Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Couldry, Nick. 2007. Media Consumption and Public Engagement: Beyond the Presumption of Attention. New York, N.Y: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dornfeld, Barry. 1998. Producing Public Television, Producing Public Culture. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Hannerz, Ulf. 2004. Foreign News: Exploring the World of Foreign Correspondents. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kosnick, Kira. 2007. Migrant Media: Turkish Broadcasting and Multicultural Politics In Berlin. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Mankekar, Purnima. 1999. Screening Culture, Viewing Politics: An Ethnography of Television, Womanhood, and Nation in Postcolonial India. Durham, N.C: Duke University Press.

Peterson, Mark. 2003. Anthropology and Mass Communication : Media and Myth in the New Millenium. Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Radway, Janice. 1974. “Interpretive Communities and Variable Literacies.” Daedalus 113:49-73.

Radway, Janice. 1988. “Reception Study: Ethnographyand the problem of disperesed audiences and nomadic subjects.” Cultural Studies 2:359-376.

Spitulnik, Debra. 1993. “Anthropology and Mass Media.” Annual Review of Anthropology 293-315.

Spitulnik, Debra. “Thick Context, Deep Epistemology: A Meditiation on Wide-Angle Lenses on Media, Knowledge Production, and the Concept of Culture.” in Theorising Media and Practice, edited by B. Brauchler and J. Postill. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books.

Spitulnik, Debra. 1998. “Mediated Modernities: Encounters with the Electronic in Zambia.” Visual Anthropology Review 14:63-84.

Spitulnik, Debra. 2002. “Mobile Machines and Fluid Audiences: Rethinking Reception through Zambian Radio Culture.” in Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain, edited by Faye Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod, and Brian Larkin. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Tacchi, Jo. 1998. “Radio Texture: Between Self and Others.” Pp. 25-45 in Material Cultures: Why Some Things Matter, edited by Daniel Miller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

VI. Post-Print Media

Baron, Naomi S. 2008. Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jenkins, Henry. 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York University Press.

Morley, David. 1980. The Nationwide Audience: Structure and Decoding. London: British Film Institute.

Tolson, Andrew. 2006. Media Talk: Spoken Discourse on TV and Radio. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


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