Let’s say, for instance, you were at the forefront of popular culture in the free world, soon to be deposed and cast to a life of relative reality. If you were to host a party celebrating, commemorating and memorializing the occasion in the United States of America, who would you invite? With a good head on your shoulders, and among your own personal favorites, you would attempt to speak to the populace, who have chosen against you in the years ahead, allocating goodwill while bracing for the impact of an unforeseen, unpredictable regime.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama bestowed what will presumably be the final twenty Presidential Medals of Freedom of his record-setting Presidency, in which he dispensed more than any other in history. The man knows how best to leave a party, it seems. In returning to that question, who would play your societal funeral?
On Monday, the United States of America turns 240 years old. In celebration of the freedoms and rights we assured ourselves by Brexiting before it was fashionable, many people across this nation will take advantage of their day off by, presumably and in no particular order, consuming equally astronomical amounts of beer and processed meat, wearing comically large, themed sunglasses indoors, firing off possibly illicit explosives, sporting the stars and stripes as poolside attire, getting into arguments over Wiffle ball and not once, not ever mentioning professional football’s relationship with CTE, all while blaring Rick Derringer’s “Real American”.
Among these and the many other truths the writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence held to be self-evident in July 1776 lies the freedom to watch a cherished pastime in a live, nationally-televised broadcast. Though its life as a television spectacle started as a midsummer novelty, meant to alleviate the tedium of baseball highlight after ever-loving baseball highlight, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has quickly entered the lexicon of Great American Things™.
For three consecutive years in college, I bought the above as a poster at an annual fair on campus. The first two met their ends in predictable fashion, either tearing irreparably from the wall one night while I was asleep or falling victim to the typical antics of undergraduate dorm life. The third couldn’t handle the unexpected transition from average resident to resident assistant and ended up in a garbage can, probably next to some Bob Marley counterparts and cans of new formula Four Loko.
The image, of course, is one of the most iconic of the twentieth century, something not even its ubiquity in male collegiate dorm rooms can ruin. In it, Sonny Liston looks up helplessly at the heavyweight champion of the world, a Kentuckian formerly called Cassius Clay whose brash demeanor and furious wordplay underscored a revolutionary style of boxing for the heavyweight division. Muhammad Ali, who has passed away at 74, made a habit of shocking the world, precisely as he said he would.
Courtesy of ESPN
If the Major League Baseball All-Star Game had a place in American History curricula, 11-year-old me would be a figure taught alongside Boss Tweed. The democratic nature of electing the Midsummer Classic’s starting lineups was intoxicating to the dorky kid who watched coverage of the 2000 Florida recount every day after school. I was a conniving little bastard and when it came to finding ways to stuff the ballot box, I took my lessons less from old Joe and Jane Stadium Usher, who’d hand out ballots at the ballpark than I did from Chicago’s Daley clan.
No strategy was beneath me. Paying friends a few quarters to punch out the bags of ballots I’d bring home from a trip to Candlestick? Check. Fabricating email addresses to run up totals in the early days of online balloting? Yep. I was a foolhardy kid who thought that my dirty tactics made a difference in who’d trot out to represent their league each summer, and I took that shit seriously. It probably would’ve been good practice for a career in politics.
Over the years, the dynamics of voting in players for the ASG have changed. Over the years, online ballots have eclipsed voting at the ballpark as the preferred way to select the game’s starters. Teams now solicit fans to pull out their smartphones, click an app a few times, and presto, send the hometown nine’s best to the game. The speed of voting online has made it more effective than even the most mischievous fan could manage via the old-fashioned, Bush v. Gore-inducing, punch card manner.