April 30, 2010
I hate to do this again, I do, but like all the most effective grotesqueries, it's so hard to look away:
Within a matter of hours this morning, "We Are ND" had been stung by every wet towel in the sports blogosphere and assumed its rightful place alongside "Appalachian State is HOT HOT HOT!" and Kansas State's Power Towel in the pantheon of hilariously, obliviously awful promotion videos to hit the Web over the last five years. Perhaps sensing the avalanche of abuse speeding in their direction, whoever put the video up on the university's official YouTube page turned off the comments. They couldn't do the same on the university's Facebook page, though, where a handful of overly sunny apologists have generally been overwhelmed by appalled alumni, some of whom were so disillusioned by their university's association with an aging, top hat-clad Cincinnati funkster named "Freekbass" that they've been forced to reassess some of their most closely held personal beliefs.
But the most probing questions remain: Why does "We Are ND" exist? Who conceived it? What were they thinking? What were they hoping to accomplish? Were they recently released from a mental institution where electroshock was administered by night-shift janitors impersonating Kenny Chesney? And most importantly, after the finished product emerged, why did they see fit to release it to a vicious Internet public, through an official channel?
Tonight, there are some answers. Who: Ted Mandell, class of '86, now an associate professional specialist in the Department of Film, Television and Theatre as well as an occasional columnist for the Indianapolis Star and author of both a multimedia book ("Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: 100 of the Greatest College Football Finishes") and a children's book ("I Play for Notre Dame") about football. Why: The project was a short film for Notre Dame's year-end athletics awards, the O.S.C.A.R.S. What they were hoping to accomplish: Tired of hearing complaints about stale Irish fans that sit on their hands, Mandell, a lifelong Cincinnati Reds fan, decided to produce a fun, passionate video harkening back to the glory years of the "Big Red Machine" and Notre Dame football in the 1970s. Mandell subsequently pulled together a bunch of FTT students and contacted Freekbass, six-time winner as Best Funk/R&B Performer by the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards and author of "Reds Fan," a mainstay at the Great American Ball Park, in an effort to awaken that old partyin' passion at his alma mater:
Just a crazy idea by one faculty member to inject that Notre Dame 1970s plaid passion I experienced as a kid… through the song of a funky 70s throwback musician…into the student body of 2010.
Who knows, maybe it’ll be a song to get fans participating again, chanting from the stands, dancing in the aisles. A "have fun, who cares if I look silly dancing" song you spontaneously sing in the parking lots after knocking off the number one team in the country.
It was a grass roots effort to produce. I got some help from Music Dept. faculty member and blues musician Don Savoie. I contacted Freekbass. We’re both Reds fans. We hit it off. Sure, let’s put together a funky song to celebrate the silliness of fans and the passion of ND Athletics.
It’s not a recruiting tool. Not a contrived, underground marketing attempt to make ND look hip. Just a fun video shown at a student athlete banquet.
It’s freekin' Freekbass.
True, and it would be easy to forgive if it had been screened once as a silly end-of-semester project for the O.S.C.A.R. ceremony – where Irish athletes reportedly "loved it" – and immediately forgotten forever. Once it's tacitly endorsed on an open, official, easily accessible university channel, though, it is fair game for the merciless beating it is destined to receive. To quote a disgusted Facebooker: "Is there a single person in the Main Building who is not a terminal dork, anyone who could tell that this is fine for a last-semester-before-we're-gone FTT project, but not for the institution to promote? Sometimes it seems as if every decisionmaker at ND is stuck in Science Club." The lesson: Sometimes, focus groups are your friend.
I can also say I wouldn't feel half the instinctively revulsion toward this effort that I do if not for the presence of Freekbass' bespectacled sidekick, "Tobotius," who looks neither fun nor passionate but rather like a desperate poseur who's legitimately playing at the menacing thug role despite being kicked out of Leprechaun school for being too white. In reality, he could be a really nice guy. This is still going to haunt him – and everyone at Notre Dame who cringes slightly at its hopelessly whitebread image – for many years to come.