Jim Harbaugh, a perfect character for our culture
The next time you are in a social situation and the conversation grinds to an uncomfortable standstill, here’s a question that should break the ice:
“What do you think about Jim Harbaugh?”
Actually, “break the ice” is probably too tame. Demolish the ice into a cloud of shards and fine mist is probably a better description.
People around Michigan – and the rest of the country – have no shortage of opinions about the University of Michigan football coach, and nearly all of them are strong. They love him (mostly the U-M fans) or they hate him (Michigan State folks, looking your way.)
It seems that no week (or day, lately) goes by where Harbaugh doesn’t manage to wedge his way into the headlines. From strange interviews with national radio hosts to holding spring practice at sports agency in Florida; from causing a stir by holding camps across the country – to showing up shirtless throwing passes at a camp. He’s in the news more than any other coach.
I suspect Jim Harbaugh loves that, and actually devises ways how he can make news. It appears he consciously plays a character, “Jim Harbaugh,” for the cameras.
It’s not like this is unprecedented. It’s been happening forever on television. Larry David played “Larry David” on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and Donald Trump played “Donald Trump” on “The Apprentice.” Those who separate fiction from reality knew that Larry David wasn’t as inconsiderate as “Larry David,” and that real-life Donald Trump is not a successful business genius, but a guy whose companies have filed for bankruptcy four times. Although that does make him one of the best at bankruptcy - he’s HUGE in bankruptcy. (Wait a sec - people are aware of the four bankruptcies, right? This is probably a conversation for another time.)
Harbaugh has elevated it past TV into the viral media universe. Jim Harbaugh, college football coach who wants to win at all costs, saw an opportunity to create “Jim Harbaugh,” interesting media personality, to achieve his goal of winning at all costs. How can he best get attention with the device-distracted primary audience – recruits – he needs to help him win? By doing interesting, unusual things that create viral content for social media feeds.
“Jim Harbaugh” also gets to: 1. Keep the focus on him and away from his young, inexperienced players. Almost every day, you can see some young athlete getting into trouble on social media. With “Jim Harbaugh” out there doing his act, the public has more than enough to focus on.
2. Generate free publicity from media outlets by tapping into our well-established reality TV and viral media obsessed culture – see the presidential campaign of Trump, Donald. 3. Troll every other coach out there, particularly those of the Southeastern Conference - the big league on the block - but also Mark Dantonio, who sometimes seems like he hasn’t had any fun since the late 1970s.
By all accounts, Harbaugh is a smart guy and a fierce competitor and anyone with those qualities would recognize how easy it is to generate attention and help achieve his goals by playing “Jim Harbaugh.” A smart coach with a burning passion to win is going to be driven to innovate, on the field and off, to get an edge. Harbaugh is controlling his own team’s public image and getting his message out through quirky, interesting behavior.
“Jim Harbaugh” has created a media edge.
There is one thing the curious person in me does wish I knew. Which one - Jim Harbaugh or “Jim Harbaugh” – decided to advance the popularity of Wal-Mart khaki pants more than any other person alive?