Episode 189: The Rut Not Taken

Fenzel, Lee, Shechner, and Wrather overthink the narrativization of sports (including Magic: The Gathering… it’s totally a sport) and of celebrities like Whitney Houston.

Overthinking It PodcastMatthew Wrather, Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and David Shechner join forces to overthink vows in popular culture, the virtuosity, dignity, and sad passage of Whitney Houston, individual vs. social motivations for schadenfreude, and Magic: The Gathering.

:01 A word from our sponsor.
:40 “The Vow” and Bland Brigade.
2:45 Question of the Week.
10:25 Magic: The Gathering, Semiotics of sports shows.
29:30 Whitney Huston.
45:40 Promethean celebrity narrative.
54:00 Magic and Louis C.K.’s theory of value.


→ Download Episode 189 (MP3)

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Further Reading

The Vow on Rotten Tomatoes

Channing Tatum on Wikipedia

Magic: The Gathering

Whitney Houston on Wikipedia

Good Hair on Amazon and on IMDb

Us Magazine

Rock Hudson

Charles Limb: Your Brain on Improv

Full Coverage of Magic: The Gathering Pro Tour Dark Ascension

15 Comments on “Episode 189: The Rut Not Taken”

  1. Chris #

    To be fair, not everybody watches sports for the narratives. I love sports, but I don’t really care about that stuff generally. I watch them because I find the sports exciting and interesting and they are fun to follow. Occasionally there will be an story that is engaging, but I never care about rivalry or stuff like that.

    Also, in one minor correction, Fenzel referred to Jerry “The King” Lawler as Larry “The King” Lawler, which is what Larry King could have wrestled under. Also, part of the reason for differences in what wrestling announcers say is because they are often characters themselves, and because there is usually a heel paired with, at the very least, a non-heel, if not a downright face. Lawler himself often played the heel role alongside Jim Ross, and let us not forget the legend that is Bobby “The Brain” Heenan.


  2. Ed #

    The perception of fame and celebrity has definitely changed over the last few decades. The part where you were discussing how people like to watch the famous fall reminded me both of the scene from Spider-Man where the Green Goblin tries to lure him to his side, “People love a hero, but what they love more is to watch a hero fail, fall, die trying” and also the John Travolta movie Phenomenon where his friends try to convince themselves that he faked his powers.

    Prior to over-exposure through social media and reality shows our exposure to celebrities were almost exclusively filtered by public relations experts to make them seem like impossibly perfect mythical beings. As a metal head in the 80’s my friends and I viewed musicians as gods that never went grocery shopping or went to the bathroom. Music magazine writers (which I was for a time) were hardly investigative journalists so would mostly write puff pieces in order to cultivate good will with the record labels. It wasn’t unheard of for a publicist to get final draft approval of an article.

    Fast forward to now where thanks to social media and reality shows that safety net of the publicist has been removed and we see celebrities as they really are, unfiltered. They eat, poop, have social anxieties, make bad decisions, etc. just like the rest of us do. So perhaps our desire to see them fall is us thinking, “If that train wreck of a person can get a 3 album deal or book deal or films deal to make millions of dollars, why am I busting my hump 9-5 for $25K?”


  3. cat #

    I’m just sad. I’ve always been a Whitney fan and I guess some part of me was hoping for a return to form.


    • shechner OTI Staff #

      Heheh… thanks, Cat! It’s not just MRI, but *F*MRI. (Audience gasps)

      Yeah, I know that OTI hasn’t covered Chuck like, ever – but the series finale’s been looping around in my head pretty much constantly since it dropped. Such a bizarrely fine walk of the diagetic/nondiagetic line (i.e., was Quinn’s final monologue a rant against his own spy life, or about having to write an action dramedy about the spy world?) that I’m almost tempted to write a post about it…

      Anyway, I’ll see your “Whitney at the AMA’s,” and raise you one “Zach Levi and Scott Bakula perform a tune from Godspell“:



