“I’ve been wanting to write an “Oral History of . . . oral histories,” since – well – every time I read an oral history. So today, I just went ahead and did.”
The odd thing about oral histories is every single one of them is written down.
I know. I know. It’s not like that. As explained by the Oral History Association, – and yes, there’s an Oral History Association:
“Oral history is a field of study and a method of gathering, preserving and interpreting the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants in past events. Oral history is both the oldest type of historical inquiry, predating the written word, and one of the most modern, initiated with tape recorders in the 1940s and now using 21st-century digital technologies.”
Often, but not always, they are used as a way to explore social and cultural phenomena; a hit movie, show, song, or cultural moment.
For some people, when they think of “oral history,” they think of the Bible. Stories like the Tower of Babel, the Jews leaving Egypt ‘Ten Commandments’-style and then wandering the desert, or Samson badly needing a haircut and Delilah being just the woman to do it.
That is not this column. We will not be going biblical on your ass. No. We are talking about the seriously important stuff.
Johnson: We are rehearsing this scene, and both of us are supposed to take our clubs over our heads. They say, “OK, guys, a lot of people around, no need to throw the club.” I pretend to throw my club and then I hear, “Oh my God!” I turn around, and the fucking cameraman is knocked out.
Rementer: I actually remember standing right next to the camera guy—he tripped over his own foot, kind of went down. … Mistakes happen.
Reigns: The one guy that you don’t hit.
Johnson: Our cameraman’s just like, “Oh, no, I’m OK.” [Mimes spitting teeth into his hands.] “I’m OK.”
Reigns: I haven’t stopped apologizing. We hugged it out but I still feel terrible.
The oral history is a format that actually works best with real “cult classic” movies, like Mike Judge’s Office Space (“Swingline was the only company that didn’t object, [but] they didn’t make [staplers] in any colors other than shades of gray and dark blue. I wanted it to stand out so I said, ‘Let’s make it red.’”) or Drumline, starring Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, and Orlando Jones (“‘He told us these stories about how ‘halftime was game time’ in the South, and it was not about the football game as much as it was about the marching band. And about how many of his peers in the music business started their careers on drumlines…She goes, ‘Well, damn, we’ve got to make this movie.’”)
Or odd cultural moments like, well, you know, SNL’s ‘David Pumpkins‘ sketch.
I mean, what IS that all about anyway? Why is it so hilarious??!
Mikey Day: I think names and suits are funny. Normal names in insane situations and dumb suits are funny. So, I just remember thinking, David Pumpkins. He’s got pumpkins on his suit.
Bobby Moynihan: I remember Mikey being very tired and exasperated, and after a 30-second silence he just went, “What if we just call him David Pumpkins?”
Putting together an oral history is also a tried-and-true storytelling mechanism for big sports-ing moments, like The Kentucky Derby:, which The New Yorker lampooned beautifully in this – from the horses point of view – oral history:
Gray Magician: I had no idea what was going on. I just remember a lot of women in ridiculous hats.
Country House: There was a horse that was in front. He looked really familiar. I think his name is Duane. But I wasn’t sure. They were calling him Maximum Security. I guess he works in security. But I was trying to catch him, because I think he knows my friend Bob. I’m, like, “Hey! Hey! Do you know Bob?” But he didn’t slow down. He seemed super eager to be in the lead. To this day, I don’t know if he knows my friend Bob. His loss, because Bob is hilarious.
Gray Magician: I was looking around trying to figure out where we were going. I assumed it was a surprise party. I don’t know why I thought that. Maybe because of the hats.
Long Range Toddy: The irony for me is that I don’t love running. I think walking at a brisk pace can give you the same kind of cardio with much less stress on your body.
Or the 1994 MLB strike. (“Someone had to make the announcement. I did get blamed for it: The guy that canceled the World Series. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I inherited a mess.’ – Bud Selig).
Or the rise of ESPN SportsCenter itself (“So Keith said, “What do you want us to say, just ‘This is SportsCenter’?” I said, “Yeah, that’ll be just fine.” So they started to say, “This is SportsCenter.” It was Keith sticking it to us, because he was going to promote it in the least promotable way: “This is SportsCenter.”).
Or – um, even this bistro that artists liked to go to. Wait, what?
Anyway, on to the oral history of this project!
Mike Kasdan, Director of Special Projects and Sr. Sports Editor: “So basically it was – like – this thing that would happen every time I read one of these oral histories of something. I’d say to myself, ‘I would love to write an article about this for The Good Men Project. It’d be funny, and fun. And I came up with this idea to call it ‘An Oral History of Oral Histories.’
Wilhelm Cortez, Executive Editor*: “I didn’t quite see how it would be funny. Or fun for that matter. But he went ahead and did it anyway. Sent me an email asking what section it fit into, and I was like ‘It doesn’t. But I guess also A&C or Bits or Good for the Soul. I didn’t really think it was good for the soul, but – I mean – when Mike gets silly ideas in his head, he tends to plow ahead with them. I mean, the guy wrote a relatively on-brand listicle post on what search terms people were using in Google to get to our website.” My approach is to just let it run its course.
MK: “So Wilhelm couldn’t have cared less, but he emails me and tells me to go ahead with it anyway. I’m still not quite sure why. Anyway, so I start to put the piece together, and it hits me: You can’t write a history of oral histories. It’s a storytelling format; not a linear narrative. I mean, you could put together a list of all known oral histories, but…who the hell would do that — it would just be incredibly boring. And what does it have to do with men or masculinity or goodness or anything, anyway? So, yeah, now I’m screwed. But here we are. I mean, it happens.”
Lisa Hickey, Publisher & CEO*: “So I call Kasdan, and I’m telling him, ‘Mike, it’s supposed to be ‘The Conversation No One Else Is Having,’ not some random assortment of disconnected oral histories.”
MK: “After I hung up with Lisa, I genuinely thought she liked it. She texted ‘Thank you for your leadership,’ and everything.
LH: “I guess it’s true what they say that tone doesn’t come through in texts. Um, yeah – great leadership. Ha! But I can’t be everywhere all the time, so I have come to accept that sometimes this sort of thing just happens. And we have to just pick ourselves up, pretend it didn’t even happen at all, and move on.”
MK: “Come to think of it, I did think I heard her say ‘Stick to sports, Kasdan‘ before she hung-up, but it was so abrupt, I wasn’t sure. Hmmm.”
* All quotes from Mr. Cortez and Ms. Hickey have been made up completely.
Photo Credit(s): Cover (Andrew Malone/Flickr-Creative Commons); ‘Office Space’ (20th Century Fox); ‘David Pumpkins’ (NBC)