How Quickly They Forget: The Rise and Fall of the Kevin Durant Mythos

As with the stories of the few superstars that have preceded it, the story of the ascension to fame of Kevin Durant has been a spectacle through and through. In the few years that Durant has been in the league, he has amassed an enviable collection of accolades: MVP, four scoring titles, seven All-NBA teams, and eight All-Star teams, just to name a few.

On the court, Durant is an unstoppable force to be reckoned with, both offensively and defensively. Offensively, he is a triple-threat player, able to exploit defenders’ holes and post up, drive in, shoot from seemingly anywhere, and pass at will, all with an agility and footwork that is virtually unmatched. His lean, seven-foot frame, combined with his acute awareness and vision on the court, necessitate a defensive strategy that prioritizes a disproportionate focus on neutralizing him as soon as he touches the ball. Defensively, his wingspan and quickness allow him to wallop balls in mid-air in a split-second, whether it involve defending layups or pull-up jumpers.

Off the court, Durant has a demure demeanor, but in years past has also exhibited an incisive ability to shut down reporters’ inane questions, a unique combination of humility and confidence that balances precariously between the extremes of crippling self-doubt and arrogance. In essence, Durant knows when to assert himself, but mostly settles into a sort of rhythm of quietude and focus that complement the smoothness with which he moves on the court.

Yet this humility doesn’t just stop at his deflection of questions about his greatness, which questions are just attempts at flattery, a pathetic tendency of journalists to curry favor in their interviewees’ eyes. No basketball fanatic can deny the raw and powerful message that Durant drove home to his mother when giving his MVP acceptance speech: “You the real MVP.”

Strange isn’t it then, that this very Durant, a superstar in his own right, endorsed by Nike and Gatorade and the like, who used his MVP as a platform not to boast about his greatness but to be real, talking about the struggles of growing up in D.C. as a black kid in the midst of obstacles that no white kid could ever imagine; talking about how his mother made sure to put food on the table, even as she herself would go hungry—this very Durant, who donated $1 million to the Red Cross in 2013 for disaster relief of the tornado that obliterated parts of Moore, and who continues to donate through his charity foundation to struggling children in OKC, would be skewered by social media for his decision to leave the Thunder and join Golden State?

I brace for the storm of interjections: “but he went to the best team in the league,” and “he’s still a traitor,” and that, claim more astute observers, “he upset the balance in the league.” And there are some fair points to be made here, most of which are blown out of proportion from the understandable dismay that devoted OKC Thunder fans felt upon his departure.

But if you take a step back and really soak it all in, it should seem bizarre that everyone was, and still are, up in arms in the first place. If there’s anything to be taken away from the unrest, it is that this very unrest speaks volumes about the elite company of franchise players in which Durant has seated himself, whose talents surmount every other player in the league. No one bats an eye when someone like Matt Barnes moves around from team to team. He’s a great player, don’t get me wrong, and it goes without saying that any NBA player is among the best players in the world, probably within the top 0.001% of the world’s basketball players (a rough estimation that is made difficult by the blurred lines that distinguish professional basketball players from recreational ones); however, Durant is easily one of the top five players in the league, a distinction that has come to be accepted over the years with such unwavering conviction that whenever he left the Thunder, the populace followed very closely, thumbs tapping on screens in anticipation, almost as though the matter of his departure was not a resolution in itself but the exposition of a climax yet to be presented. His fans had to go through a grieving process and still are, which grieving I find to be deplorable for the primary and hopefully obvious reason that one should never live vicariously through others, especially celebrities, which is an inadvertent consequence of the cult of personality in which we find ourselves in contemporary society.

Yet this usage of the term “cult of personality” is an operational one, for it departs from the intended definition by the sociologist Max Weber to describe an authoritarian who leverages his position to mythify and elevate his persona such that he effectively becomes irrefutable: his charisma has been painstakingly manufactured and disseminated to such a prevalence that the boundaries between truth and fiction have become blurred and there’s seemingly nothing the authoritarian could do to err by the eyes of the public. And it is operational because it is not Durant himself who had constructed the aura of the inerrant, humble man who could in turn do no wrong by the eyes of his fans and the world at large—far from it. It was the media that artificed this image of perfection that obviously no one can meet, one commingled with Durant’s piety that in such a way he was elevated almost to a modern-day prophet, a man of seemingly boundless talent and compassion who uses basketball as a platform to give glory to the God, however the story goes.

And it isn’t purely out of ill or selfish intent that the media erected this image; Durant is indeed a humble and pious man whose charity cannot be questioned. With his unique personality, Durant proffered a fresh interpretation of what the basketball superstar could be: one that didn’t encompass a hyper-masculine player whose aggression was palpable on and off the court.

