Sumo wrestling is the best sport and Roald Dahl is my favorite piece of garbage
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If you know anything about me, it is that I do not care about sports. Not one whit. But the best sport, I am certain, is sumo wrestling. No, I have never watched a sumo wrestling match in my life, unless you count the scenes from, uh, Jackie Chan Adventures with Tohru in them or some racist scenes from Austin Powers. No, my certainty comes from the fact that the only thing that makes me willing to read sports journalism is if that sport is sumo wrestling.
Yesterday, FiveThirtyEight published “The Sumo Matchup Centuries In The Making,” which analyzes how Hakuho, the greatest sumo wrestler of our lifetime, stacks up against the all-time greats. This is more interesting than the same exercise in almost any other sport because, unlike almost any other sport, sumo wrestling is centuries old, so there are centuries of sumo legends to compare him to. The one figure who towers over all other sumo wrestlers is Raiden, who was born in 1767 and who won more than 90% of his matches.
In 2014, Grantland (RIP) published “The Sea of Crises” by Brian Phillips, a deep dive into sumo culture. But it’s really also about Yasunari Kawabata and suicide. Read it. It’s beautiful and will change the way you look at the sport (if you even had a frame of reference already).
Steven Spielberg adapted Roald Dahl’s The BFG into a movie. As a huge Steven Spielberg and a huge Roald Dahl fan, I am really excited to watch it. However, Roald Dahl, though he may be one of the most influential authors in my life, was also an antisemitic piece of shit.
When he was first asked about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism, at a press conference after a screening of the movie, Spielberg deflected the question. Via The Hollywood Reporter:
“I wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories,” said Spielberg when asked about his knowledge of the late author’s views. “I was focused on this story he wrote.”
He added: “This is a story about embracing our differences.”
It’s bizarre. Spielberg didn’t know about Roald Dahl’s antisemitism? Did he google him? Manohla Dargis, bless her, pushed the point in an interview with Spielberg a little. Thankfully, he had a more interesting answer this time:
Q. I want to bring up the question that someone in the press conference asked regarding Roald Dahl [whom some, including a biographer, have said was] an anti-Semite. Can you enjoy the work and not think about the artist? How do we deal with that?
I think that all of us who stand on the shoulders of the giants who began the industry — have run into that conundrum when talking about “The Birth of a Nation” and D. W. Griffith and the exaltation of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, I don’t know what I would have done if I’d known this [about Dahl] before “BFG.” I didn’t research Dahl. That’s no excuse. I was completely enthralled by his writing, by “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “James and the Giant Peach” and especially “The BFG,” which is my favorite of his books. I read it to my kids. So, my only involvement was interpreting the book.
But I said this in the press conference, and I really mean it: For somebody who has proclaimed himself anti-Semitic, to be telling stories that just do the opposite, embracing the differences between races and cultures and sizes and language, as Dahl did with “The BFG,” it’s a paradox.
Later, when I began asking questions of people who knew Dahl, they told me he liked to say things he didn’t mean just to get a reaction. And that a lot of the anti-Semitic comments he made weren’t things that he fervidly believed, because everybody in his life, basically, his whole support team, was Jewish. And all his comments, which I’ve now read about — about bankers, all the old-fashioned, mid-30s stereotypes we hear from Germany — he would say for effect, even if they were horrible things. So, I don’t know. I just admire “The BFG” and I admire his values in that and it’s hard even for me to even believe that somebody who could write something like that could say the terrible things that had been reported.
The first part — about dealing with the regressive attitudes of the giants on whose shoulders we stand — is convincing. The second part, about shock value? Come on. Dahl may have been an embellisher, but a World War II veteran trafficking in Nazi stereotypes is something else.
For the record, I do not agree with Joyce Carol Oates’ assessment that Dahl was sexist — at least I don’t think that can be fairly gleaned from his fiction.
Donald Trump loves bragging about how he was once marshal of the Israel Day Parade, which people have to stop calling the “Israeli” Day Parade (for the record, it’s now called the Celebrate Israel Parade). How did he get the gig? Well, “It was strictly a matter of finding a celebrity”
On literary hate mail. “I loathe you. You revolt me stewing in your consumption … The Italians were quite right to have nothing to do with you.”
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