Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Stop Writing About “FNL” and Romney

UPDATE: Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bissinger and FNL TV producer Peter Berg have both joined the fray over Mitt Romney and "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts...Can't Lose."

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Update, October 14, 7:00 p.m.

Never one to miss out on the last word, original Friday Nights Lights author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger has issued his own response to Friday Night Lights TV executive producer Peter Berg’s letter to the Romney presidential campaign (see below).

Once again, from Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter:

“I love Pete but he is being childish and petulant,” Bissinger says in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “He should be flattered that Romney is honoring his show. Obama tried to use the slogan as well but unsurprisingly was ineffective in getting the message across.”

“Berg is just another member of the Hollywood glitterati whose idea of liberalism is making sure their Mexican gardeners get paid only several dollars below minimum wage,” he writes. “He has no idea what and who Romney is about. I find his letter uninformed and offensive.”

Despite previously emphasizing the fact that he has no claim on the phrase “Clear Eyes Full Hearts Can’t Lose,” which is entirely a product of the fictional FNL universe, Bissinger did take the opportunity to smack down the film and television auteur over who started the franchise:

“And I am frankly sick and tired of Berg and everyone else acting as if he was the creator of Friday Night Lights. Without the book there never would have been a television show. He should feel lucky that anyone cares about it.”

The feud is especially juicy—or, perhaps, completely meaningless—when you add in the fact that Berg and Bissinger are also cousins, and the director is also supposed to adapt Father’s Day, Bissinger’s recent memoir about his relationship with his developmentally disabled son.

Update, October 12, 2:08 p.m.

We said all along that Peter Berg, writer/director of Friday Night Lights (the movie) and creator of Friday Night Lights (the TV show) would have to weigh in on this subject, and now he has, making it clear that he considers the Mitt Romney presidential campaign to be like Arnett Meade.

As Matthew Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter wrote:

In a letter to the Romney campaign sent Friday and obtained exclusively by The Hollywood Reporter, Berg calls the use of “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” an act of stealing. “Your politics and campaign are clearly not aligned with the themes we portrayed in our series,” Berg writes in the letter. “The only relevant comparison that I see between your campaign and Friday Night Lights is in the character of Buddy Garrity — who turned his back on American car manufacturers selling imported cars from Japan.”

In the letter, Berg challenges Romney and says that invoking the phrase “falsely and inappropriately associates Friday Night Lights with the Romney/Ryan campaign.”

Belloni says Berg is “an outspoken Obama supporter”; as we noted here on Monday, he called the president “the warrior-in-chief” in an earlier interview with THR.

“I was not thrilled when I saw that you have plagiarized this expression…,” Berg’s letter to Romney also says. “We are grateful for your support of our beloved show, but we are not in any way affiliated with you or your campaign. Please come up with your own campaign slogan.”

You can read the entire document here.

Original post, October 12, 8:20 a.m.

The politicization of Friday Night Lights keeps getting bigger. 

As Kasie Hunt of the Associated Press noted, Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has tightened its embrace of Dillon Panthers (and East Dillon Lions) head coach Eric Taylor’s locker room rallying cry, “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” making it the timeline image on its Facebook page, and also twisting it into an explicit, and more clunky, campaign slogan: “Clear eyes and full hearts — and America can’t lose.”

Romney has also changed the phrase by saying “full heart” instead of “full hearts” when he’s used it in an anecdote about a teenager he knew who died of cancer. It appeared that way in this photo tweeted by his aide Garrett Jackson:

As the TM Daily Post first recapped Monday, the phrase became part of the Romney rhetoric during last Wednesday’s debate in Denver. According to the AP’s Hunt, both Mitt and his wife Ann are truly FNL fans, and with that debate taking place inside the University of Denver’s hockey rink, Romney’s advance team got the idea to put up a sign over the doorway for their man to see–and tap for luck–before he took the stage with President Barack Obama.

Though the president has also made use of the slogan, fans of the show, including several TV critics, are now wishing that both candidates would stay away from Dillon-derived propaganda.

“No party should get to co-opt ‘Friday Night Lights’ for political purposes. Some things are sacred,” wrote Willa Paskin of Salon. “’Friday Night Lights’ is the most genuinely bipartisan piece of art American mass culture has produced in the last decade,” she continued:

It’s a Texas-set ode to the importance, integrity and strength of the hetero-normative family and community do-it-yourself-ism that’s also a paean to public schools and public servants and the safety nets they provide for the young and underprivileged. Coach Eric Taylor is a great man, but who could say if he votes Republican or Democrat? Depending on your political persuasion it’s possible to read “FNL” as a “red” or “blue” series — to extract the message you want out of it, to ascribe your preferences to its characters — but not because it is one or the other. Rather, it is truly both red and blue, deeply respectful of all of its characters, however one imagines they would vote.

