Category: Kansas City

Not Busy Enough During Christmas? Then Come Hang With Film Critics!

By , November 25, 2010 11:46 pm

Come see me and other KCFCC critics discuss the awards season movies at the Screenland Crown Center on Thursday, December 2nd!  They’ve got a bar!  I’ll be fruitlessly hawking Winter’s Bone for Best Picture.  Here’s the official press release:

CinemaKC Showcases Kansas City Film Critics Circle

December 2 at Screenland Crown CenterKANSAS CITY, MO – CinemaKC, a not-for-profit organization connecting film related groups in Kansas and Missouri, will host the Kansas City Film Critics Circle on Thursday, December 2 at the Screenland Crown Center beginning at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by an informal mixer at 6:30 p.m. Kansas City Film Critics Circle members will be on hand to meet the public before and after the screening. The evening will include the screening of at least 17 film trailers for upcoming theatrical releases and Oscar predictions.

The Kansas City Film Critics Circle was founded in 1966 by the late Dr. James Loutzenhiser, and is the second oldest critics’ organization in the country, after the New York Film Critics Circle.  The KCFCC currently has 28 members, representing print, broadcast and online media. Learn more about this organization by visiting

John Shipp, founder of CinemaKC commented, “Our area is extremely fortunate to have such a strong base of nationally known and respected film critics, and this will be a great opportunity to meet many of them.” Loey Lockerby, president of Kansas City Film Critics Circle, and known from her reviews in The Kansas City Star and appearances on the Walt Bodine Show, will welcome the audience and introduce the evening’s entertainment. The critics will discuss the trailers throughout the screening period and have a Question and Answer session at the end.

Tickets for the event are $10, and are available at or at the door.  Student tickets with ID are $5. CinemaKC is an initiative of the Film Society of Greater Kansas City, connecting with movie lovers since 1991. For more information contact John Shipp at 816-718-4337 or

A Big Bang Theory of the Kansas City Royals

By , April 11, 2010 10:27 am

The Royals Pitching Staff Break Down FIPS, DIPS, UZR, BABIP, and OPS.

You know Zack Greinke.  He’s last year’s American League Cy Young Award winner, all the more amazing because he pitched for one of the worst teams with one of the worst defenses in baseball.  You know about Zack’s battle with social anxiety disorder, in which he quit baseball for almost an entire season, then asked to stay in AA so he could play for a winning team.  You may know that Zack is a fascinating interview, prone to giving long, meandering interviews analyzing the relative merits of Chipotle burritos, elaborating on how baseball is a stage play, and admitting that he cried when Brad and Jennifer broke up

What you may not know is that Zack Greinke is one of the most advanced thinkers in major league baseball.  One key to last year’s historic season, other than Greinke’s treatment with anti-depressants, was Zack’s embrace of statistical analysis.  Over the past two decades, sabermetricians have revolutionized our understanding of baseball by calling into question “traditional” statistics and creating new statistics that more accurately assess player value.  Last off-season, Greinke was introduced to two of these newer “advanced” stats:  FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and UZR (Ultimate Zone Ratings). 

FIP is predicated on two discoveries:  1) Pitchers mostly control strikeouts, walks, hit batsmen, and homeruns, and 2)  Pitchers have limited control over whether batted balls turn into hits.  On average, the overall Major League BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is a remarkably consistent .300.   So, pitchers with high strikeouts, few walks, and few homeruns will likely have a good ERA whether no matter the quality of the defense behind them.  But pitchers who allow a lot of balls to be put in play will likely have a higher ERA because a certain percentage of balls in play end up being hits—either by luck or otherwise.  To wit, Zack Greinke was third among American League starters in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9 = 9.50), second in strikeouts to walks ratio (K/BB = 4.75), and first in fewest homeruns allowed for any starter who threw over 180 innings.  Thus, Zack led the league in FIP—meaning that he was going to have a low ERA no matter how bad the Royals defense was.

