Study Guide

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk Dissatisfaction

By Ben Fountain

Dissatisfaction

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)

Geez, tell us how you really feel about it, Billy. Is this all just a reflection of the fact that for Billy, reality is simply disappointing? Or are we being fooled by the "carefully posed TV shots" as well?

Billy thinks about this as he eyes the fast food outlets that line the stadium concourse, your Taco Bells, your Subways, your Pizza Huts and Papa John's, clouds of hot meaty gases waft from these place and surely it speaks to the genius of American cooking that they all smell pretty much the same. It dawns on him that Texas Stadium is basically a s***hole. It's cold, gritty, drafty, dirty, in general possessed of all the charm of an industrial warehouse where people pee in the corners. Urine, the faint reek of it, pervades the place. (Cures.51)

We understand where Billy's coming from on this one. Have you been to a stadium recently? Or a ballpark? The food does all smell—and taste—roughly the same, which is disturbing when you think about it. And frankly, for all the money these teams are making, you'd think they could hose down those urine-soaked hallways every once in a while.

You pay ten bucks just to pass the door, then $40 plus tax and service for the meal—gratis for heroes, Josh says, to which Bravo answers troof—though the "club" isn't much to look at, a rambling, low-ceilinged space with a bar at one end and at the other full-length windows overlooking the field. The light is a nerve-jangling palette of hards and softs, the rancid-butter mizzle of the overhead fixtures cut by the harsh silver glare from all those giant windows, a constant wrenching of visual tone and depth such that the patrons' eyes never properly adjust. The carpet is a coal-slurry gray, the furnishings a scuffed, faux-baronial mélange of burgundy vinyls and oxblood veneers reminiscent of a 1970s Holiday Inn. Clearly, all expense has been spared save for the bare minimum to keep a captive market from outright rebellion. (Virtue.2)

As a self-described poor kid from Nowhere, Texas, it's interesting that Billy picks up on all the shabbiness around him. You'd think he'd be amazed by the splendor and richness of the stuff in the stadium, as shoddy as it is. Perhaps this is due to his experiences on the victory tour, or maybe it's just a result of his disillusionment in general. Either way, we agree that those patrons are getting shafted.

"I just hated school so much, hated everything about it. I'm starting to think that was what was f***ed up, a lot more than me? Keeping us locked up all day, treating us like children, making us learn a lot of s*** about nothing. I think it made me sort of crazy." (Bully.61)

Lots of kids don't like school for various reasons. Billy sounds like he resented school for its very existence. He felt like it was a complete waste of time, a barbaric torture system to keep kids down.

Now there was a depressing thought, although Billy could see how it might come to that, assuming best-case scenario he made it home with all his limbs and faculties intact. He'd go to work for Whalers hauling oil-field pipe and blowout protectors all over the wind-scrappled barrens of Central Texas, busting his ass for slightly more than minimum wage and s***ty benefits. (Bully.119)

Talk about being dissatisfied with your lot in life, right? But seriously…that sounds miserable. As Mike Rowe says, "It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it." Though, that's hardly comforting when you're confronting your own future prospects in such a place.

"I don't think anybody knows what we're doing over there. I mean, it's weird. It's like the Iraqis really hate us, you know? Just right there in our own AO, we're building a couple of schools, we're trying to get their sewer system up and running, we bring in tankers of drinking water every day and do a meal program for the kids, and all they wanna do is kill us. Our mission is to help and enhance, right? And these people are living in s***, literal s***, their government did nothing for them all these years, but we're the enemy, right? So what it ends up coming down to is survival, I guess. You just pull in, you aren't thinking about accomplishing anything, you just wanna get through the day with all your guys alive. So then you start to wonder why we're even over there." (Bully.192)

This is exactly the argument that a lot of people were using at the time to question our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. If our guys are getting shot at for trying to help, why stay there? Billy and Bravo lived this situation in a very, very real way.

Billy spots Mr. Jones nearby, discussing the line with several other suits. Cowboys by four? 'Boys by three? They chuckle like men comparing the talents of a carnally shared woman, and Billy would like to go over there and beat their faces in. He doesn't know why he's so offended, but he is, maybe it's Mr. Jones's gun that sets him off, something about the presumption of it, the ignorance, the sheer f***ing ego of carrying around an instrument of deadly force. Like you know? You wanna see what deadly force can do? Bravo can show you, Bravo does deadly like you wouldn't believe, the kind that will break your mind and make you wish you'd never spilled out of your mother's crack. (Dry-Humping.39)

Dude, she was into you. F*** that, she GOT OFF on you. It occurs to him to wonder was it even real. It's too perfect, just exactly the sort of delusion a desperate soldier would dream up, your normal, frustrated ADD grunt whose inner life is mostly overcooked sex fantasies anyway. But then self-doubt has always been there for Billy, self-doubt and its cousin the berating voice, these faithful companions have always been on call to help him through the critical junctures of his life, and yet, and yet…(S***ty Movie.18)

Billy's experience with Faison does seem a little too good to be true…but maybe he should give himself a little credit. Maybe he shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth and just appreciate that something extraordinary happened to him. Again, though, it's hard to tell what's really real, especially in a place as deliberately and overwhelmingly "fake" as the stadium.

They are huge. They could be a new species, or throwbacks to some lost prehistoric age when humans the size of Clydesdales roamed the earth. TV's toy-soldier scale doesn't do them justice, these blown-up versions of the human frame with their beer-keg heads and redwood necks and arms packing softball-sized bulges, plus something not quite right about their faces, their eyes too close or too far apart, a thumb-mashed puttiness to cheekbone and nose. All the parts are there but the whole is out of joint, a hitch of proportion, of cranial size relative to facial scheme, as if by achieving superhero scale the players have outstripped the blueprint of the human face. (XXL.1)

Where some people would respond to this adventure with a sense of wonder and awe, Billy can only see the wrongness of it all. Instead of buying into the Cowboys hype, he's just disappointed and disgusted with the whole thing.

How does it all come to be, that's what he wants to know, not just the how but the why of all this stuff. Only in America, apparently. Only America could take such a product-intensive sport and grow it into the civic necessity it is today.

He's not sure what he's just seen in here, but it seems to have made him sick. (XXL.102)

We're getting a distinct whiff of Holden Caulfield Syndrome off of Billy. He's just so dang disgruntled about everything…but war will do that do you, we guess. Fine, Billy. You get a pass on this one. Especially because, well, the people surrounding Billy here really are phonies.