Thursday, January 26, 2006

Spectacle, Sports, and Superstars

So, I would have to point out first, that I'm not the most avid sports fanatic on the block. Admittedly, my fanaticism for watching most professional American sports waned sometime in Middle School. Nonetheless, I've got a few key things to mention about the control that sports have over the imaginations of most ordinary American males (and some females as well). In general, I am not of the commonly-held opinion that real men must in fact be thorough sports fans. Observing professional sports is an entertaining activity in many different ways, but most sports have become such big business that the classic purity of 100 yard interception returns and 360 dunks almost cannot overcome the mindless and irrational perspective that so many guys have about the sportsphere.

First, I should state that I'm not sure sports are objectively more important to follow for guys than celebrity gossip is to obsess over for girls. Could one suggest that "real" girls have an obligation to know the state of Angelina's marriage with Brad or that Jonathan Taylor Thomas once got a hand job from Jennifer Aniston in a port-a-potty at the Kentucky Derby (that one might have originated in a pulp publication). Of course, there's the omnipresent desire to feel that we participate in the lives of those we admire and seek to emulate, but there's a limit to the power that this idolatry should reach.

Next, I'm not about to compare Halle Berry's make-up job to the feat of Kobe scoring 81 points last Sunday. I have no wish to equate such things or denigrate the artistic and athletic awe that I have for truly incredible sports accomplishments. It's just that I think that in most sports watching, people get carried away with worshipping something which gives them an illusory sense of involvement in a world that is too vast, too distant, and too powerful for their daily struggle. I can't dispute that sports are a way for people to relate to one another. I would be the last person to criticize something which brings people of different backgrounds together, since I generally believe that social lubricants are a plus.

Another significant point is that there a huge difference between watching NASCAR drivers crash into each other, chortling over hockey hits, and lauding out-of-the-park homeruns - and actually engaging in these sports oneself. The spectacle of observing distracting images either in an arena or on a screen provides evanescent enjoyment. I would say that actually playing sports and expanding one's knowledge through the physical exertion and spirit that goes into competitive excitement is of a much higher order than the purely visual nature of ogling over images on a screen. And, the value of excerise is undeniable in living a healthy and fulfilled existence. I just think that the watching of professional sports has attained a ridiculous level of prominence. In general, the celebrity worship that transpires in American culture in sports, media, and other domains simply fashions gods out of mere mortals. Call me a killjoy, tell me I seek to deprive the masses of their sources of distraction. But, if people sought to make themselves more healthy and wise rather than letting their entire outlooks be controlled by the fortunes of their favorite sports franchises, they would be better off.

It's obvious that some cities do well certain years, and other don't do so well. I guess that means the net emotional effect is probably about zero since sports cause people great hardship when their teams fall into serious ruts. Well, I should declare that one of the happiest moments in my life was when I was hugging homeless bums and reveling in the communal joy of the Ravens' 2001 Super Bowl Victory. But, it just seems like the victories are balanced out by all those defeats that really make people feel powerless.

In sum, I think atheleticism is worthy of admiration. And, I think sports are a decent form of entertainment, business, and spectacle. But, to claim that interest in watching sports makes the man or that professional sports form a sort of trickle-down cure for social ills, is myopic.

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