Friday, December 30, 2011

The Texas Bowl

Since the last post, the Northwestern football team lost its final game against Michigan State, leaving it in a precarious bowl position with a 6-6 record. Fortunately, bowl berths are not determined by precise formula, rationality, or by a giant wheel of non-BCS bowl games as I would prefer; instead it is through the much more entertaining process of intrigue, betrayal, and payola.

"It is he who has the most RVs that travels to the sunniest bowls," is something that
Machiavelli may have said if he was in the feudal position of NCAA President Mark
Emmert (shown at right demonstrating how to crush his enemies)

The chaos of the Big Ten season left several teams scheming against each other for the plum prize of mediocre bowl games played in barren stadiums to meager television audiences consisting of airport denizens and barflies. Northwestern took advantage of its network of international operatives and no doubt a sordid dabbling in horse-trading, bribery, and subtle threats scrawled on wax-sealed parchments to ensure that the Wildcat football team will once again return to its winter home in Texas. Since the 2000 season, the 'Cats have played all but two bowls in the Lone Star State.


Texas is known for its fierce independent spirit, its frontier lineage, and its prominence in pickup truck commercials that air constantly during NFL games. My favorite Texas residents, however, were a colony of French and Belgian followers of Charles Fourier. Fourier was a major French socialist thinker in the early nineteenth century but, according to historian Rondel Davidson in an article on the colony, the "tedious, ambiguous, and often preposterous nature of his writings" prevented them from catching on until after his death in 1837. His ideas centered on the creation of communal societies as a reaction to the social ills of early industrialization, but his plans for these societies contained the sort of hyper-specific mathematical precision of an delightfully off-the-rails social alchemist.

Fourier is commonly mocked for his grand pronouncements that, once society had been perfected, the natural world would respond by turning the seas into an ocean of lemonade. This reductionist view on Fourier as a mad lemonade prophet is understandably irresistible, especially considering his influence on utopian communities throughout the nineteenth century. Fourier scholars, however, would add that there is far more to his theories, for example his hatred of saltwater ecosystems as he wrote in his 1808 Theory of the Four Movements:
This breaking down of the sea water by the boreal liquid is a necessary preliminary to the development of new sea creatures, which will provide a host of amphibious servants to pull ships and help in fisheries, replacing the ghastly leions of sea-monsters which will be annihilated by the admixture of boreal fluid and the consequent changes in the sea's structure. The sudden death of all of them will rid the Ocean of these vile creatures , images of the intensity of our passions which are represented by the bloodthirsty battles of so many monsters.

Fourier (l) shared with other important philosophers an intense hatred of sea

The Texas colony at La Réunion was founded by a Fourier disciple named Victor Considerant. As Davidson relates in "Victor Considerant and the Failure of La Réunion" from the Jan 1973 edition of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Considerant found in Fourier's communal societies the solution to the social problems of mid-nineteenth century industrialization. He headed the Fourier Society and did far more to promote Fourierism than Fourier himself. His visions of social order saw a more gradual transition to communal society through government reform. In 1849, Considerant became involved in a plot to overthrow the newly-crowned Louis Napoleon and found himself in Belgian exile. Considerant could handle Belgium for less than three years; the American Fourierist Albert Brisbane invited him to America to plan a community in 1852.

Considerant's first preparation to
colonize Texas involved growing this

Considerant became quite taken with the climate of Texas and the spirit of the American frontier. By 1854, he had published two works outlining his plans for a colony called La Réunion outside of Dallas and began to raise subscribers in Europe. Colonists arrived in the summer of 1855, but it quickly fell apart. Davidson identifies several major causes for the failure of the community. For one, Texas land became a hot commodity while Consdierant was off raising funds, and the colonists were left with considerably worse land with a far greater price tag. He also had problems with his settlers, having failed to construct a Venn diagram showing the yawning chasm between hardy frontier people and people interested in the ideas of Fourier. Instead, he found that the main group of settlers were intellectuals almost completely bereft of the skills needed to survive in the wilderness. In addition, these settlers faced nativist anger from other settlers not particularly keen on an influx of European socialists, and beside that, the settlers found their French mostly useless. Even the winters were unusually severe. Considerant found the situation increasingly hopeless and grew despondent. He left for Europe in 1858 and, by the time he returned in 1859, La Réunion had become Le Abandon as colonists melted into Dallas or elsewhere.

Today, the frontier settlements of La Réunion have been swallowed up by downtown Dallas, its floundering farms and inept smiths and barren general stores entombed by shopping malls and interstates. And now, the idea of a French utopian socialist colony in Dallas seems as unlikely as a Northwestern bowl win after a decade of bowl results akin to the colonists' miserable crops.


Northwestern fans have come to Houston elated at securing a bowl berth from a disappointing season. Texas A&M started the season with grander ambitions and fell into the Texas Bowl after a comically disastrous string of second-half collapses. This season saw several bitter ends for the Aggies. They lost an opportunity to leave the Big 12 with a victory over arch-rival Texas on a last second field goal. Head coach Mike Sherman was fired, and interim coach Tim DeRuyter will leave for Fresno State. The Aggies and their paramilitary fanbase will make the short trip down the road hoping to end the season on a more positive note.

Mike Sherman Judd Nelsons his way
out of College Station

Despite these pressures, there is no doubt that a bowl victory means more to the Wildcats. Anyone reading this already knows and is sick of being reminded that they have yet to hoist a postseason trophy since 1949. Winning a bowl game, along with making the NCAA tournament, are the twin bogeys preventing Northwestern from fully ascending from its reputation as the worst athletic major college athletic program in the history of college sports to the comfort of mediocrity.

Nevertheless, the Wildcats face a tall task. A&M has an excellent passing attack led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and the Wildcats have struggled to stop big plays in the air all season. On the other side, Northwestern fans hope a recovered Dan Persa and the dynamic playmakers on the offense can keep up with their counterparts.

A lot of people grouse about the meaningless outcome of bowl games, but why scoff at more college football? I guarantee that no fan base has ever wanted to win the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas more than Northwestern wants a win tomorrow, even if all it means is that Northwestern was slightly better at football this year. And I'm sure that when the final whistle blows and the Wildcats pump their fists in victory in homage to their fist-pumping coach, they won't be celebrating being number 50. They'll know in their hearts that they are number 49.


The idea of French intellectuals flailing helplessly about the Texan countryside while spending evenings consulting their sea creature removal manuals is fairly amusing, but the nineteenth century utopian commune movement also demonstrates an admirable confrontation with the monumental task of finding ways to create a just and equitable society. And though some of their philosophers had loony passages in their works, or their communities may have failed to account for the logistics of actually creating a colony, we should take the mantle of Considerant and declare that it is Texas where the impossible shall become reality, the oceans shall turn to lemonade, and Northwestern will win a bowl game.