On how an old racial morality tale collided with the more cynical present
The panicked credulity of much of the media when covering certain topics (you’ve covered other instances of this) is corrosive. Yes, the multi-millionaire family had a nefarious scheme to financially profit on the back of an impoverished late to the sport 17 year old—because we all know that such high school lineman are a great investment as almost all make the NFL and many become the subjects of books and movies! And it’s not at all strange for the lineman to belatedly discover this scheme twenty years later because despite him now being a millionaire who has had access to sophisticated advisors for more than a decade, and also very smart, he is also an apparent moron.
Poorly reported stories like this are uniquely bad because they are both high profile and do not pass the smell test. We need people to trust the media. Many of these poorly rendered reports are an exercise in a writer spending institutional credibility in an attempt to buy good standing with their peer group. (Or spending institutional credibility in a doomed to fail scheme to sell their ideology)
Personally I too find evangelical, affluent, Ole Miss boosting southerners and the specific kind of Protestant capitalist ethos they can symbolize some combination of alien and aesthetically unpleasant — but that does not elicit any desire in me to publicly eat a bowl of bullshit.
This hits it all on the head. I went to an SEC school and interacted with families exactly like the Tuohy’s frequently. The wealthy Evangelical angle is so much more important to understanding their behavior than their whiteness. These are families that often include a husband making a *ton* of money, and in many cases their wives end up going through a Betty Draper like existential crisis of “I have every material thing imaginable but still feel empty and/or guilty”. They go to church on Sundays in their $85,000 SUVs and hear parables about how hard it is for rich people to get into heaven. That guilt and restlessness turns into things like mission trips to remote parts of the world or sponsoring any number of poor families for Christmas. It becomes almost an annual tradition. I can literally picture these women talking about it at lunch.
“What did you guys do to avoid eternal damnation this year, Cheryl?”
“We did 8 days in this little town outside of San Miguel, El Salvador. Our church is building a school there. We were supposed to go for 10, but Hunter had a lake trip planned with her friends and football workouts started for Adam Jr. How about you guys?”
Then, in this particular case, you add in the Ole Miss football aspect and the story immediately makes perfect sense (at least to me). Both husband and wife get to enhance their status in their respective communities—Sean Tuohy with the wealthy and obsessively passionate Ole Miss boosters and Leigh Ann with the elite Evangelical class in Memphis.
The story a lot of people on Twitter want to believe—that this already wealthy family plotted to bring this 16 year old black kid into their home only to rob him of profits from a movie that was based off a book that hadn’t even been written yet—has genuinely made me question my sanity.
Putting a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard: Good
Letting an actual live black person live inside your house: Bad
I don't know what happened with Oher and the Tuohys. I do know that Hollywood likely made all three of them many promises that weren't kept. That'a Hollywood. But I immediately thought of the recent NBA Hall of Fame ceremony in which Greg Popovich was nearly sanctified by Tony Parker and Becky Hammon. Coach Pop, of course, is one of the greatest coaches of all time and deserves the praise. He (like Steve Kerr) also publicly professes liberal Democratic politics in a way that very few pro coaches do. So I wonder why some white coaches and mentors get the White Savior label and others don't?
After reading various accounts and opinions what seems to missing is that something like this didn't happen overnight. One would think that 14 years after the film was released and 17 years after the book this would have gotten the attention of someone.
As Strauss points out what has changed is culture or more specifically elite culture regarding race. That has dragged everyone along as well. So thinking about it Oher has always said he didn't like the portrayal in the film. Up until 2015 it would have been about how simple Oher seemed. After 2015 it became about the "white savior" of a black male. It stands to reason that would influence ones thinking and evolution. Now add in years of the "message", Kapernick, etc. It would break through and finally culminate in this suit.
That said Oher admitted years ago that he wasn't formally adopted in his own book. Further, we don't know if he saved his money. Don't know about his business dealings and their success or failure. What we do know is that the Touhys are very wealthy.
I don't fault the Touhys for doing what they did. To think that Oher would have succeeded without someone helping is not born out by reality. I practice criminal defense law. Out of the countless clients I have few come from solid homes. A lot would have benefited from some guidance and mentoring.
Oher got a super bowl ring and a decent career. Without the Touhys would oher have become a Marcus Dupree at best? We can't answer that but what we do know is support matters be it from a white family with unusual wealth or black, Hispanic or whatever. Take away that then the odds go down.
We shouldn't be so harsh but look at this as it is. Another causality of post modern race relations that turn people against each other. Sees racism in every action and makes us culturally and socially divided in ways segregationist imagined.
Another heater, Ethan. It's so bizarre to me that the NYT capitalizes Black and not white so it's funny and I appreciate that you capitalize both. Race discourse is just poisonous today. 10 years ago it seemed we were moving toward a shared understanding that race and gender were just social constructs. But now race has gone inward and gender has gone outward. Also, as an editor, I hate the phrase in the NPR quote "ostensible truths." Something is either true or it isn't. *laughing emoji*
I saw YouTube comments on a recent interview David Amendolara had with Michael Oher on the Jim Rome Show. So many people expressed a sentiment of "I can't believe the movie wasn't true". I was a little surprised at how accurate people thought the movie was still after all these years. I remember after watching the movie in 2009 seeing either a TV segment or YouTube video talking about "The Real Blind Side" with Oher and the Touhys talking about their relationship and the movie. They said the movie really really took some creative liberties. So I figured it was more like a typical situation when boosters help out an underprivileged aspiring athlete, which I figured commonly happened when I saw a family helping William Gates with his tuition in Hoop Dreams. Plus, I figured there were some exaggerations in the movie like when I learned Dan Devine was the one who wanted Rudy to play and players didn't really lay their jerseys on his desk.
