The days leading up to Christmas Break in my Modern Literature class have been spent reading Simon Wiesenthal's The Sunflower, which (and here I don't mean to be disrespectful to a work of literature that powerfully addresses the issues of what is and is not forgivable) is nevertheless about as cheerful in December as a shovel to the groin. So I spent the last day of class in 2010 giving the kids a slideshow of important works of contemporary art that we can compare and contrast to the world we've read. Among other things, we had to take a look at Warhol's soup cans. I mean, why not. They were outraged, just the way Andy would have wanted it. Andy Warhol died in the spring of my senior year of high school, and he was still considered vaguely controversial back then. Hilton Kramer of New Criterion wrote a postmortem that discounted his lasting value. The Times talked about his contribution with its characteristically smug, slightly dismissive air. It's nice to know his soup cans are still pissing people off.
But I was disappointed that among my students his famous line - "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes" - fell on deaf ears. I suppose that when Andy was proported to have said it, the common reaction among people would probably have been "Everybody? Really?" My students reacted to the latter part of it. "Really?" they seemed to ask. "For only fifteen minutes?" In our time, everybody has the potential to be instantly famous for what seems forever, and everyone is watching.
Did Rex Ryan not know this, or did he not care? Regardless, I confess that don't care, but I had to look anyway.
In our culture, the universal, craven appreciation for the fall of others is matched only by our desire to put everything we have and know on display for all to see. These sometimes paradoxical indulgences are a normal corruption of the freedom of information, and they have both recently preyed upon our head coach. I watched about a whole minute of one of Michelle Ryan's foot fetish videos (the one with her feet dangling out of a parked car) and found it about as offensive as Rex Ryan's use of "fuck" as a noun and a gerund, which is not at all. None other than Darrelle Revis spoke in defense of his coach by stating that Rex is at least appreciating his wife in these videos and not, say, his own dong.
The one I watched was actually humorous in a way that is...well, I don't want to use the word charming, but let's just say that it was naively goofy. Michelle Ryan sits, almost napping on a summer day (presumably in Maryland) with her feet (are they pretty? Allow me here to say that I have feet described as essentially ugly by women throughout time, yet I don't know what makes feet beautiful. Hands, yes. But feet? I don't have the eyes for it) dangling out the driver's side window of what looks like an SUV. The camera approaches feet first and then the owner. The voice behind the camera speaks almost as a member of the law enforcement community, with the suggestion that a parked woman brazenly exposing her feet is committing some kind of foul. The woman apologizes. But then the cameraman replies that it's no trouble at all; in fact, he's enjoying the sight of it. Please feel free, ma'am, to keep 'em right where they are. It's almost as if a cop is having to tell a women that she is not wearing her shirt. Except it's her feet.
The voice, as so many people have pointed out, is obviously Rex's. Except it's a different Rex, one whom we don't hear from all that often. It sounds ridiculous to say that when we are exposed to so much of Rex Ryan; I think he makes so much of himself as a means of concealing his own sense of fear. His bluster is exactly the work of a man ill at ease with his looks, his intelligence, his skills - particularly in a market where there are two football teams and no means of escape. The voice on the video, though, is the ur-Rex. His fascinated state trooper is tinged with the slightest Oklahoma drawl. If one did not know better for plainly obvious reasons, then one could almost mistake it for Rex's daddy. I would never have guessed Rex Ryan had a foot thing, but with his murmuring drawl, his weird, sneering look, one could imagine Buddy Ryan having all kinds of hangups.
It was at that point that I had to stop watching. For one thing, I didn't want to watch all the videos because I felt as though I were watching something made by a friend of mine. These are people I know, I thought to myself. Even if they put this out there, I still don't want to know about this. This doesn't make me a good person, just a vaguely normal one. I'm morbidly curious by nature, but I also don't have to see all of a compromising moment to get enough of all I need to know. The Times can look upon Rex Ryan the way Judge Smells does Al Czervik in Caddyshack, as the uncouth and interloping baboon, but the human need to share one's entire personality with the whole world online is exactly what is destroying newspapers. The Times' granny attitude toward the coach, that he is "dumb," may prove to be accurate in reference to this coach in the long run; backing into the playoffs will enable Rex to keep his job another year, but he has yet to produce the team he loftily, delusionally imagines. But what keeps the Old Gray Lady hurtling toward the abyss is its air of superiority about Andy Warhol's open world, warts, feet and all.