But if piety is to be measured by charity, it is also measured by loyalty, an unspoken obligation that Durant’s fans and the media alike have held him to, as if the timeline on his contract and his subsequent discretion in his free agency were just farces—as though by virtue of his being such a good person he was expected to meet every stringent criterion of godliness that became part and parcel of his mythos—as if, and I will not dial back in saying it—he is not a free man.

So say what you will about his decision to leave the Thunder, but if your argument is to be predicated on his disloyalty, which disloyalty has been likened to that of a snake, which in turn in the Bible is synonymous with that of the serpent or Satan, dare I say that you are grossly mistaken.

Durant is not disloyal: he’s a human being who cannot be neatly categorized into reductive and immutable traits. He’s a free man who can do what the fuck he wants, because as far as I’m concerned, he didn’t break the law, did he?

He just broke your heart.

So take some time off, take a walk, and get over it. You’ll be alright.

Kevin Durant deserves respect and will invariably get respect in the eyes of posterity—or so I hope.

On the Topic of Dignity

I recently read an article by Noam Chomsky about the topic of dignity and the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza, about how Palestinians remain steadfast and hopeful about the future in spite of oppression and violence, they who have lost the comfort of their homes: the simple things, like being able to wake up and bask in the silence of a morning. And yet they are dignified, refusing to acquiesce or prostrate themselves before their oppressors.

I write this now, unable to grasp the profundity of their situation and of those in the world at large. The more I read about the world, the more I realize just how fortunate I am to be living in the greatest country in the world, a beneficiary who can sit back and rattle off about all the shitty things in this country.

It is hard for me to understand what they feel, but my intuition guides my line of reasoning and tells me that it must not be easy, that in many ways our actions are diametrically opposed: whereas I blithely grimace over a salty meal, they must contrive a smile when feeling hunger pangs; whereas I talk massive amounts of shit on any and everything, they must remain silent; whereas I can effortlessly turn the faucet for a drink of water, they must walk miles for a few drips.

But who the hell am I kidding? I haven’t been to these places. My perspective is limited. I am ignorant no doubt. Maybe some people don’t smile. Maybe they aren’t all levelheaded in their suffering. Maybe some of them give up and are crushed by the weight of their suffering. Maybe some of them are undignified.

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Donald Trump: The Genius behind the Fool

As I write this, Donald Trump has swept the New Hampshire primary with ten delegates. Undeniably, his campaign has generated massive traction. At first, when I heard about Donald Trump running for president after his roast on Comedy Central in 2011, I laughed and dismissed it as a fluke, almost as phony as the toupee on his head.

But as with many things in life that happen almost spontaneously, the journey of Donald Trump from a towering mogul and TV celebrity to a legitimate front-runner in the GOP race has completely taken me by surprise. To be frank, in one sense, I cannot comprehend how the message of someone who spews the same nonsensical, recycled garbage at an elementary literacy level could resonate with so many people.

But in another sense, it makes complete sense. You see, the brilliance of Trump’s campaign has been very simple: let Trump be Trump.

It is all too easy as a rational person to tear apart the aphorisms that consistently predicate on the premise that our country is completely broke and the half-baked proposals of protecting the border; let alone his inability to completely finish a thought. Some have even gone so far to question the source of his massive success, pointing to the fact that he inherited his wealth from his father, or that he filed bankruptcy four times.

And these criticisms may be all well and good, but they are all encapsulated within one ingenious web that Trump has woven himself thread by thread. What makes the man so polarizing? He is willing to speak whatever is on his mind. Forget about the intense fixation of politicians on synthesizing the best soundbytes. The man says whatever pops up in his mind at whatever given moment. Yes, sometimes he says misogynistic things. But that is the point. Whereas many people in the public eye hire exorbitant publicists to protect their fickle images, Trump is willing to fight back the very system that threatens to eradicate his persona: the media. Yes, he repeats the same lines over and over. But at the end of the day, how many politicians have the gall or courage (depending on how you look at it) to do what he does? I can name two off the top of my head, and they are both leading their respective races. The fact remains: Trump is simply being Trump.

But then this begs the question: who the hell is this Trump? I mean, it is easy to get emotionally swept up in either direction, on one end worshiping the character who promises to annihilate ISIS and police the world, hearkening back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick Policy, and on the other questioning the intelligence of both the man himself and his massive constituency—but these detract from a closer look at the source of all the madness.

For some context, let’s take a look at his older interviews.

Watching this video, it becomes evident that the Trump in this video is distinctly different from the Trump we see in rallies today in that he is poised, eloquent, even humble. He uses words like “equilibrium” and “innate intelligence,” clear departures from his current vernacular.

So what the fuck happened?

Nothing: The man simply became more of who he was destined to become.

To fully understand the evolution of Trump is to understand the celebrity culture of America on a broader level. We are inundated with images and stories of child celebrities who grow up and become major fuck-ups, and actors and rock stars who overdose on heroin or cocaine; all of these the darker reflections of life in the public eye. But these are only the tip of an iceberg of a cult of personality that erects a powerful image to everything we admire.

