Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Two hours well spent

Anyone watch part 1 of Ken Burns's latest documentary, "Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson," on PBS last night? The talking heads that Burns has assembled to talk about this boxer's life - such as James Earl Jones, Stanley Crouch, George Plimpton, and Bert Sugar - have some great stories to share. (For instance, during a fight, Johnson asked his girlfriend in the audience which round she wanted him to knock out his opponent. She said the 4th round, and Johnson obliged.) There's also an impressive cast of voice talent narrating the story, including Samuel L. Jackson, Billy Bob Thornton, and Alan Rickman. Being reminded of how horribly racist this country once was (and depending on whom you ask, I'm sure, still is) is depressing - and a theme Burns apparently doesn't want us to forget - but Johnson is a fascinating subject. This man was so much more than a boxer; he was a cultural icon.

Though this is probably isn't the point of the film, while watching it, I couldn't help but put on my sports fan cap and think about how culturally irrelevant boxing has become in this country. We'll never see anyone make the sort of impact that Jack Johnson or Muhammed Ali did from their sport. I don't think any athlete (or sport) has that ability anymore, unless you consider pretending to pull your pants down cultural impact.

I'd love to watch part 2 tonight, but it's on at the same time as "Scrubs." Oooh, that's a dilemma.