Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

September 1988, West Texas and the Parmian High School Football team, the Permian Panthers is preparing for yet another assault on the Texas State Championship. Joining them for the four months they embark on their odyssey is former editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, H.G. Bissinger.

Bissinger left his job to travel to the Texan town of Odessa to cover the journey of the football team and record its relationship to the town’s residents. At the time of H.G. Bissinger’s arrival Odessa was enduring a recession caused by a fall in the price of oil. A few years previously the town had been the epicentre of a boom with the price of oil was going through the roof accompanied by near full employment. Now all had changed, unemployment had risen while oil prices plummeted.

For the town’s residents the Permian Tigers represent their values and desires; hard work, a sense of togetherness and a never die Texan spirit. The economy has let them down, their marriages are breaking up and money is hard to come by. They transfer all their hopes and desires onto the shoulders of the eighteen year old members of the high school football team. Young and old adore them and for this one season team members are treated as gladiatorial heroes by Odessa residents.

While Bissinger was in Odessa the1988 Presidential Election between former resident, Republican George Bush Snr and Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis was taking. Bissinger puts Bush’s electoral success down to his ability to connect with the citizens in towns like Odessa which he describes as being tight fisted, blue collared and conservative.

Bissinger unveils the racism, sexism and class divisions that run through the country personified in Odessa. He paints a warts and all picture of Permian High School where it seems more emphasis is placed on Football then on ensuring students pass examinations.

The season ends and life for the players resumes, their status as heroes over. Next year another batch of eighteen year olds will replace them and the magic will continue. Compelling and thought provoking but never boring (even if you don’t understand the rules of American Football) Friday Night Lights casts light on a corner of America often ignored and derided.


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