Man-oh-man, was it.  The Royals were probably the worst defensive team in the league, by advanced metrics and more traditional stats like Unearned Runs, in which the Royals were last in the American League.  This is why Greinke’s great season is all the more remarkable.  FIP measure’s a pitcher’s value independent of his defense, but ERA—the most popular way of measuring a pitcher’s value—is somewhat dependent on his teammates’ defense.  The question is:  How did Zack Greinke have the league’s lowest ERA (2.16 vs. 2.49 for Felix Hernandez) while pitching in front of the league’s worst defense? 

Greinke used UZR—a measure of the range and play-making ability of defenders—to understand that while the Royals’ infield defense was atrocious, the outfield was often above average.  Thus, at Kauffman Stadium, one of the most spacious ballparks in the majors, Greinke used a rising fastball that induced fly balls.  Of course, Greinke got lucky that an unusually low number of his fly balls were homeruns, but Greinke also knew that Kauffman Stadium’s “park effects” indicate that The K gives up significantly fewer homeruns than the league average.  More to the point, you would expect Greinke to have a large BABIP because the Royals defense was so terrible, but Greinke was actually under the league average at .292.  Using UZR, Greinke understood that he needed to play to the strength of his defense:  the very highly rated left fielder David DeJesus and centerfielders Coco Crisp and Mitch Maier routinely tracked down fly balls.  Greinke relied less on the iron-gloved middle infield disaster of Alberto Callaspo and the worst defensive shortstop in the history of Major League Baseball, Yuniesky Betancourt.   In short, Greinke used statistical analysis to transform a great season into a historic one.

So who is the genius who introduced Zack Greinke to sabermetric analysis?  In other words, if dating Kaley Cuoco is winning the Cy Young, then Zack Greinke is Leonard from “The Big Bang Theory.”  But who is his Sheldon?  That would be Brian Bannister, Royals starting pitcher, former USC art design student, professional photographer, commercial director and hero to baseball supergeeks across the nation.  Bannister is a marginal major league starter, so to stick in the league, he needed a competitive advantage.  While Bannister was in the Mets minor league system, he dabbled in advanced sabermetrics to figure out how to improve his performance.  Three years ago, after he was traded to the Royals for Ambiorix Burgos, Bannister gave this landmark interview to Tim Dierkes at MLB Trade Rumors, outlining how he uses statistics to try to lower his BABIP.  Bannister’s thesis (that more two-strike counts would lead to a lower BABIP) is correct—but only at the margins. The next season, Bannister realized he needed to increase his strike out rate to lower his ERA, but did so at the cost of giving up more home runs, leading to a bloated ERA.  Then, at the beginning of last season, using Pitch f/x measurements, Bannister discovered that to survive at the major league level with below average stuff, he needed to turn himself into a ground ball pitcher because, on average, more ground balls lead to outs than fly balls.      

Brian Bannister then did something unprecedented in the history of baseball:  He used advanced statistical analysis to reinvent his pitching style in mid-career to producing tangible results.  Bannister’s scientific method (study, hypothesis, test, analyze, re-hypothesis, re-test) has made him a hero of baseball geeks, who have long advocated that data analysis disproves much “conventional” baseball wisdom.  During Kyle Davies starts, you can imagine Bannister sitting at the end of the dugout breaking down UZRs to Greinke and challenging him to games of Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock to decide who’s going to refill the sunflower seeds.

Sounds like the kind of competitive advantage a small market team like the Royals needs, right?  The problem is that Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke play for the organization that has most openly and forcefully rejected the use of statistical analysis in evaluating performance.  Royals General Manager Dayton Moore became the mockery of baseball geekdom last year when he admitted that he doesn’t even understand defensive statistics—and, most bafflingly, doesn’t want to.  In fact, Dayton Moore has made it the Royals’ organizational philosophy to reject data analysis and simply scout based on what they “see on the field.”  Dayton talks a lot about “seeing” and “feeling” a player’s ability, that numbers can’t change what he believes about a player.  Take it from the GM himself:

The defensive statistics—I still really don’t understand how some of those statistics are evaluated.  I really don’t.  When you watch baseball games every single day, it’s very apparent who can play defensively and who can’t.

