Wednesday, July 25, 2007Roy Peter Clark's Writing Tools: Get the name of the dog. Either way, we know a few of the dogs names allegedly used in this dogfighting ring: Seal, Maniac and Zebro, among others.
But this post isn't really about writing as much it is about perspective in reporting.
I used to see dogfights happening all the time atop a steep hill at a park near Fields Corner in my hometown, Dorchester, MA. I never got up close to one. But in Dorchester in the late 90s, up until 2001 when I graduated high school, to see a pit bull that wasn’t maimed, wounded or didn’t have its eye gouged out was rare. I knew people who seriously thought that you owned dogs to fight them.
Those dogs demeanor matched the way the money came: fast and furious. The dogs had more heart than their owners did. Somewhere beyond the facade of being hard, the owners knew this.
My barber was a frequent dogfighter. He ran with some Jamaican fellows that, from what I remember, were among dozens of folk making small fortunes fighting dogs in New Bedford with the Cape Verdeans. He taunted them as puppies, fed them blood-soaked meat showed them tapes of dogfights in their kennels.
It is said that it’s not the actual fighting of the dogs that is criminal, but the lengths to which people go to make it happen. I've heard the stories.
And so with occasional terror, I read the indictment that is being brought in federal court against Michael Vick. Gory stuff. Violence. And, if true, it's inexcusable.
But let's just be honest here. Those images gnaw at the iconic ideal of Fido, the family dog and the BBQ-romanticism that accompanies his incessant tongue waggling, frisbee fetching and endless appetite for table scraps. My mother still gets teary-eyed when she thinks of her childhood dog, Sheekie. (My grandmother made her and my aunts abandon it somewhere on the side of the road in Montana. Ouch.) It's America.
Face it: In some neighborhoods, dogfighting is sport. And that's America, too. Poverty put a whole lot of people at odds with the law. Some people, even the ones with money, never get out of that mindset.
Ethnocentrism is what is ultimately going to define coverage of this story. Truthfully, if Michael Vick was Mikhail Vick and the allegations were true he'd be a national treasure in Russia. (If you have Times Select, read that story about how dogfighting is growing [again] in Russia. The author wrote a great story.)
Everyone wanted to cut Clinton Portis' head off when he said that he thought it was ridiculous that people wanted to crucify Michael Vick "just because" he was allegedly fighting dogs. Portis swiftly backed off that statement, for obvious reasons. (And we're wondering why athletes turn into cliche machines after games and don't care to share their opinions on social issues. Teams have day-long seminars against players "saying the wrong thing.")
But Portis' comments raise a dilemma about the disconnect between the two Americas. And that's precisely what we're dealing with here. Two Americas. In one, that kind of behavior is sport and in the other it is unfathomable. In one America, there are dog lovers. In the other there are dogfighters. It doesn't make dogfighting OK. But to deny that the act isn't a symptom of poverty is to deny that we don't exist in a fractured country with separate ideals. Some of us didn't need a news story to bring that to light. continue...