Friday Night Lights

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Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Football Theme Icon
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Friday Night Lights, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon

Odessa is an oil town. Its wealth derives from oil-drilling in the region, and from industries related to it: pipe-building, construction, distribution. The oil industry, despite its pro-American rhetoric and close ties to the politics of the Texas Republican party, is, as Bissinger points out, highly dependent on other countries in the late-1980s. OPEC—the cartel of Middle Eastern oil-supplying countries—sets prices, for the most part, and because their supply is so much more significant than that of West Texas, what OPEC says becomes the rule. Early in the 1980s, oil is expensive per barrel (the boom), but by the later part of that decade, oil is just over $5 a barrel (the bust). White-collar industries related to oil tend to have a gambler’s ethos—one spends a lot and bets more when one’s up, and when one’s down, one continues spending money to find another winning streak. Other industries in the region—notably banking—are dependent on financing the oil booms, and they, too, get caught up in the busts, meaning that the economy of the region goes from high highs to low lows very quickly, often without much warning.

Because of the cruelty of the boom-bust cycle, divisions between wealthy and poor citizens in Odessa tend to be stark—even though the wealthy can become poor very quickly. Typically, when white-collar families try to make money in the boom, they then spend that money quickly, such that, when the bust comes (and it always does), those families tend to have very little of what they’ve gained. These financial gains tend also to be divided unevenly between parts of town. Thus the Permian part of Odessa—the east side—is far wealthier than the downtown, which in turn is wealthier than the Southside.

Bissinger tracks the relationship between the economic background of players and their lives after football. Some players, like Billingsley, become successful despite disadvantaged backgrounds—they tend to succeed through a combination of hard work, luck, and a system that is skewed toward the success of affable white men in Texas. Some other players, like Boobie, seem more trapped in the economic and ethnic circumstances of the region. Boobie fails out of junior college and does not end up living his dream of a D-1 football scholarship. He has a difficult time “getting ahead,” because the economy of the region overall is so poor, and because Boobie’s time at Permian was so thoroughly dominated by athletic, rather than academic and professional, preparation.

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Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle appears in each chapter of Friday Night Lights. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Quotes in Friday Night Lights

Below you will find the important quotes in Friday Night Lights related to the theme of Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle.
Chapter 1: Odessa Quotes

There were a few who found its conservatism maddening and dangerous and many more who found it the essence of what America should be, an America built on strength and the spirit of individualism, not an America built on handouts and food stamps.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Here, Bissinger applies the "boom-bust" mentality of the Permian football team—where winning is everything—to the economic situation of the Odessa region, and of Texas more broadly. Oil wealth is built on prospecting. It's based on on people, typically men, who invest a lot of money, like gamblers, on wells that may or may not prove rich with oil. Prospecting creates the illusion that wealth is generated entirely by individual effort. This, when in reality, the oil industry is supported by the state of Texas in all sorts of official and unofficial capacities, with government subsidies and tax breaks.

Nevertheless, the allure of the oil prospector is a powerful one. It goes hand-in-glove with conservative ideas about the creation of personal wealth, and about the divisions of society between "makers" and "takers." These distinctions were at the forefront of media conversations about the economy in the 1980s and 1990s, and continue to the present day.


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Chapter 2: The Watermelon Feed Quotes

The fans clutched in their hands the 1988 Permian football yearbook, published annually by the booster club . . . It ran 224 pages, had 513 individual advertisements, and raised $20,000.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

The football yearbook is another physical example of the centrality of Permian football to the Odessa community. When the team wins, fans remember those players forever, and the yearbook is enormous with ads for businesses. Everyone likes to be associated with a winner, and local shops are immensely eager, during "boom" times for the team, to put their name next to images of the Permian Panthers being victorious on the field.

When the Panthers are less successful, however, the yearbook isn't quite so ample. Thus Bissinger notes, through his reporting of the social events associated with the team, that winning and losing can trump team loyalty even in such a football-crazy and football-loyal a community as Odessa. Although people really do love their Panthers, and love their players, they love even more the idea of being the best in the state of Texas. 

The standing ovation that he received at the Watermelon Feed wasn’t particularly surprising. Just as he was used to football injuries, he was also used to lavish attention, as was every former Permian player who had once been ordained a star. So many people had come up to him when he was a senior that he couldn’t keep track of their names . . . .

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Shawn Crow
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

Shawn Crow is an old star for the Permian Panthers—not old in years, but barely a year past his prime, and therefore too old to compete on the field. Although his team was successful, Crow has seen his own future tied to the injuries he sustained on the field, which have kept him out of a successful college career up to this point. In Odessa, football is a ticket to an all-expenses-paid college education. But there is a paradox: punching that ticket, working hard to be a great player, often means forgoing the academic activities in high school that could actually prepare someone for an effective college experience.

Thus Shawn Crow is an indicator both of the adulation showered on Permian players, and of the problems that beset those players when they are no longer on the team. Shawn is a "legend," but his own life seems far more difficult and aimless after high school than it did when he was wearing a Permian jersey. 

Chapter 4: Dreaming of Heroes Quotes

I’ve spilt more whiskey than most people have drunk . . . I wouldn’t have married a couple of girls I married . . . .

