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Shows that went on way too long
"Californication" (seven seasons)
If it weren’t for Robert Griffin III, the national controversy over the name of Washington’s football team might not be much of a controversy at all.
The increasing chatter around the need for a name change for the Washington Redskins — with media outlets like Slate and Mother Jones banning the name, and President Barack Obama suggesting that ownership “think about changing it” in a recent interview — has coincided with the team’s recent success, buoyed by ebullient quarterback “RG3.” Though the still-young current season has been less successful, last year saw the team making the playoffs for the first time since 2007. And it’s brought new scrutiny to a team whose name is a uniquely offensive term for Native Americans.
And so it is that casual football fans or non-fans have had the name in front of them more frequently than ever. It’s something of a Catch-22 for the management that’s sworn it will never change: “If they were to have a miserable season, that’d be really good for people who want to keep the name,” said Jamie Mottram, the director of content development at USA Today Sports Media Group and a blogger about D.C. sports. “The worse they are, the better it is for people who want to keep the name. I can’t imagine the fever pitch that will ensue if they were to get really good; if they were to get to the Super Bowl with RG3, it’d be the story.”
And Redskins fans seem hopeful that the problem will just go away. Said Mottram: “Being a fan who’s a proponent of the name change, there are other fans who accuse you of not being a fan. If you think the name is racist or should be changed, you’re not a fan of the Redskins.”
The climate is such that Washington Post sportswriter Dan Steinberg told Salon via email: “I’ve tried pretty hard not to really say anything of substance on the issue and I’m trying to keep my streak going.”
Said D.C. sports blogger Mike Harar, who would continue to support the team if they changed their name, “Outsiders maybe don’t see that the team has been here for 75 years. It’s generations of people who’ve grown up around the franchise. People think of [coach] Joe Gibbs and Super Bowls and [running back] John Riggins and the good times the city’s had when they think of the name. Even though the Redskins would never fly today, everybody loves the Redskins.”
To change a team’s name is to change in some fundamental way its DNA — even if the players and management are all the same. And Redskins fans, Harar and Mottram both suggested, view themselves as supporting a storied franchise, even though they’d, of course, never use the term in real life. Supporting the team, said Mottram, meant he currently outfitted his young children in Redskins gear and had, when younger, ignored protests. But today, he said, if the name changed, “I wouldn’t be ashamed to root for them. It is a shameful enterprise to root for a team called the Redskins.” To be a fan hoping for a name change is to admit that one’s own support for the Redskins has been shameful. No wonder so many fans want to keep the status quo.
But just what is the damage of an offensive mascot? Several teams aside from the particularly offensive Redskins retain names that reference Native Americans, including the Cleveland Indians and the Atlanta Braves; many college teams have changed their names, but many more, like the University of Illinois’s Fighting Illini, retain them (though Illinois retired the mascot Chief Illiniwek in 2007). Leanne Howe, a professor of American Indian studies at Illinois, noted that even though the school has said the team name is a means of honoring native peoples, people from other schools showed graphic disregard for the dignity of actual Illini people: “We see ourselves hanged by the opposing team or our bodies are on fire. It may be intended as a way of honoring, but what happens is that other people portray them with their necks cut or their bodies torn asunder.”
“Here at Illinois,” she added, “other teams are killing the Indians.”
Whether or not fans of opposing teams are actually depicting native peoples as dead in their hopes to get a win over the Illini, the Braves or the Redskins, they’re still framing them as something less than human. The Redskins play against the Bears, the Lions, the Eagles, the Panthers, the Falcons …
As Chadwick Allen, a professor of English specializing in comparative indigenous literary studies at Ohio State University, noted: “You have native people relegated to the past and made unreal as contemporary citizens. When people hear these names they think of the deeper past, not contemporary people. Other sports teams are named things like the Spartans or animals associated with being aggressive or strong.” Naming football teams after Native Americans in the first place is a way to put them safely where they belong, under the control of white management as surreal figures of fun and fantasy, the exact counterbalance to the Paul Revere-like New England Patriots (and this leaves entirely aside the issue of just how offensive “Redskins” is compared to, say, “Illini”).
“In the imagination of mainstream Americans, they’re still fighting the Indian wars,” said Howe. “They only happen to be on the gridiron.”
Joanna Hearne, professor of English specializing in Native American and indigenous film and media at the University of Missouri, noted that use as team mascots was specific to Native Americans in sports: “No one would do that with an image of Sambo. Over time with protests from Native American communities, and shifts in education and increasing Native access to media and representation, there is consciousness that this is pageantry of colonialization.” In other words, to portray a Native American as a mascot representing athletic talent and, as in the case of the Redskins’ unofficial mascot Chief Zee, comic bonhomie, is a process of erasing the humanity of Native Americans and a specific story of their actual slaughter — per Hearne, “legitimizing title occupation and ownership of land.”
