Lewis H. Lapham is the former editor of Harper’s magazine and still contributes a column, usually about American politics and culture. Even if you don’t agree with his (“Liberal”) politics, or think he’s a condescending prick, you have to respect his intelligence and writing as being on an entirely different level from us mortals. When he gets on a roll, he piles up layers of meaning and throws down thunderbolts like confetti in every sentence, tearing into whatever he turns his sights towards with righteous outrage and fury. Even at 72, he’s one of the best social critics alive, if not ever.
So after wading through the mountains of analysis concerning the minutae of some extremely mealy-mouthed testimony by Clemens in front of Congress, I was overjoyed to see he had written a bile-filled column about steroids in this month’s Harpers titled “Mudville” that washes it all into the sea. I really wish I could reproduce it in it’s entirety, because it’s a work of art that messes with your head the whole way through. But a taste:
The judgments are un-American and behind the time, the anguish unwarranted and overwrought. What else is the American dream if not the theory and practice of self-invention? How otherwise define the American way of life if not as a ceaseless effort to boost performance, hype the message, enhance the product? Deny an aging outfielder the right to inject himself with human-growth hormone, and what does one say to the elderly philanthropist who steps out of an evening with a penile implant and a flower in his lapel? To the lady in distress shopping around for a nose like the one she saw advertised in a painting by Botticelli? To the distracted child restored to his study of the multiplication tables with a therapeutic jolt of Ritalin? To the stationary herds of industrial-strength cows so heavily doped with bovine-growth hormone that the require massive infusions of antibiotic to survive the otherwise lethal atmospheres of their breeding pens?
Ok, so it’s another doping-apologist “baseball is a business” argument with some angst and long words, right? Well no…it’s not really about baseball at all. Numerous rhetorical gymnastics and ugly truths later, he ends with a hallucinatory vision for baseball and the future, hand-in-hand:
Supply the locker rooms, free of charge and in every color of the rainbow, with the best and brightest that the pharmaceutical industry has on offer, with or without prescription, performance-enhancing and recreational. The competitive disadvantage disappears, the level playing field regains its egalitarian state of grace. Spread the good news to the paid attendance- Lucy in the sky with diamonds sold with the beer and hot dogs at prices referred to Medicaid- and great would be the joy in Mudville.
To mighty Casey at the plate the ball looks as big as a grapefruit; infielders rigged with silicon circuits in the heads turn double plays at broad-band speed; the game might last for three days, running up bonus points for extra innings and providing its fans with the benefits of an extended stay in paradise.
All present in the stadium come fortified with self-improvements both chemical and surgical, fit for service aboard the Starship Enterprise. To the children suffering attention deficit disorder in the distant bleachers, the foul lines become as plainly visible as the replays on the JumboTron; the senior statesmen in the stands, growing hair as strong as Donald Trump’s, unafraid of heart failure and immune to the risk of erectile dysfunction, bask contentedly in the glow of usherettes copied from designs in Playboy. Rich in equal opportunity and re-engineered with biofuels, the national pastime recovers its footing as America’s foremost source of independent energy and strength, once again embodies, in reconstructed bone and re-integrated marrow, the ever-evolving truth of America’s immortal dream.