What’s worse, no organization in baseball would be more applauded by its influential fans for a data analysis approach than the Kansas City Royals.  Over the past two decades, no baseball market in America has produced more innovative and influential thinking than Kansas City.  The unfortunate part is that this has come from its writers.  Bill James, Rob Neyer, Rany Jazayerli, Joe Posnanski, Jeff Passan, Soren Petro, Bradford Doolittle…there’s more where that came from.  Starting with Lawrence, Kansas resident Bill James, sabermetric analysis has revolutionized how the game is played.  But the Royals, of all organizations, reject the very concept of data analysis, putting it at least two decades behind most franchises in terms of player evaluation.  Dayton Moore “believes” in his “Scout’s Honor” methods, and no new ideas or data can make him evolve.

Imagine a mid-sized American city whose newspaper columnists are intellectuals like Paul Krugman, Thomas Friedman, David Brooks, Andrew Sullivan, and Fareed Zakaria, and whose city council was made up of can-do ideas people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.  Now imagine that the city was run by a Daley-esque political machine with George W. Bush as mayor.

That’s the Kansas City Royals.

After the universally-mocked Yuniesky Betancourt trade last year, Joe Posnanski wrote that the most frustrating thing for a fan is “root(ing) for a team that so clearly has a different philosophy about sports than you have about sports.” For no fans is this more true than for Royals fans.  It’s not just the losing—it’s the fact that Dayton Moore runs the Royals like a global warming denier.  Facts?  Statistics?  Data?  Long-term trends?  All Dayton Moore knows is that it’s cold right now so global warming must be a hoax.  Mike Jacobs hit 32 home runs one year, and he looks like a power hitter, so let’s sign’em up!  Yuniesky Betancourt made some pretty good plays when he first came up, so he must have the tools to be a great shortstop.  Kyle Farnsworth looks like he should be able to strike guys out, so despite the fact that his ERA hasn’t been under 4.00 in five years, let’s sign him for two years and nine million dollars! 

More frustrating is the fact that Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke are the two players in the majors to have embraced and produced results from statistical analysis.  And yet, the more criticism Dayton Moore receives from the local media, the more entrenched in his outmoded views he becomes.  Now he’s treating statistics like he’s Bush conducting the War on Science.   Moore and Trey Hillman now tell us that they don’t have time to lecture fans on why Baseball Men do the things they do.  We’re supposed to Trust the Process that will eventually turn this franchise around.  For Royals fans, “The Process” is a Kafka short story where the nonsensical labyrinthine bureaucracy leads Judges and Emperors to declare paradoxes as truth, like “Yuniesky Betancourt is a good shortstop” and “Scott Podsednik is a significant upgrade over Mitch Maier” and “Kila Ka’aihue has not earned a shot at the major leagues.”  For non-Royals fans, though, I suspect that this is more like a situation comedy.  Imagine Leonard and Sheldon as cancer researchers working for Phillip Morris, and you get the idea.

Clutter Family Gets Final Revenge on Truman Capote

By , January 4, 2010 9:35 pm

Truman Capote Surveys the Clutters' Living Room

Truman Capote Surveys the Clutters' Living Room



Recently, the Kansas City Star published a short essay by Diana Selsor Edwards, first cousin and niece of the Clutter family who were killed, along with their parents, in the 1959 Holcomb, Kansas murders that became the basis for Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Ms. Edwards, now a mental health counselor, doesn’t just honor her long-dead family members by giving us the obligatory “they were good people, they were loved” obituary:  Her essay is a slyly brilliant piece of literature.  Edwards takes Capote head-on not by calling him a liar and a fraud (as many have already done), but by responding directly to themes of In Cold Blood, in the style of nonfiction writing he claimed to have invented.  In other words, Herb Clutters’ niece out-Capotes Capote.


In Cold Blood describes the story surrounding the Clutter murders, framing it as a Garden of Eden parable wrapped in Southern gothic imagery, structured like a detective story (Dick Hickock’s head is “halved like an apple, then put together a fraction off center”).  The Clutters’ fall from grace is the result of class warfare; as the Soviet critic Grigor Pavlov argued, In Cold Blood connects the violent undertones of modern America to the myth of the American dream.  The Clutters, then, are “the symbol of a class manipulating and perverting other human lives.”


