The Genius of Jon Bois

Labeling anyone a “genius” would mean that the person doing the labeling views themselves as a subject matter expert in some field or avenue and that’s something that I don’t feel terribly comfortable with or take lightly.

With that acknowledged, Jon Bois is a damned genius. This man uses history, sports, data, new media, and so much more to create compelling stories told in an inventive way.

To speak to his narrative talents, Bois created a two-part, 93-minute long video about how the hypocorism (diminutive form of a name) “Bob” is disappearing in professional sports. In these 93 captivating minutes, Bois tells us stories about athletic greats sharing the name “Bob” such as Feller, Cousy, Gibson, as well as lesser-known Bobs and weaves them all together in a video that feels as conversational and educational as a Ken Burns project yet we absorb these stories in a very original and new format.

Bois is certainly resourceful. His video about Georgia Tech’s football team pummeling Cumberland College’s pieced-together football team 222-0 is a hilarious retelling in part due to how he uses stop-motion animation, figurines, and an almond to recreate moments from the game.
Even though he’s equipped with a signature style and tried-and-true methods, what I truly admire is the way he blends old forms of journalism with new media and evolved methods of storytelling.
His work never relies on large production budgets or a team of artists working around the clock to render his vision – he simply finds an interesting story and figures out how to DIY the presentation.

With the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal a frequent topic, I was recently in a conversation that recalled the last few prominent MLB scandals- PED use in the late 90s through early 00s as well as the rampant cocaine abuse in the 80s. Anytime cocaine use within the MLB is brought up, I have to reference this video about Lonnie Smith. At just under 24 minutes, it’s a very entertaining and easily consumable story. This was one of the earlier videos that sold me entirely on Bois’s work.

Though he does often work on his projects alone, he also teams up with Alex Rubenstein for Dorktown which is an online zine of sorts that features blog posts that blend narratives with statistics, posts that utilize comic-book style storytelling, as well as their signature videos.
I’ve obviously seen them all. They’re all great, but I particularly liked their videos on Rickey Henderson and the 2010 San Diego Chargers.

Dorktown is currently releasing a very entertaining historical account on the Seattle Mariners franchise:

Dorktown is definitely a remarkable project, however, Bois’s strongest and most moving collaboration has been with Felix Biederman. Together, they created a five-part documentary series entitled Fighting in the Age of Loneliness.
Chuck Klosterman’s IV (2006) features the essay “Bonds vs. America” where he states that historians:

…will search for events within popular culture that embodied the zeitgeist of this particular time. Some people will use sports, not unlike the way contemporary historians might use Seabiscuit as an allegory for the 1930s or Muhammad Ali as a means to define the 1960s. And when future historians try to explain what was wrong with the world early in the twenty-first century, I suspect they will use Barry Bonds.

I’m a sucker for writers who, as Klosterman writes early in the aforementioned essay, “consider sports to be a significant and meaningful prism for understanding life and culture.”
This is exactly what draws me to Bois and Biederman’s Fighting in the Age of Loneliness.

As someone who has truly never cared about Mixed Martial Arts, this five-part documentary series pulled me in because of the continual parallels that the two men draw between the emergence, then eventual widespread acceptance of MMA and our society at large.
The series is strong and so well-crafted. It is a poignant, profound look at the culture I have spent my adulthood in.

If you are ever faced with the ridiculous dilemma I believe so many of us face all too often, “Which episode of whatever series should I re-watch for the umpteenth time?” I suggest you kick that silly internal predicament aside and spend some time with the work of Jon Bois instead.

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