Related Characters: Charlie Billingsley (speaker)
Page Number: 89
Explanation and Analysis:

Charlie Billingsley is the great example of the hard-drinking, hard-living former football player—the person for whom life ceases to grow after high school, after the Panthers. Bissinger uses Charlie not to make fun of him, but to indicate that the pressures placed on Permian players can last throughout their lives. The experience of being a star at a very young age, and of carrying the expectations of a whole town, can take its toll.

Charlie lives a "boom-bust" life, and his personal finances are often a mess. He marries, he divorces. Life is, for him, a game not unlike football—one in which a person plays as hard as he can, only to be knocked out all at once, kept on the sidelines via injury or bad luck. 

Chapter 5: Black and White Quotes

It wasn’t necessary to live in Odessa for long to realize that the Permian football team wasn’t just a high school team but a sacrosanct white institution. “Mojo seemed to have a mystical charm to it,” Hurd said.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Laurence Hurd (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Hurd points to an important component of the "Mojo" experience—that it is reserved primarily for white fans. This does not mean that black players can't participate and help the team. Indeed, coaches are all too happy to play whichever players will give the Panthers the best chance of winning the state tournament. But the special adulation of the "Mojo" fans is often reserved for the white stars, who are showered with praise.

Hurd is therefore acknowledging that Panthers football reflects, in a frustrating and profound way, the racial divisions of Texas (and Southern, and American) society well into the twentieth century, even after the gains of the Civil Rights era. Although everyone is permitted to play on the team—as would be legally required—the way the town treats, and celebrates, its players still falls into the same categories of racial bias. 

Chapter 8: East Versus West Quotes

The Mojo mystique was purely an east-side creation, and Permian supporters would almost certainly put up a hellacious fight if they were suddenly told they had to share it with people who didn’t act like them or think like them.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker)
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger underscores here just how "imagined" the community of Permian football really is. It belongs not to the entirety of Odessa but only to the wealthier east side of town—and there have been rumblings that, perhaps, Odessa High might be merged with Permian. This upsets many boosters, who feel that Permian has a special place in the area's culture, one that should not be messed with.

Of course, this "culture" is also tinged with racial politics. Permian is a largely white district. And though there are black players on the team, some of whom are stars, these players appear to fill a very particular role on the team (in the eyes of certain white players and fans). Black players, in other words, can contribute to Permian football, and help the team win, but they cannot ever be full members of the football community that is defined by the (largely white) "Mojo mystique."

Chapter 9: Friday Night Politics Quotes

When Tony was Brian’s age, the thought of college, any college, was as funny as it was ridiculous. Just getting through high school was miracle enough, and the way Tony and most other kids from South El Paso looked at it, everything after that in life was gravy, a gift.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Brian Chavez, Tony Chavez
Page Number: 191
Explanation and Analysis:

Tony, Brian's father, grew up in relative poverty near El Paso, Texas. For him, as Bissinger relates, education was something largely reserved for white families. Tony had to work extra hard merely to find for himself the opportunities that might have been readily available to—and indeed ignored by—white families living nearby. This makes Tony's rise in life and his ability to provide for Brian all the more extraordinary, coming as it does in the face of significant obstacles.

Brian is motivated by his father's experiences, and has a slightly different attitude toward the game of football than do others on the team. Brian knows, in short, that Permian football is not forever. He understands the importance of an education that moves beyond the boom-bust lifestyle of Odessa and Texas more broadly. He sees that a life of hard work might not be as glorious as a life of professional football, but it is also a dream more readily realizable and more stable. 

Chapter 10: Boobie Who? Quotes

For LV, watching Boobie play against Abilene had been harrowing. On every play he couldn’t help but worry that his nephew would do further damage to his knee, even though the brace did provide good protection. He saw the emotional effect the injury was having on Boobie—the prolonged periods of depression as one Friday night after another just came and went.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Boobie Miles, LV
Page Number: 215
Explanation and Analysis:

LV understands that football, and then the lack of football, have severe emotional effects on Boobie. Boobie was immensely successful at a very young age, and was injured according to a stroke of bad luck—there was nothing he could do to prevent the tearing of his ACL. The depression Boobie feels, severe as it is, is an indicator of what awaits, in some form,for  many Permian players after their high-school football days are over. This is the boom-bust of the high-school star's career. First there is great acclaim, and the power of the "Friday Night Lights." But later there is an entire life to live, and very little direction as to how to live it.

After Boobie has been injured, LV recognizes that perhaps it was not the best policy for him, and for Boobie, to place so much emphasis on a college and pro career in football. But their gamble is an understandable one, as football provides a way out of relative poverty for so many in the Odessa community (and particularly for young black men). 

Chapter 11: Sisters Quotes

There is no question the banks were tantamount to prostitutes during the boom.

Related Characters: Aaron Giebel (speaker)
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

Bissinger makes no bones about criticizing the banking and oil industries in West Texas. He believes that these industries rely on government subsidies and "handouts," then decry these same "handouts" when they are given to families in need. Bissinger also equates their business strategies to a series of institutional gambles, which cause the economic basis of the community to vary wildly, and which prevent local families from enjoying financial comfort and stability.

But Bissinger also recognizes the emotional appeal of this "boom-bust" mindset. Texas, as he traces over the course of the book, was founded by independent-minded men and women seeking opportunity in a place they believed to be untouched by the cities of the east coast of the US (although there were, of course, communities of people already living throughout the American West). For Bissinger, the opportunities and pitfalls of this boom-bust lifestyle are inseparable, and are central to the Odessa way of life.