In the purest sense, a celebrity is the face of a movement that affects change on a massive scale, the ignition of a combustion that departs from the mundane and paves the way for a completely new way of feeling. There is a sense of reinvigoration that comes from witnessing a person erect himself in front of massive audiences, a kind of visceral hope that tugs on one heart and makes one forget about the daily struggles of being average. It is almost as though by witnessing greatness one becomes part of the legacy itself.

When people dismiss the potency of Trump as a front-runner, they ignore this element of Trump, his way of drawing people in with his ability to appear like an iconoclast and everyman when in reality he is part of the elite.

Let me perfectly clear: I do not support Trump. I think he’s a fool. But the object of my derision is not the person himself. It is the persona. The man behind the mask is a mastermind. He is effectively tugging on the primal instinct of the masses by being an amplified version of himself. Everything he once was is now vulgarized and sensationalized. His body language is more pronounced, his diction is more pointed, his words are simpler. He reinforces his simple claims that we’re fucked with stupid but emotionally charged monosyllabic words. By polarizing people so powerfully he separates himself from other presidential candidates who rely on their legitimacy as candidates on the basis of ethos or logos.

His message is purely dependent upon his pathos.

But Trump has taken it to another level. There have been plenty of GOP candidates who have said things for shock value. But what makes Trump so appealing more than anything in that in his language there is a recurring theme of white butthurtedness that is pounded into the heads of his supporters. How does he reinforce it? Simple diction.

China.

Japan.

Mexico.

Muslims.

What do they all have in common?

They are foreigners. Keep them the fuck out. Seal our borders. Make America great again by maintaining white privilege.

But what has astounded me even further is that there is a growing number of Mexican supporters of Trump. My theory is that it is a reflection of a concerted effort of historically disadvantaged people in America to receive a sense of validation by assimilating themselves into dominant, white culture and supporting the face of a movement they admire. They want to be part of the ride.

Trump offers many people the hope of freedom, no matter how unrealistic it may actually be. Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential race, Trump has succeeded in entering the sphere of my consciousness and reminding me that we as humans are not as capable of logical and higher thinking that we suppose ourselves to be. And this scares me inordinately. We only need history to tell us where that goes when we let go of the ability to reason and follow blindly out of pure emotion.

There are millions of fools who flock to a leader who probably doesn’t give two shits about them.

 

 

 

A Joke of an Identity: An Entreaty to Asian American Men.

You’ve seen it all too many times, the Asian kid who stumbles across a hallway with physics and math textbooks draped on one arm and a giant backpack full of ostensibly more textbooks draped on the other shoulder, followed by an apologetic smile, or rather an unsightly upturning of the corners of his mouth in what is designed to emulate a realhuman smile, and the pushing up of the glasses on the bridge. It’s burned into our minds.

When I conjure such an image in my mind, no public figure bursts forth into my consciousness so palpably as Ken Jeong. To me, he is the embodiment of the emasculated Asian man, nonthreatening and pandering with the mockery of himself and his native culture, and definitively unattractive. “But wait,” I hear from the typical white college douche bag who wears shirts that never fit and shoes that haven’t been washed or replaced in years; “He’s funny!” Then I hear him, as he proceeds to quote his famous line as if no one has heard it before: “Chao outside mudafuka!”

The problem I see more than anything is that there has been a continued proliferation of emasculating images of the Asian American male by Hollywood over decades and this has invariably conditioned our minds on a visceral level to see Asian American males as being either nerds or martial artists. The more sensible fool among us wearing horn-rimmed glasses with the superficial credentials to bolster his bullshit will stop me here. He will note how Asians do tend to be nerdy and do tend to practice traditional martial arts. But the problem with such an assertion is that it encapsulates an entire group of people on a few rigid descriptions of who they are, and this in turn influences their behavior. This is one of many examples of how an observation itself can influence an outcome, and this applies both to the person who must fulfill that prescriptive social identity and to the people around him in his life. Asian kid notices he doesn’t have friends until he demonstrates his math skills and gains friends albeit fellow nerds, and then follows a career path in math only to realize he hates it. But the expectation of people around him all along was that he was meant to be an engineer, not a thoughtful poet, God forbid.

In many ways Ken Jeong is the representation of this phenomenon. He was presumably a stellar student who became a practicing medical doctor and performed stand-up comedy on the side, only to decide that his contrived accents were not enough for laughs, and immersed himself into his own voluntary defamation and that of his fellow people, all of this stemming from a deep inner desire to be liked. To be accepted. But in the process he basically became a coked up version of the stereotypical Asian American with a shitty Asian accent even though he has a perfect American accent; and with no tangible possession of a phallus, taking the stereotype that Asian men have small penises to another height (pun intended).