And while these may be issues that Redskins fans aren’t yet entirely ready to deal with, Native American activists have been dealing with them for a long time — along with many other pressing concerns. As Hearne put it: “The Native community is really tired of talking about this.”
Daniel D'Addario is a staff reporter for Salon's entertainment section. Follow him on Twitter @DPD_ More Daniel D'Addario.
"Californication" (seven seasons)
"Entourage" (eight seasons)
Much like “Californication,” this man-centric show started strong and buzzy -- a perpetual nominee at the Golden Globes and Emmys, and a perceived gender-swapped “Sex and the City.” Then it ground on and on, and what might once have been read as a sophisticated satire of Hollywood materialism became a grinding conveyor belt of self-congratulatory guest-star appearances.
"Will & Grace" (eight seasons)
Hey, did someone say “self-congratulatory guest-star appearances?” Look -- it’s Jennifer Lopez, and Cher, and Janet Jackson, and Madonna! The latter seasons of “Will & Grace” effectively ruined the fun of watching the show in syndication now -- will it be a fun and jaunty early episode, or a later episode in which title characters enact an Ibsen play about having a baby together (really) while Jack and Karen meet one pop star or another? The fact that the show hastened a widespread acceptance of gay people that, then, made the show something of a throwback by the time it ended is one thing; the fact that the show itself seemed uninterested in relying on its actors’ sharp comic timing is quite another.
"The King of Queens" (nine seasons)
This CBS stalwart just kind of kept going, exactly as long as was needed to launch Kevin James’ film career. In the show’s final minutes, a formulaic sitcom became a mile-a-minute soap, with the central characters considering divorce and then having two children.
"Frasier" (11 seasons)
Though it ended strong, "Frasier" had something of the opposite problem as “The King of Queens”: While the CBS comedy chucked a whole bunch of plot at viewers toward the end, NBC’s Emmy magnet stayed stuck in familiar ruts, with Frasier questing endlessly for love and Daphne and Niles in fairly unthrilling domestic bliss. The jokes stayed good, but this maybe could have gone one or two years shorter.
"Weeds" (eight seasons)
As “Homeland” viewers may be learning, Showtime isn’t particularly good at keeping its shows coherent over time. (Maybe this is “Californication”’s issue -- we wouldn’t know!) This show changed settings and, effectively, organizing conceits so many times that by the end, it had few earnest defenders.
"Nip/Tuck" (six seasons)
This FX series, too, changed settings midway through, moving from Miami to Los Angeles four seasons in for no compelling reason. The show’s most gripping subplots had a way of petering out (remember the anticlimactic solution to the mystery of the Carver?), and its bizarre tendencies overtook any sense of fun.
"Glee" (five seasons and counting)
The series has, like its sibling show “Nip/Tuck” (Ryan Murphy created them both), switched locations, moving in large part to New York once its core cast graduated high school. But what’s the point of a high school series when the stars graduate? Despite some lovely moments, the show’s heat seems gone, and attempts to get back into the conversation (the school shooting episode, for instance) have been more desperate and tone-deaf than effective.
"Grey's Anatomy" (10 seasons and counting)
Here’s the thing: By all accounts, “Grey’s Anatomy” is not a creative failure. And it’s still widely watched. But when you begin your life as a world-beating hit, anything else seems somewhat marginal. “Grey’s Anatomy” has shed more regular viewers than many shows will ever hope to get in the first place (same’s true of “Survivor” and latter-day “ER,” to name just a few). Those who stopped watching once the Golden Globe nominations petered out may wonder why the show is still on; loyal viewers know better.
"The Simpsons" (25 seasons and counting)
Like the “Grey’s” doctors, the Springfield clan and their neighbors still draw a crowd. But “The Simpsons” is so omnipresent in syndication and in pop culture that the first-run series seems besides the point (not least because, though there are good episodes here and there, the show’s best days are universally agreed to be behind it -- like way behind it, in the 1990s).
"The Office" (nine seasons)
There was a natural break for this show, where it ought to have ended -- with the departure of lead actor Steve Carell in Season 7. The latter years were a creative fugue state, and as NBC’s Thursday night lineup continued to flatline in the ratings, one-time fans could be forgiven at their surprise that the adventures of Jim and Pam kept on unfolding.
"The X-Files" (nine seasons)
Once one of the show’s leads departs and has to be replaced -- as Steve Carell did on “The Office,” or David Duchovny did here -- the show faces a reckoning; if the lead is so central to the show’s plot as to make people wonder how the show could possibly go on, maybe the show shouldn’t. And even “X-Files” superfans might have been happier with fewer seasons of drawing out the conspiracy string toward a famously unsatisfying ending.
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