To shoehorn the Clutters into his allegory, Capote had to caricature them.  To flesh them out fully would make them sympathetic, which would cut against his American myth thesis (It probably doesn’t help the Clutters’ character development that Capote couldn’t interview the murder victims as extensively as the perpetrators).  In Capote’s world, romantics are the only people who respond rationally to the injustice of bourgeois society—the dreamers and sinners are real; the pious live a fiction. Ultimately, as Pavlov argues, Capote asserts “the moral superiority of innocent, sensitive, and quixotic person over the practical, money-minded business figure in American life.” 



This is why Herb Clutter, nestled comfortably in his western Kansas Eden, was killed by the poetry-loving, perpetually-abused Perry Smith.  To update Capote’s thesis, Herb Clutter and Perry Smith represent, literally, What’s the Matter With Kansas—Midwestern conservative populism cutting against the economic interests of the working class, cultivating hate and intolerance in the service of “values.” 



But there’s a huge disconnect between this idea in the abstract and Capote’s portrayal of the Clutters. Giving Capote the benefit of the doubt (Bonnie Clutter’s portrayal is often cited as the most “wrong,” but even her brothers admit that she was dealing with depression), did the Clutters really deserve murder?  Herb Clutter might have worked to stifle the sexual urges of his teenage children, but did he deserve to have his throat slit over it?  I certainly don’t share the politics that the Clutters most likely shared with the vast majority of western Kansans, but the punishment certainly doesn’t fit the crime.


Enter Cousin Diana.   



Edwards’ dramatic structure is brilliantly conceived; she mimics Capote’s method in In Cold Blood. She introduces the main characters, cutting between scenes in Kansas and her own home, leading to a dramatic reveal in the Clutter house, followed by a secondary climax in the denouement.  Edwards opens with a hand written invitation to the 1959 Clutter Family Reunion, the sort of social artifact that Capote loved to mine for meaning. She then sets stage by quoting the Time magazine account of her cousins’ murders, much as Capote was famously struck by the 335 word UPI story describing  “a wealthy wheat farmer, his wife and their two young children were found shot to death today in their home. They had been killed by shotgun blasts at close range after being bound and gagged … There were no signs of a struggle, and nothing had been stolen. The telephone lines had been cut.”  Capote’s method in writing the “nonfiction novel,” as he called it, was to spin allegory out of fact, rather than arrange a fictional plot to fit an allegory. Edwards’ method is similar: She spins a different allegory from the story of the Clutters—a punch that, if he were still alive, would land right on Truman Capote’s self-induced alcoholic depression.


Edwards describes the Clutters by contrasting them with her own parents.  Her mother Elaine “played piano by ear” and “fantasized that someday she would play professionally.” But then Elaine met Edwards’ father—who goes nameless, as if he’s the archetype, not “Uncle Herbert.”  Elaine was “burdened with three children” by age 20, which the father supported by painting mountain scenes to supplement his milkman job.  He was, in short, “a dreamer and unrealized artist”—exactly like Perry Smith.


In contrast, Uncle Herbert “earned a college education” and become an “agricultural expert.”  As a father, rather than repress his daughter and niece, he refused to allow the sixteen year olds to drive two hours away from home because he “knew the risks better than we did…and wanted us to be safe.”  Edwards doesn’t ignore the sexual tension that lurks beneath the veneer of heartland values, developing a crush on her cousin Kenyon that could have come out of Other Voices, Other Rooms.  Kenyon, a tall, attractive boy who liked “working with his hands,” would tease his cousin, then chase her around the ping pong table. Granted, Edwards doesn’t lament the “freedom I had that Nancy did not,” but she clearly envies the stability, wrought by their heartland values, that her family lacked. 



