Study Guide

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Setting

By Ben Fountain

Setting

Post-9/11 America

America in the Aughts

Immediately after the attacks of 9/11—or, as Fountain likes to write it, "nina leven"—America experienced a kind of knee-jerk response of intense patriotism. People were suddenly fiercely proud of their nation, and they were ready to defend it against foes seen and unseen.

…And then the war trudged on and on, and people started getting a wee bit miffed. The terrorists were supposed to be easy to wipe out, and hey, people asked, where are those WMDs, Dubya?

Our story seems to take place during this lull in support for the war. The Bravos' viral video of their assault at Al-Ansakar Canal functions as a much-needed injection of pro-American propaganda right when the U.S. Government needs it, and that's why the Bravos get their highly publicized Victory Tour.

Knowing that despite their VIP treatment they are still merely pawns in a bigger game leaves a pretty bitter taste in the Bravos' mouths during the whole tour—but that doesn't mean they can't make the most of it before they have to go back to Iraq.

Of course, the fact that the Bravos are mostly in Texas during this time is also important. As the home state of President George W. Bush, and as the home state of the self-appointed guardians of conservatism and nationalism for all time, Texas is the epicenter of a particular brand of zealous patriotism—hence the overly enthusiastic welcomes the Bravos get from some of their fans.

Cowboys Stadium: The Home of The Rich

The primary setting of Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk is, of course, Texas Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. Where else would Billy take a long halftime walk, right?

Even though Billy expects the stadium to be grandiose and awe-inspiring— as it's been depicted on TV, at least—it's a bit of a let-down, like just about everything else in the book:

Years and years of carefully posed TV shots have imbued the place with intimations of mystery and romance, dollops of state and national pride, hints of pharaonic afterlife such as always inhere in large-scale public architecture, all of which render the stadium of Billy's mind as the conduit or portal, a direct tap-in, to a ready-made species of mass transcendence, and so the real-life shabbiness is a nasty comedown. Give bigness all its due, sure, but the place looks like a half-assed backyard job. The roof is a homely quilting of mismatched tiles. There's a slumpiness, a middle-aged sag to the thing that suggests soft paunches and mushy prostates, gravity-slugged masses of beached whaleness. (Thing Begins.56)

Yikes. Billy's first impression doesn't improve as he gets to see more of the stadium, either. The high-priced VIP club looks like it was decorated in the 1970s, the vendors all sell food that smells exactly alike, and even Norm's suite is nice but all for show—the real business really happens in a barely furnished room next door.

Billy's sense of disillusionment persists the entire time he's being hosted at the stadium. The few nice things he does get to experience are always tainted: the halftime show is a disaster of epic proportions, the Bravos' impromptu touch football game is ruined by over-aggressive roadies who kick them out, and Billy's behind-the-scenes tour just makes him realize how offensive the NFL is from a world perspective.

Stovall, Texas: There's No Place Like Home

One of the only descriptions we get about Billy's hometown is this single sentence:

And Billy, Billy went to Stovall, to the three-bedroom, two-bath brick ranch house on Cisco Street with sturdy access ramps front and back for his father's wheelchair, a dark purple motorized job with fat whitewalls and an American flag decal stuck to the back. (Bully.1)

Billy is aware that Stovall isn't exactly picturesque. And he knows that he comes from practically nothing. And sure, Billy is still bitter that his dad's a deadbeat, that his sister is stuck in Stovall, and that if he goes back to Stovall after the war, all he'll have to look forward to is debt and a terrible job.

But if Texas Stadium was a disappointment to Billy, then Stovall is kind of the opposite. His hometown's shabbiness actually seems reassuring to him. Hey, it's better than the desert, right? Or maybe it was just that Billy has gained a newfound gratitude for the simpler things in life:

But this was enough, just chilling on a warm Indian-summer day, a sweet abeyance in the golden tone of the light and nothing to do but sit in lawn chairs or sprawl on blankets and let the morning lazily take its course. Two years ago Billy couldn't have done this, the very notion of family time would have sent him running down the street tearing off his clothes. I am a changed man, Billy solemnly told himself. (Bully.82)

Going home can make you realize a whole smattering of things about yourself, but we're also a little surprised that Billy's visit has allowed him to see that home isn't so bad, after all.

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