Nonetheless, I did find the movie enjoyable even if I knew I couldn't take it too seriously and that the book talked about way more than just that one story. I knew the "white savior" narrative wouldn't go over well with some people. However, I just wonder about how one is supposed to depict black and white people helping each other. If it's white helping black, it's "white savior". If it's black helping white, it's "magic Negro". It's like a no win situation. I wonder how we're supposed to portray black and white relationships in entertainment. If they do get along, it's "too idealistic". If they don't get along, I feel it at least doesn't help us get past what divides us. I read about some of the criticisms some in the deaf community still had with CODA, trying to poke holes in how they were portrayed. I guess in the end, it's the old adage, you're just not going to make everyone happy
I went into this thinking I really didn’t want to read it and wouldn’t enjoy it. But I turned shortly into the piece.
Rather than sing praises or affirmatively expand on some point, I’m going to focus in on the quote below.
“It does not appear to trouble him that, for every Michael Oher, there are tens of thousands of African American children who will never be rescued, who are born into broken family systems, crumbling schools and underserved neighborhoods.”
Did this Almond person seriously crap on Micheal Lewis and use the “there are starving kids in Africa” argument as the basis for his attack? What a hack.
Art Howe wakes up , sees Michael Oher story and yells - “ Lewis did me dirty too”!!!!
Not much more here I can add that hasn't already been said, but I will say that you've articulated something about Get Out I've always found troubling. Nothing's wrong with the movie itself. It's entertaining, clever, and at times darkly funny.
But good Lord did it break a lot of progressive folks' brains in exactly the way you said. Too many people took the movie the wrong way and went down a road of sheer racial pessimism.
As this story started developing, I thought that there was nothing more tailor-made for HoS.
A gift from the Gods in the Slow Season.
I like this angle you've unearthed here: how the Tuohys are bartering in cultural capital via school boosterism. Great take! When you frame it this way, this feels a lot more like an N.I.L. story than a story about a singular predatory white lady acting in a vacuum. Like ... as if there's a je ne sais quoi in which the social and cultural costs of the student-athlete come to bear. *that's* interesting! Yes, Oher (like the Tuohys) profited from this Hollywood enterprise — but it still cost him something. That "something" is much more compelling to think about than the one-dimensional implications of racial animus or predatory profit motive, both of which feel kinda flimsy.
Good post, dude! get Michael Lewis on the show!
Another interesting aspect of the accusations by Oher is they are happening at the same time of this strike in Hollywood. I can’t tell you how many well known writers and actors have posted royalty checks on social media over the last month showing how little many of them make from some of these projects. Im guessing the Tuohy’s didn’t make out like bandits from the movie, even though it was a box office smash.
Also, something else to watch for….it’s been alleged that the wealthy Evangelical elite in Memphis, as well as the booster/donor class at Ole Miss, have thought the Tuohy’s have been dining out on the Blind Side story a little *too hard* over the years. Folks in their social circles, who would typically be on be on the same side of the Tuohy’s in culture war battles, likely won’t be giving full throated defenses on Fox News. Many will be happy and fine to sit on their hands on this one.
Enjoyable piece Ethan. In defense of LA times guy and ‘the new morality,’ the Tuohy model is obviously not a solution to long standing inequality. Whilst I would guess many of my fellow subscribers lean fiscally conservative, the gap between rich and poor is growing astronomically, which disproportionately affects minorities. You could say that people who point to the need for societal change are actually employing some Straussian skepticism by rejecting tokenism and isolated cases and advocating for more left-leaning policy that helps the greatest number.
It is extremely weird that Oher has been a professional for 15 plus years, with presumably an agent and legal team and assorted financial advisors, and only *just now* it came to light that he's under conservatorship with the Tuohys that then had to be immediately ended. I'm almost wondering if some financial advisors on Oher's team have been robbing him blind the last decade and are now using the Tuohys to deflect attention, with this juicy race angle. It's almost the only way this makes sense (except for the Tuohys already being super rich, so why would they risk all their credibility as saviors for so little?). Any way you cut it, even if the Tuohys acted in bad faith from Day 1, it's pretty clear people on Oher's team dropped the ball years ago in their job of ensuring MO maximized his earnings potential.
Everyone correctly diagnoses the brain rotting effect of social media but I first noticed this during the documentary boom of the early 2000s where it became clear that a sizable percentage of people believed every slanted bit of narrative that came with a twinkly piano and interesting visuals.
Specifically with the conservatorship, I'm ignorant to the details here, but is the distinction between adopting Oher and the arrangement they came up with that Oher doesn't stand to inherit any millions but was able to be cared for by his "family" without it being in violation of the NCAA rules at the time? I haven't heard anyone in media mention an inheritance, but that would seem to be the elephant in the room.