Edwards’ father moved the family to Florida because he liked deep sea fishing and flew his airplane to Mexico for fishing trips. From this set of facts, Edwards spins her allegory: Her unstable family lived in what sounds like a tropical paradise (pick your oranges off a tree in your own pasture surrounded by Spanish moss, walks on the beach near Cypress Gardens, watch “water-ski ballet”).  The murder of the Clutters kicks her out of the Garden; she realizes on the long stay in Kansas for the funeral and the wedding (rescheduled from Christmas to bring some light to a dark moment) that the bohemian life is the myth.  Her dreamer mom took pills and suffered electroshock therapy; her “exotic” father fades from the story, impotent to the needs of his shattered daughter.


Edwards recounts the days surrounding the funeral by lamenting how “Herbert’s family was rooted in community; we were not.”  At the service, the surviving daughters, Beverly and Eveanna, were supported by men “who wanted to protect them,” with “vigilant” policeman and KBI investigators amongst them. The daughters traded stories and were able to laugh because of the normality of their company; “practical” aunts took care of the house and transitioned from funeral to wedding because that’s simply what you do—rituals hold life together.


Edwards brings her story back to Florida, leaving the reality—and most importantly, the security—of Kansas behind.  Edwards dramatizes her disillusion by describing a scene in which, a week after the funeral, she dons an “ice-blue taffeta formal gown” and rides on the back of a convertible down Lemon Street as a member of the homecoming court—another Capotian detail.  Unlike Kansas, where the closeness of the community helped bring her cousins laughter and a wedding in their darkest hour, Edwards waves to the crowd, “as though I were still a real person,” as a showpiece in an empty spectacle—to her, this is precisely what Truman Capote made of the Clutter family.


To be clear, Edwards yearned for the comfort of Holcomb, but she doesn’t seem like a staunch conservative typical of western Kansas; the minister’s comparison off the Clutters’ murder to Jesus’ crucifixion “made no impression on me.”  She makes no particular argument that families like Herb’s supported the welfare and prison ways of Perry Smiths.  Herbert simply worked hard, supported his family, provided stability, and gave them a secure environment to live.  When Edwards takes us through her aunts’ search through Nancy’s dresser drawers, blood still on the bed, she’s queasy, but finds that the rumored wealth the murderers were after simply wasn’t there.  “Her wealth was in family and community”—not the Bible, not the nice home, not even the two dollars in the church envelop beside her bed.  Capote, both in the book and in his own life, never valued stability. 


Not coincidentally, the hole that the Clutters filled in Edwards’ life was left unfilled in Capote’s.  Both Gerald Clarke’s comprehensive biography, and George Plimpton’s documentation of Capote’s dramatic fall from the top rank of literary fame, reveal that Capote self-dramatized his alienation and identified with disenfranchised loners.  He lacked the grounding to handle his fame, leading to his decades-long decline into alcoholism, drug abuse, and disconcerting public embarrassments, like his appearances on “The Dick Cavett Show.”  Capote’s aversion to stability is the key to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s performance in Capote, where Truman was only able to access key players in Holcomb by identify with their insecurities and outsider-ness to seduce them into giving information.  His inability to handle the book that’s “so good I can hardly breathe” contrasts with his childhood friend Harper Lee, who wrote a masterpiece debut, realized she couldn’t top it, and then lived a quiet, dignified life in Monroeville, Alabama.  Capote’s best work came out he and Lee’s trips to Holcomb, and one wonders what great literature the inspiration for Dill might have written if he’d have simply balanced his planning for the Black and White Ball with some quiet time back home.  This is exactly the point on which Edwards honors her Uncle Herbert. 


In short, Andy Warhol’s crew at Studio 54 proved less enduring than the 4-H Club in Holcomb.  Still, In Cold Blood will live on past the memories of the Clutter family, though the hate for Capote in Kansas is still strong.  A friend of mine, while researching a paper on the death penalty in Kansas, called the Finney County Historical Society.  A nice, older women who described herself as a lifetime Holcomb resident took his call.  He explained his project, to which she quickly replied that no one wanted anything to do with that “smug bastard” Capote and wouldn’t waste the paper on him.  This is the effect he had on people:  Whether hero or villain, Capote’s legend endures.  In life, Capote cultivated personal and literary rivalries as a way of building his persona, and his wit almost always carried the day.  His most intense rival, Gore Vidal, said that Capote’s death was “a brilliant career move,” but perhaps Edwards’ brilliant essay is a worse insult.  The smug bastard would probably be rather amused.

