Wednesday, March 11, 2009

People’s Temple Basketball Project

Full disclosure here: I have always had weird fascinations with bizarre cults. Mostly because it is so beyond me how anyone can give up their own sense of self and their own free thought to follow any kind of guru. When I was in junior high, I read Helter Skelter dozens of times, trying to wrap my head around why young girls would commit horrendous murders all in the name of a very lackluster musician and con artist named Charles Manson. Boggles the mind. I think I have blogged about my favorite book when I was a kid but I will bring it up again. I used to read this book obsessively as a kid:

And while reading it as a pre-teen, I came across Jonestown. Yet another unfathomable case of seemingly sensible people going to extremes normally reserved for people who also write on walls in their own feces just because they have fallen under the spell of a charismatic leader. I stuffed my DVD queue full of American Experience discs a few weeks ago to catch up on many that I have missed. Last night, I had two hours to kill before the Mavs-Suns tipped off and the American Experience documentary on Jonestown had arrived.

Now bear in mind that I was already pretty familiar with the details of Jonestown and the People’s Temple. But an hour after putting this DVD in, I sat on my couch with my jaw agape. My poor mother, bless her. She’s a history teacher who lived through the 60’s and 70’s and also teaches psychology so clearly she gets to be the person I call after watching this documentary. What followed was a 45 minute conversation that went from Okinawa to textile-producing Utopian communities in New England in the 1800’s to the problem with the flexibility of the modern application of the term “socialism” to how great TV is.

And here’s the conclusion I came to: I am either not enlightened enough, have become too spoiled, am too lazy or am too spiritually bankrupt to see anything worthwhile in the kind of pursuits and ideals that ultimately led those 909 people to drink the Kool Aid. And this is obviously not a condemnation of those people who fell prey to Jim Jones. As my mom pointed out, a huge factor was the spirit of the times and the feeling alternately of revolution and oppression and upheaval none of which I experienced as I had not been born and stuff. But if the pitch you are giving me is “Come with me to the hot, sweaty ass jungles of Guyana where you will work in the fields doing hard labor picking crops each day. But don’t worry because at the end of the day, you will return to your shack where there will be no televisions, no newspapers, no radio, only the sound of my delusional ravings over the loudspeaker 24 hours a day. Who’s in?” I guess I should feel ashamed that my desire to become spiritually enlightened is not greater than my hatred of manual labor. But that’s just the way it is. The only cult I subscribe to is the cult of Dallas sports franchises who cannot string together anything more than first round playoff exits.

Which leads me to last night’s Mavs game. I was pretty sure that I had primed myself for watching mass basketball suicide by watching the Jonestown documentary before the Suns-Mavs game last night. Even by halftime, I wondered if I was going to have to declare JJ Barea the new Savior of the Mavs considering he lead the team in scoring at the half with 14. But somehow, in some great show of apostolic athleticism and despite the Suns (well, Nash and Barnes) repeatedly scoring in 5 seconds or less in the final minute and a half of the game, the Mavs hung on and beat the Suns. That means that they are 5 games ahead of the Suns and only half a game behind the #7 Nuggets. Tonight they play Portland who, because I am too lazy not only to go live in a jungle and tend to banana crops in the hot sun but also to go check the Western Conference standings right now, are the 5th seed but only a game and a half ahead of the Mavs. I think. I can only hope that the mailman brings me yet another completely depressing American Experience documentary today to kill the two hours between The Simpsons and the Mavs game. Perhaps even one about Pompeii, just in case the Mavs get buried alive by the Trailblazers tonight.

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