Posted today by the New York Times: an extensive article about Fresno State’s bulldog mascot and how it plays a double role as football icon and gang symbol. Yes, it pretty much makes the whole city sound like a war zone. Peruse this scene-setting opening paragraph:
FRESNO, Calif. — Bulldogs can be seen snarling from flagpoles, from baseball caps, from T-shirts and from tattoos — one man has the dog’s face inked across his torso, its behind across his back. Young men on street corners bark at passing patrol officers. They call their children “little dogs” or “bull puppies.” Police raids find their targets asleep beneath red blankets emblazoned with the dog.
The several thousand words that follow aren’t groundbreaking or particularly timely — one of the underpinnings of the article is the murder of a Fresno man, allegedly for wearing a Bulldog sweatshirt, that occurred in 2011 — but this is more one of those “big picture” stories that tries to capture the zeitgeist of a city for a national audience. In that regard, it’s probably no better or worse than most such stories. It addresses serious issues that are very real, if not quite as all-consuming as suggested by the Times article. In that sense, it’s good for all of us. And, in a very practical way, it reminds me that when I read stories about other cities, regions or parts of the world in the national and international media, I should be aware of the human tendency to generalize.
Photo: New York Times
I often chafe at the generalizations made by national reporters when writing about my city — but that probably goes for most folks. (Just think if every story about New York City or San Francisco started with a description of the South Bronx or the Tenderloin.) This Times story, actually, doesn’t get quite as poetic as an article in May about Fresno’s poet laureate, which probably set a record for use of the word “dusty.” Sure, this Bulldog story gets its jabs in, such as this choice aside: “An adage here says the city’s cultural season starts with the first kickoff.” (Um, yeah, that’s how I think of the fall season — forget about the Fresno Philharmonic opener.)
My favorite bit of overkill comes when reporter Malia Wollan describes a Fresno State football tailgate scene:
At the game, thousands gathered hours beforehand to grill food, drink beer and toss footballs in the lingering Central Valley summer heat. The smell of fertilizer, livestock and dust mingled with smoke.
I know that I often drive a few head of cattle out to Fresno State when I visit campus, just to keep in practice.
One last thing about the story: I was surprised that Fresno State officials basically refused to talk to the Times:
Just how the gang’s enthusiasm for all things Fresno State Bulldogs has affected sales and licensing of the merchandise is difficult to determine. The university declined to comment on the gang situation or to facilitate access to coaches, players and any information about licensing.
Too bad. A statement — and cooperation — by the university could perhaps have added nuance to the story. Instead, Fresno State comes across as too scared, or not sophisticated enough, to talk to the big national newspaper. Kinda sad.