Mark Jackson, “That Man”, and Hitler — how an 85-year-old meme got new life in the NBA

Summary: NBA commentator Mark Jackson’s signature phrase is an old American joke about children not recognizing their father that became so widely popular in the 1930s it crossed the Atlantic and was used derisively of Adolf Hitler prior to WWII.

Full explanation: Mark Jackson’s “Mama, there goes that man (again)” is most closely associated with Kobe Bryant highlights from a decade ago, but Jackson has subsequently used it in his post-coaching announcing career as an acknowledged catchphrase for LeBron James and Kevin Durant, among others, and it pops up occasionally now in other sports.

Ever since Jackson started doing it on nationally televised NBA games, people have been asking “What’s the deal with Mark Jackson saying that?”

A popular answer on the Internet is that Steve Harvey had been using the phrase in his standup in the early 2000s and Jackson took it from that. While that may be the most immediate provenance, I’m not familiar enough with his comedy to recall it, and other than references to Mark Jackson, I couldn’t find evidence of that claim online.

What’s more likely is that he picked it up from a grandparent or great-grandparent, and that’s because “That Man” was an incredibly popular, international meme in the 1930s and early ’40s that all-but-evaporated in the meantime.

This is illustrated by the title of a former BBC show that generated quite a few catchphrases of its own during its run: “It’s That Man Again”. The radio program supposedly got its name from a common practice of the Daily Express newspaper calling Adolf Hitler “that man” in its headlines in 1939. I haven’t been able to find any of those headlines directly, but it’s widely cited and the explanation the creators gave for their choice in title, intending for it to be topical.

You might be fooled, then, into thinking the original meaning is referencing literal, historical Hitler. But to my knowledge, Jackson has never used it for a James Harden highlight, and the phrase was already ubiquitous when the Nazis came to power.

By 1934, it was popular enough that there was already a song called “That Man Is Here Again” by Cab Calloway, and a sort of common reference is made to it in the film “The Thin Man”, also released in 1934.

For a fuller explanation, skip to 16:45 of this episode of Lexicon Valley by John McWhorter as he goes into it and how it was a pervasive joke that made it into all movies and such around that era.

There was a joke and the joke was that a husband and father is away so much that when he comes home his child says, “Mommy, that man is here again.” For some reason that was considered hilarious.

A Dictionary of Catch Phrases” by Eric Partridge takes a more cynical view:

‘The joke-reference had to do with the basic situation of mummy’s boy friend being innocently identified by a child—”Mummy, it’s that man again”—as once more he comes calling while daddy is out’ (Wedgewood, 1977). But then Shipley writes, ‘My recollection [of “Mummy, it’s…, in the US] is that it began not as a story or a joke, but as a caption to a cartoon’—which he cautiously dates as belonging to the early 1930s.

Which also means Alex from Yahoo! answers actually had their shit together years ago, unlike apparently everyone else on the Internet. Well, except for one self-published racist hack, surprisingly.

So there you have it! When Mark Jackson is saying “Mama, there goes that man!” to punctuate a dunk, he’s ultimately referencing an, at a minimum, 85-year-old joke about absent fathers or cuckoldry. Either way, the player in question is a real motherfucker, which lines up pretty well with how the phrase is used today.

‘Panzram: A Journal of Murder’ & light in the darkness

‘There is nothing to history. No progress, no justice. There is nothing but random horror.’
The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling

Carl Panzram is one of the worst human beings ever to have lived.

If I were asked to name the face of evil, probably I’d say something like Adolf Hitler or if I were feeling more clever, Joseph Stalin or someone else universally considered a despicable human being who was responsible for the deaths of millions or tens of millions of people.

Stalin seemed to have been deeply, genuinely in love with his first wife. Hitler seemed to have a place of sincere kindness in him for dogs and secretaries.

Continue reading “‘Panzram: A Journal of Murder’ & light in the darkness”

‘The Great Dictator’ can be found in whole via Google

The other day I overheard someone talking about the Charlie Chaplin film, “The Great Dictator,” or more specifically talking about his speech at the end, which is brilliant and moving and I can’t do it justice even to quote from it, so you’re best off watching it.

My eavesdropping turned to interruption, and finally became excited, almost manic jabbering about what is one of the most important and well-made movies of all time.

Like Nazi Germany moving into the Sudetenland, I am about to move into territory of our online columnist Matt Jones and spend most of this talking about film. (It’s OK. As with Czechoslovakia, he’ll get his space back at the end.)

So, the thing about the movie is that it’s incredibly well-made, and it’s both seriously, emotionally powerful while being funny as all hell. The guy talking about the speech hadn’t seen any of the preceding hour and a half, and that’s actually OK.

Chaplin’s first true “talkie” is not cohesive; it’s almost best to appreciate the “Jewish Barber’s Speech” as a speech, amputated. It was essentially Chaplin tacking it on at the last minute and speaking as himself, anyway.

Not that there aren’t other parts worth watching at least as much.

One is the Barbershop Scene, where Chaplin shaves a man to Brahms Hungarian No. 5, speeding and slowing along with the tempo. This would work well in any movie, but it’s Chaplin doing it, so it’s hilarious.

The second is the “globe ballet,” which doesn’t really work in anything but a parody of Hitler, who longingly, lovingly dances with a balloon of the world until it bursts in his face and makes him cry. Nothing hits both competing notes of humor and poignancy as simultaneously as that.

(If there’s a third great scene, it’s Chaplin’s German-gibberish propaganda speech early on that mocks Hitler the most directly, but it hits too close to reality.)

It’s all outrageously funny, most of all because Hitler was the one who aped Chaplin first. When Chaplin was the world’s most recognizable movie star with greasepaint facial hair, Hitler was crawling around obscure trenches with a Kaiser Wilhelm mustache.

When Hitler became famous, it was with Chaplin’s face. To mock Hitler, Chaplin just needed to be himself.

Anyway, the fellow I overheard was telling this girl about Chaplin’s ending speech, and going on about how fantastic it is, which is true. And he was saying that it’s even more relevant today than it was at the time, which is dubious.

Well, I will quote from it:

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost.

And it’s true, there’s always something miserable going on, but there’s good things, too. National hypocrisy exists, but that’s better than the bald-faced brutality that once threatened the world whole, and there’s much to be said for that.

The film ends on a hopeful note, that the worst will pass. So far the worst has. What’s bad and undesirable remains, but the Tramp’s world triumphed over the Fuhrer’s.

After all, we can still watch a movie about a funny-looking guy mock a dictator and not consider it subversive.