You see, to understand the struggle of the Asian American male is to understand the inability of one to find sanctum in looking up to a cultural icon and extricate oneself from the inevitable catch-22: either we fully immerse ourselves into the hegemonic, white culture, and dress and act white while operating under the pretense that the constant racist jokes from our white friends means nothing because we are the same as them (picture the Asian kid wearing a bowtie on top of a Polo shirt and Sperry boat shoes); or we abandon all sense of inclusion into mainstream culture and delve further into the neatly laid out role of the sexless Asian robot who is expected to code away and play video games on his free time, not fuck women as a desirable man should. Of course there is another choice, as remote as the native lands themselves, of adopting the cultural ideals of their bloodline, what with the craze of eye makeup, just one facet of the pretty boy obsession, a pertinent social phenomenon in South Korea. But having grown up in America and thereby having absorbed all of its ideals, Asian American men have a hard time understanding the allure of a culture as seemingly remote to them as the prospect of dating a white woman. And so lies the great travesty of navigating the rough social terrain of America: the odds of genuine social acceptance are stacked against us.

But instead of internalizing these entrenched racist images in defeat, dare I entreat the fellow Asian American male reader: do not lose faith. With this stale, synthetic singularity in the Asian American identity comes an opportunity to break out of the shell and turn heads by embracing one’s uniqueness, a quality that is utterly independent of one’s race. As it stands, no man has done this better since Bruce Lee than David Choe.

Enter a man with as few filters while speaking his mind as the number of condoms that Charlie Sheen has used over the years. He is a resounding cultural icon, a representation of a new wave in not just the Asian American identity, but the American identity as a whole. Loud-mouthed, vulgar, lewd, but quintessentially bad ass. His entire bio is so ridiculous that one is inclined to laugh in disbelief. He is a self-proclaimed gambler, sex fiend, food addict, and a damned talented artist, and he relays much of his personal life to listeners through his podcast.

You see, a persona like David Choe’s has gained traction precisely because it is different. In a world full of stuttering, hesitating, and nervous Asian nerds there threaten to exist a few David Choes who sweep in unapologetically and take what is theirs, whether it be fame, money, or pussy.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I necessarily subscribe to his ideologies and his way of doing things, like punching himself in the nose for blood to smear on his canvas and his method of playing blackjack, which involves using the double-up Martingale system, which is categorically retarded; but I appreciate the brazenness and the utter indifference he possesses in tackling these very social issues and raising important questions.

Why is it, he would ask in his interview with Joe Roganthat Jackie Chan, the star of a billion dollar franchise, can’t fuck the girl or even fingerbang the girl in Rush Hour 1 or 2? Why can’t [he] be sexual?

Setting the lewdness aside, there is a point to be made. To me, the answer is plain and simple: just as the dominant white culture has feared the rise of African Americans and has gone to great lengths to stem their impending acceptance into mainstream popular culture, so too is the dominant culture actively trying to suppress the inclusion of Asian American males lest they threaten to tip the precarious social balance for which white men have been riding a long wave of unbridled privilege. And more than anything, I believe there is a visceral fear among the elite that they will lose their sense of privilege, which is predominantly predicated on the purity of their racial identity. If Asian men come into social prominence in America, they threaten to take what is the white man’s most prized possession: their female counterpart.

So fundamentally understanding this ongoing racist phenomenon is understanding how it is inextricably tied to a sexist phenomenon, in which white women are told exactly how to think and behave because they are seen as prized objects. This coupling of racism and sexism is known in sociology as intersectionality and is important in getting to the root of all of this nonsense. As such, I believe that in order to nip this subversive racism in the bud, we must also empower women to break out of the shackles of sexual objectification.

Nevertheless, no matter how daunting such a process may be, in order to find our rightful place in American culture, we must first collectively speak out, but most importantly, act out. That is, pursue our passions unrelentingly and shape an identity that transcends the mundane. That isn’t to say that I shun Asian American men going into computer science; rather, I shun the idea of Asian American men unwittingly adopting every nuance of their social subjugation and doing nothing to further their brilliance, even if it means straying outside of the rigid social boundaries.

And to all the naysayers who question the urgency or even legitimacy of these issues, I say: fuck you, your opinion is null because you are obviously blind. And to Hollywood, who has made a killing by suppressing the creative expression of groups of people on the basis of race and gender and refusing to expand their creative vision lest they lose their predominantly conservative, white audience, I say: fuck you too. But most of all, to all the Asian men who silently hang their heads and wonder if they’ll ever truly be accepted or respected as men and not just drones, I say: fuck you, you’re much bigger than that. No matter how unchanging an image may seem, with a vision and a determination to follow through, it can always change.

As a final message to any Asian American male reader: Sack up, speak out when necessary, and follow your passions. The rest will fall into place.