At New York magazine’s Vulture blog, Jesse David Fox did just that, writing a piece in which he guessed the vote of all your favorite Friday Night Lights characters.

He had Coach Taylor and Tim Riggins going Romney, but Tami and Julie Taylor for Obama. He also noted that 98 percent of African-Americans in Texas voted Obama in 2008, meaning that the president could surely count on Smash Williams, Vince Howard, and Jess Meriweather. But military man Luke Cafferty would go Republican, and so would his wife Becky Sproles-Cafferty, despite being pro-choice.

“At the end of the day, she is still a Texan,” Fox wrote of Becky. “McCain got 69 percent of white voters 18-39 and 72 percent of white women.”

TIME critic James Poniewozik was less sure about Coach Taylor.

“I’d peg Buddy Garrity for a Romney man; Tami Taylor for Obama,” he wrote. “And Coach? I don’t know, but I would love to see the pre-election pillow talk scene between them.”

Poniewozik also articulated his interpretation of the show’s political reality, while admitting he is pro-Obama:

Dillon, Texas, is a poor town in rough times, and the characters in FNL have individual problems on top of that: broken homes, family illness, unemployment. What gets them through is reliance on one another, and the help of the institutions around them, both private and public. Everybody, even teenagers, is needed; everybody has to pitch in or the whole thing falls apart. Try to do it alone—whether “it” is winning a football game or caring for a grandmother with dementia—and you’ll end up drowning….

To me, FNL is a heartfelt story showing that nobody—however talented, however much of a superstar—builds anything alone. You’ve got teachers, friends, communities supporting you. It’s not explicitly a liberal tract, but it’s hard to reconcile it with anyone’s Ayn Randian Lone Great Man Theory of life.

Writing for the Guardian, Alpine native Amanda Marcotte took a more aggressive tack, laying the blame for Dillon’s problems squarely at the feet of Republican-dominated Texas: 

West Texas is incredibly conservative, but because of this, it profoundly illustrates the failures of the ideology of men like Mitt Romney.

That’s what made the show “Friday Night Lights” work so well. Without hitting you over the head with it, it was clear the writers and producers understood that decades of conservatism have left west Texas poverty-ridden and abandoned. The entire job of the beloved main characters on the show, Eric and Tami Taylor, was to get their students into a place where they could get out of west Texas. The reason was implicitly understood: there is no hope for a better life if you stay in west Texas. You need to get out – preferably, to some place that elects Democrats and therefore still has the well-funded infrastructure that gives ordinary people an opportunity to better themselves.

(Marcotte, incidentally, deserves more credit for tweeting that Obama should use the phrase in his speech at the Democratic National Convention, a month before Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post presciently said the same about both candidates a few hours before the first debate.)

As we noted Monday, original Friday Night Lights author H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger coincidentally endorsed Romney at the Daily Beast right around the same time that this story started breaking with the Twitterati.

That had Elspeth Reeve of the Atlantic Wire asking, “Did Buzz Bissinger coordinate his endorsement with Mitt Romney?”

Answer: No. In fact, that question was not even the real subject of Reeve’s piece.

Bissinger, who went on one of his usual patented profane Twitter rants following the publication of his story, confirmed as much in a follow-up piece. He complained that not one single media outlet attempted to just call and ask that very question, while also indirectly reminding readers that all credit for the slogan goes to Friday Night Lights TV executive producers Peter Berg and Jason Katims, not him. Bissinger wrote:

To say that the media creates nonconspiracy conspiracies is unfair: what too many outlets do is sloppy and cowardly, suggesting conspiracies in the form of the ominous question—“Is it just possible … ” They make no attempt to find out what happened, which would take all of a single phone call. Mitt Romney has embraced the slogan from the television show Friday Night Lights—“clear eyes,” “can’t lose,” etc. I was in France when this absolute nonstory was revealed and had no idea about it until after the column was written. But I still started seeing stories implying that my column was somehow a thank you to Romney for invoking the slogan. No one bothered to call me, and it wouldn’t have mattered anyway since I would have been denying an untruth, which in this day and age might as well be admitting a truth. My favorite was New York magazine’s website, which attributed the famous slogan to the book. I wish.

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