“Odessa is the setting for this book, but it could be anyplace in this vast land where, on a Friday night, a set of spindly stadium lights rises to the heavens to so powerfully, and so briefly, ignite the darkness.”
Odessa represents countless small towns across America that treat their high school football teams with reverence. Despite economic woes and social hardships, the lights of a Friday night game ignite their hopes and dreams of a better future. The temporary excitement of the gridiron turns their boys into men; their personal problems are momentarily solved by a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
“He responded without the slightest hesitation. 'A big ol’ dumb nigger.'”
This is a Permian assistant coach’s response to a question about what Boobie Miles would be without football. There is a certain animosity towards Boobie from the coaching staff: Boobie does not take instruction well. He operates on pure talent and instinct for the game. Boobie frequently goes off the plan set before the play. Still, this quote is endemic of racial views among whites in Odessa. To most whites in Odessa, Boobie is the necessary black athletic talent needed to challenge other desegregated schools. Booby is simply a commodity whose status would revert back to derogatory stereotypes once his talent is used up.
“They started chanting something….Some said it was 'Oreo! Oreo!'”
Racism in Texas football cuts both ways. Bissinger portrays the Carter fans and players as overtly racist and angry. Some fans scream “Oreo” at the black players and coaches on the Permian staff. The connotation alludes to derogatory remarks of race mixing at Permian. This invites the question: is the high school football game a symbol of long-simmering racial aggression?
“Some of the Pepettes spent $100 of their own money to make an individual sign, decorating it with twinkling lights…”
Many girls at Permian dream of becoming a Pepette. These are girls who exclusively devote themselves to the football players. Each Pepette is assigned to a specific player. They act as domestic servants of their appointed player by cooking them football themed deserts or making signs for them. If a girl is blessed with a keen intellect, they simply “dumb themselves down" to fit into Permian school culture.
“I’ve got no idea what I want to do. I’ve got no idea what school I want to go to. My SAT won’t be worth a shit. And no football school wants me.”
These are the words of Jerrod McDougal, but they represent the confusion of 95 percent of the boys after Permian football. Every year these heroes of Permian football turn into teenage boys again after their final season is over. One or two lucky ones get a shot at college football but the majority of them are cast aside as fond memories. In the end these boys become a product of decent football training and a mediocre education.
“Charlie Billingsley found out that life in college was a whole lot different …you were a whole lot more expendable in college…there was always a bunch of guys ready to replace you in a second.”
Like the few boys that were lucky to play college football after high school, Charlie Billingsley found that things were not as he had imagined. At a university like Texas A and M, the men were bigger, faster and stronger than him: above all they had more drive to succeed. Charlie quickly became disenchanted and would finally end up back in Odessa, a mere mortal, old and arthritic, longing for his past days of glory.
“He fit every stereotype of a dumb jock, all of which went to show how meaningless stereotypes can be.”
This quote is about the only Hispanic player on the team, Brian Chavez. Brian is academically at the top of his classes. He is fearless on the field and in his studies. Unlike most players who don the Permian colors, Brian holds the distinction of potential success strictly on his academic talents. Many of the players on Permian privately admire Brian’s position in life. Despite the daily worship heaped upon them at school, they harbor the knowledge that post high school football success is largely a pipe dream. At least Brian has a straight shot at success regardless if football works out or not.
“My values have not changed a bit since I was your neighbor in the fifties. My values are values like everyone here that I think of: faith , family, and freedom, love of country and hope for the future. Texas values. “
George Bush, or at least his speechwriters, know exactly how to plant their Republican flag into the hearts and minds of white Odessans. Despite an extended recession leading to foreclosures and family breakup, the struggling white middle class of Odessa cling to the ideals of 1950’s Middle America. The white patriarchal nuclear family is a nostalgic illusion that many people still fantasize about. Their lives certainly don’t reflect it but at least they have the respite of high school football and conservative politics to hang onto.
"Aaron Giebel had begun work on his house –although calling it a house was the same as describing the Statue of Liberty as a figurine….It was as he said, 'a salute to our success.'"
We are introduced to people like Aaron Giebel of Midland, Odessa’s nearby sister city. He is one example of the many powerful men in West Texas that felt they were captains of their own capitalist fortunes. They won and lost millions of dollars. Despite their belief that they are masters of their own destinies, they are really always at the mercy of OPEC oil and the global oil market. By 1988 the oil economy is a bust. While oil machines lie in the wasteland like rotting carcasses, people like Aaron Giebel know that they are just one Middle East conflict away from reclaiming their destiny.
“But for Boobie, the risks were enormous, it might rekindle the interest of recruiters, who had gone on to whore after other tricks. But by playing there was always the risk of further damage to his knee.”
When Boobie steps onto the field again, he is an afterthought. Boobie wears the shame of the white jersey that is meant for second-string players. His knee is vulnerable, visible to any player that wants to take a shot at it. Boobie will take the faint hope of reigniting interest in scouts again. The college scouts, however, are only interested in long-term prospects that will lead to money. Despite college football’s armature status, the game can be worth millions of dollars in annual revenue for a school: they expect players like Boobie Miles to return tenfold on their investment.
Friday Night Lights Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Friday Night Lights is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.