Tag Archive | Berlin

Man overboard


I’ve been reading biography/history The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans & Their  Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown.

So far my favorite bad sentence is:

The sport reeked of classiness.

Classiness. Wow.

The book is set in Depression Era Seattle and about UW’s mens’ rowing team. I chose it because it’s set in Seattle and about rowing, two things I like.  But even as true stories go,  it’s  not very original. It’s Seabiscuit meets Chariots of Fire.

I’m not sure why we’re reaching back 40-50- 60-70 years to find stories that fit the Dick Lit of America model.

It’s another poor, young, underdog, White male, who comes from an abusive / broken home, who works hard and triumphs over many obstacles to achieve success in sport while his patient adoring decorative young woman looks on.

It’s just all so dated. Oh and did I mention The Great Depression and the Nazis? Yep, the whole kitchen sink is in this one. No doubt this is why its option has been picked up by The Weinstein Company, which is working on a script adaptation as I write this. Sir Kenneth Branagh is set to direct.

While a story may be true and historical, for me that’s not enough to write it down (let alone film it). That story also needs to be really original or really interesting or both. The Boys in the Boat isn’t original, although it’s interesting to people interested in rowing or Seattle’s history.  For most people, this will be boilerplate Dick Lit. Men will like it way more than women, although I think women will feel sympathetic to the lives of those involved in the story.

I’m not trying to denigrate the incredible achievements or lives of the UW men who crewed by saying all this. Really, I’m simply asking why, in this modern age, publishers and movie studio execs choose to keep reaching ever further backwards in history to find this kind of dated “men accomplish, women adore” stories?

Because the truth is, women in those days could only adore because men forced them to stop participating in a sport they loved and excelled at. And nowhere is that more true that UW’s rowing program.

That's right, rowing in Gibson Girl hair do!

That’s right, it’s 1900 and female students at UW row!

For anyone that cares about rowing reality, women and men crewed at UW from 1900 – 1917. After that, the University of Washington was required to give their boathouses to the Navy (WWI). In 1920, UW revived men’s rowing but refused to bring back women’s rowing, despite it being the most popular women’s sport at the university.

The university’s “we can’t afford it” answer was ridiculous given it spent more money on men’s softball than ALL the women’s sports combined.

Women would not be allowed to row at UW again for 50 years (1969). UW Women’s rowing was not elevated to a varsity sport until 1975. And it wasn’t until 1977, after Title IX, that women were allowed to join the, till then all male,  Varsity Boat Club.

Find those men adorable? I didn’t think so.