I (Almost) Ask Robert Altman’s Widow a Snide Question About “Quintet”

By , November 19, 2009 9:54 pm
"Yes, Mrs. Altman?  Love your late husband's work.  Um, Quintet.  WTF?

"Yes, Mrs. Altman? Love your late husband's work. Question for you about his craft. Did Bob even remember directing any movies from 1979 to 1991?

On Monday, November 16th, 2009, Mitchell Zuckoff, author of Robert Altman:  The Oral Biography spoke at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library.  Readers of the old Filmsnobs site know the complicated relationship we had with Robert Altman:  Yes, he made four or five of the greatest films American films, but he’s made some of the worst—including the worst movie ever made.  Both are a function of his genius:  The iconoclast who fights for his vision takes an extraordinary risk because he succeeds or fails on his own terms.  That’s why when you think of Altman, you can’t only think of Nashville and The Player to truly understand the man’s craft, you also have to consider O.C. and Stiggs, Beyond Therapy, Ready to Wear, and, yes, Popeye.* 

*I can’t believe how angry some of those reviews we wrote sound.  I don’t think I mean some of what I wrote, but I will stand by the statement that Altman’s bad movies are some of the worst movies ever made by a “name” director.

I haven’t read the book yet, but the premise is awesome:  Zuckoff assembled Altman’s own words (he interviewed Altman extensively before he died) and interviewed dozens of collaborators, actors, friends, and family, and then turned it into an Altman-esque narrative with roving characters and overlapping conversations.  Zuckoff’s presentation took us through Altman’s life, focusing specifically on the Kansas City influence.  Since about twenty members of Altman’s family was there, he, um, skipped some parts about heavy drug use, two wives, some kids, tantrums…stuff we already knew and didn’t need repeated.  Still, Zuckoff’s presentation was steeped in hero-worship, which is probably understandable because of the setting.

The talk ended with Zuckoff fielding questions from the audience with native Kansas City screenwriter Frank Barnhydt (Short Cuts, Kansas City) and Altman’s widow, Kathryn Reed Altman.  I had been waiting for something like this for years.  I mean, Quintet is the most pretentious, weirdest, and frankly worst movie I ever seen.  I hate to say that about a hometown hero and a man who made some of the greatest movies ever.  But I’ve spent much of my life working with gifted kids, and the hardest thing you have to teach them is that sometimes you have to fail.  And that’s why Altman’s terrible movies fascinate me.  You can see him working…and if you’re thinking along with Altman, you see his usual anti-establishment themes, the Altman technique.  But there’s a bunch of dogs chewing on dead bodies when people are killed after lose at this backgammon like game after the apocalypse.  I’ve just got to know:  What the hell was he thinking then, and when Altman got his third act after The Player, how did he regard those truly awful films he made over the course of literally a decade?

As the session started winding down, so old guy in a flannel shirt gets up and says, “I don’t really like Altman” and goes off on Paul Thomas Anderson for about three minutes.  I’m not going to follow that with my questions about Quintet for Altman’s widow.  I have some class…I think.  My KCFCC colleague Dan Lybarger finished the session by talking about his interview with Altman, where he talked about his evolving opinion of Gosford Park.  Altman told him that he challenged his audience and that you really shouldn’t get his movies the first time.  And I never asked Altman’s widow and his biographer what the hell is going on in Quintet.  It’s probably for the best.  As Altman often said, the art is what you make of it. 

Even The Chiefs Think They’re a Comedy

By , November 16, 2009 8:53 pm
The Chiefs' front office could probably use some Cornell grads.

The Chiefs' front office could probably use some Cornell grads.

The Kansas City Chiefs have lost 31 of their last 36 games, but someone at One Arrowhead Drive is enjoying themselves.   In fact, something downright subversive is happening at Truman Sports Complex.  The same NFL franchise that brought you Warpaint, the Tomahawk chop, Stealth Bomber flyovers, Ace Frehley performing the national anthem, and Bush campaign events are now doing…NBC sitcom parodies?  What exactly is going on here?