  4. Gab #

    I do so always enjoy the discussions of MTG, guys. Always. Have any of you participated in tournaments before (official or not)? I’ve done a few different formats in the past, but the last time was… five years ago? Something like that. Wow, time flies…

    Cases of substance abuse, be they a celebrity or not, raise important questions about property, positive and negative liberty, and autonomy v. paternalism. What are the limits of government intervention when a person is harming themselves? Others around them? Do we even own ourselves? Rehabilitative or retributive justice? These are all questions I brought up today when my students asked me if I knew Whitney Houston passed away. They totally weren’t expecting me to shoot back by ruminating on what Locke may have to say about it. But I genuinely think it’s something to consider- the response, “She made her choice,” that was uttered by more than one student kind of shocked me in terms of how cold the delivery was. “Any intervention would be a waste of government funds,” from another. My heart broke when I found out about her, but it broke again when I saw how little compassion or altruism these college kids have. I guess my ideal government is benevolently paternalistic.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      They’re young. Let them get knocked around by life a little bit. Their ideas about “choice” will change.


  5. Leigh #

    It must be impossible to be a celebrity. I get nervous when I have to go through the McDonald’s drive-thru without my hair combed. Obviously, the kid running the cash register doesn’t care that I look like a slob. And even if he does, it really doesn’t mean anything to me. But those anxieties still exist. In a real celebrity, though, they’re amplified by like 1000x. Millions of people talk about what you wear to an event, and not all of them are nice. Comment boards around the internet cheer your failures and scoff at your successes. Photographers follow you around every time you leave the house, and sometimes invade your home privacy as well. I’ll be honest – I’d probably do drugs too.


  6. Howard Member #

    I’ve been wanting to write an article about sports narratives, particularly basketball, for a while now! Good to hear you guys touch on it.

    I think the forums don’t quite have a critical mass of users yet. And speaking for myself, I feel some pressure to put together some coherent thoughts (whether on the forums or in the comments) rather than just dashing off a one or two line post, which considerably slows my posting down.


  7. RichardR OTI Staff #

    Re: Fenzel’s suggestion that hockey is an inherently difficult sport to watch, I’d suggest that actually it’s just that you really need good camerapeople and directors for an enjoyable television broadcast. If you’re watching hockey on basically any American network, the crew simply don’t know where to point the camera and the director doesn’t know which camera to switch to when because it’s not their specialty.

    Try to catch Hockey Night in Canada on CBC sometime. That’s a video production team that’s been specializing in hockey for fifty years (in a Ship of Theseus kind of way), and it really makes a difference to the game’s watchability and ease of visual clarity. It makes a big difference.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      This sounds interesting! I’ll check it out!


      • RichardR OTI Staff #

        Let us know how this goes!


  8. JimmyNic #

    I think the Louis CK thing shows media companies how they should have responded to internet piracy. Instead of trying to control the consumer they should have worked with the internet to distribute music, movies and games to more people for less money. And probably have pushed forward this idea of giving money to an artist instead of a nasty corporation. Great episode.


  9. Eric #

    So I follow pro SC2, follow NBA basketball and NFL football, and used to play Magic casually (including a couple of local tournaments) years ago. I just went on YouTube to check out what this Dark Ascension business was about (I got out of Magic maybe 6 years ago) and I found it practically unwatchable. Unless you can name all the cards and what they do it’s really hard to follow what’s going on in an interesting way.

    With pro sports and with a lot of esports if you have knowledge of the rules the game can be interesting to watch, especially with good casting. With Magic knowing the rules of the game aren’t enough, you also have to know every card by name, it’s function, and how it interacts with other cards. Tough to get into as a spectator.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #

      Yeah, the official coverage in particular is pretty unintuitive for people who don’t know what’s going on. Part of that is that Magic just isn’t a very good spectator game on that model. Part of it is that they just haven’t figured it out.

      There are other kinds of videos about Magic on the Internet that are better and more interesting than the official tournament coverage — mostly narrated video capture of people playing on Magic Online. But it still isn’t going to be as visual as SC2 or of course the NBA or NFL.


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