Of all the second careers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s has to be one of the oddest. After retirement, the 7’2’’ basketball player and former actor traded in his basketball sneakers for a keyboard. He’s now a columnist and cultural critic, chiming in about everything from Barack Obama to Lena Dunham. His article on Girls was so popular that it was translated into French and Spanish, and seeing the show’s over-the-top criticism with accent marks officially made it interesting for me again.
What makes Abdul-Jabbar a joy to read is that his essays are equal parts entertaining, insightful, mind-blowingly erudite (especially for a man prized for his physical prowess rather than his intellect) and totally crazy. Like James Franco’s free-form essays on life, fame and just about everything, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has a lot of wisdom to impart. However, not all of it adheres to logic or sense. Remember that time he claimed Adam was the strongest character on Girls? That was fun.
Further case in point: Abdul-Jabbar’s newest essay is called “How the Real Housewives Have Made America Better.” Although his thesis is bonkers and slightly tone-deaf, it’s a compelling read about The Way We Live Now and how reality television helps to explain the culture that obsesses over it. These are just some of most the delicious insights Abdul-Jabbar offers us.
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar calls Andy Cohen the “Andy Warhol of the 21st century.” This is a sentence that exists in the world now: “His version of Warhol’s Campbell’s soup cans and multi-colored Marilyns are the table-flipping divas and surgically-buoyed breasts he puts ‘on display.’”
2. Also this: “Those who refuse to watch, based on some misguided cultural snobbery, aren’t just missing great entertainment, they are overlooking the best social insight into the American psyche since Huck Finn and Jim explored the soul of America on a raft of lost innocence. Good news, Huck and Jim. We found that lost innocence and we’re hanging it out to dry on cable TV.”
3. Abdul-Jabbar classifies the Real Housewives series under the genre of “real life documentaries.” Somewhere the Maysles brothers are dying inside.
4. He manages to plug his own reality competition show, Splash!, which most of America isn’t aware is even on television.
5. Abdul-Jabbar refers to Real Housewives as “literature” and a “classic Shakespearean tragedy.” On a related note, what do you think Hamlet and Snooki would talk about?
6. This phrase: “Bedazzled shovels.”
7. Weirdly enough, his Susan Faludi reference is on point. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar knows his way around a Faludi.
8. “Ballistic boobs.”
9. While detailing the “smug elitism of the undeserving,” Abdul-Jabbar insists that he’s not criticizing the Real Housewives and that they are products of an environment. He might as well say, “I’m sorry I called you a gap-toothed bitch. It’s not your fault you’re so gap-toothed.”
10. He holds up Lisa VanderPump has a model of “feminist ideals.” I’m don’t know about that, but I do know the GIF of her saying, “Checkmate, bitch!” never gets old.
11. Abdul-Jabbar claims that with Jersey Shore, MTV jumped the shark as an iconic voice for youth. Was I missing something during Room Raiders? Was Boiling Point secretly an engine of youth counterculture? Sure, we also had Daria, but let’s be honest: MTV has always had its fair share of trash. You didn’t watch Jackass to learn something.
12. He gives you a TL;DR version at the end — in case your Twitter-warped brain can’t process a 1500 word article — with “takeaway points” that are just repeated snippets that you’ve already read.
13. Mr. Abdul-Jabbar reminds us that most of the Real Housewives are “awesome.” Really, Kareem? Even Dina? Alexis? What about Countess LuAnn? Listen to her songs a couple times and then get back to me.
14. Abdul-Jabbar warns us that “resistance [to the Real Housewives] is futile.” Perhaps he’s never heard of the concept of the remote.