Early this season, brought you “The Chiefs,” a parody of “The Office” that posits KC Wolf as the new “Director of Shenanigans” whose fur and clumsy feet make life difficult for prissy women in the copy and break rooms.  There are some funny moments here, like KC Wolf high-fiving Chiefs President Denny Thum and the dive tackle of some guy in a Raiders hat who’s probably just doing advance work to make sure Al Davis’ oxygen tank will work in the private suite. 

But something this weird and pointless can’t simply be taken at face value.  They mastered the faux-documentary camera angles, created several props, coached the actors…a lot of time went into this by people who know what they’re doing with a camera (the second time I watched it, I laughed out loud at the picture of Todd Haley chewing somebody out to the gentle piano of Scranton).  They even hold the reaction shots just a beat too long, as if there’s a real attempt at satire here.   

There has to be something else at work.  Is KC Wolf a metaphor for the last ten years of the Carl Peterson Era—KC Wolf as The Arrowhead Experience, which Carl spent his energy turning into profit rather than actually building a winning football team.  But this is a lost opportunity, right?  Doesn’t it make more sense to turn Carl Peterson into Michael Scott, desperately trying to be cool with Tony Gonzalez and rapping with Larry Johnson?

Better is the Chiefs’ new “30 Rock” parody “One Arrowhead” (yes, the Chiefs’ official address is One Arrowhead Drive), featuring Voice of the Chiefs Mitch Holthus as Jack Donaghey, former Chiefs wideout Danan Hughes as Tracy Jordan, and “Cheerleader Kerri” as Liz Lemon.  Consider the detail here:  the rhythm of the opening credits framed by Chiefs fans that looks like a reddened version of the original, the shots of Arrowhead spliced together like Rockefeller Center, the perfect timing of the smash-cut flashback gags (with “30 Rock” style strategic product placement), the camera’s tracking of the always-moving Donaghey character, the peppy music that greets Liz Lemon at the office…this is lovingly made skit.  Again, a lot went into this—Mitch Holthus’ Alec Baldwin is very practiced; he nails the Baldwin mannerisms as much as you’d hope a play-by-play radio guy could.  There may not be brilliance here, but there’s clearly extraordinary competence at work.

The Promotions Department must see this as some sort of ongoing saga—notice the continuation of the plot from “The Office” parody. The question is how to make sense of this.  The only theory I’ve got is that this is some pent-up anger at Carl Peterson in the promotions department, and these are just subtle satires of King Carl’s management style.  There’s actually some overlap here:  the tough-negotiator, hardened worldview, arch-conservativism worldview is common to both the Peterson and Donaghey ethos. 

But that seems a little high concept for the average Chiefs fan, don’t you think?  Still, the production quality shows that at least some time, money, and creative energy went into these skits.  But, again—why?  I understand that when you’re battling the Lions, Browns, Raiders, and Rams for League Joke honors, you’ve got to think outside the promotions box to get people to the stadium.  That’s how the Royals end up with Hot Dog Derby t-shirt night.

But which constituency of Chiefs Nation are NBC sitcom parodies aimed at?  Can’t be disaffected western Kansas Bronco haters. Closet liberals from Johnson County who’ll pay $150 a ticket just to skip church and load the Tahoe up with smoked meat and baked beans?  Maybe.  Have the Chiefs raised ticket prices so high that only fundraiser-circuit city liberals can afford them? Perhaps.  But still, this media personality speaks more to your average Chiefs fan (even if beer commercials try to convince us this is an average Chiefs fan).  I mean, do these guys look like they think Tina Fey is even a little hot?

This advertizing campaign makes only slightly less sense than “From the fifty, anything’s possible.”  That slogan at least symbolizes the grand mistake of Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, who actually thought they had an 8-8 team.  A more honest Chiefs promo would have Trace Adkins baritoning “Backed up against goal line, anything is possible.”

From a distance, it seems like the Promotions Department has no idea what to do with this crappy football team, so they’re just entertaining themselves.  Fair enough, and more power to them.  I can’t wait for KC Wolf to go back to community college or become head of Kansas City Parks and Recreation.




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