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September 27, 2006

The Uniquely American Combination Of Puritanism And Ultraviolence

I don't watch much football, because I can't get over the fact I'm not a starting wide receiver for the Washington Redskins. It just makes me too mad to watch these impostors suit up in what's rightfully MY uniform. Also, they keep losing.

But Dennis Perrin still turns on the TV, ensorcled by the glory and horror that is American sports:

As I've aged and broadened my political and cultural understanding, I see what American football really is -- a fascist game for the authoritarian-minded who believe they're in love with war. As I've noted here before, sports radio really pushes this mindset, encouraging listeners to be grunting, cliché-spouting nationalist assholes, which many listeners happily become. It's easy, takes little thinking, and makes them feel part of some mystical warrior tribe. And also means that politically, they are utter reactionaries, chewing on Old Glory as their pupils dilate and spin like pinwheels. I hear this everyday. Why, you ask? I love sports. Pitiful, but true.

The boy, on the other hand, isn't as enamored of the games as is his old man. He likes basketball to a degree, and will soon be in a hoops camp at school. He certainly has the height, as he's one of the tallest kids in his class. But he doesn't have the crazy competitive heart... The boy hates confrontation, is a gentle soul, and prefers laughter to producing agony in others. In a sane country, this would be perfect and beautiful. In present-day America, it's an invitation to get bashed...

I can already see this to a degree in some of his jockier classmates... the beefy, dopey boys who taunt my son and exclude him from playground games often wear Michigan garb, bought by parents devoted to the greater Wolverine tribe. So this poisonous shit is taught early and with open eyes. In seven or eight years, these kids will be eligible to fight, die and be maimed in the imperial wars that will still be waged, doubtless with terrorist blowback serving as the endless pretext. It's tragic to see those boys conditioned for what awaits them, assuming they'll march unthinking toward such a savage fate. Perhaps in time they'll get past the tribal mindset that limits them. My son would be happy to help, I'm sure.


POST TITLE: Courtesy of my friend Rob.

Posted at September 27, 2006 02:22 PM | TrackBack

actually, sometimes i wish that the right-wing ubernationalists were more like sports fans, who at the very least recognize that there is a distinction between the team and the people in charge of it and would be howling for bush's blood if he had coached their favorite team to the kind of record the u.s. has accumulated in the past few years. although for full disclosure i should say that i am a sports fan myself, though i've never much liked football.

Posted by: will at September 27, 2006 02:34 PM

I have thought for quite a while now that organized sports are a highly stylized version of war but I have also thought of it as a pressure to conform. It is a given that all young males are supposed to be avidly enthusiastic about sports but I never was even when I was young.

Part of it may have been the fact that I loathed high school and I still look back at it as a miserable memory. One enduring memory of high school was walking down a crowded corridor when I heard a commotion ahead of me. Some members of the football team were walking with their arms over each others shoulders spanning the corridor yelling hey, hey, hey, at the top of their lungs while pushing people out of their way, knocking some down. It was a celebration of brute force and the right of might over less assertive types like me.

I don't think I have ever actually believed that there was a conscious effort by some mysterious group to condition the minds of young people towards a propensity for violence but rather a cultural force that has evolved on its own as a preparation for inducing young men to join the military and participate in war.

At any rate it is certainly interesting that America supposedly promotes the idea of rugged individualism and the importance of the individual over that of the masses yet the reality is that the pressures to conform are paramount in our American society.

These are the givens, everyone must like sports, everyone must eat hamburgers, everyone must drink milk and getting laid is the ultimate attainment for any young male. Never mind that some day you are going to have to earn a living and support yourself so unless you want to wash toilets for a living you might want to do well in your math class. I suppose the plan is that if you somehow survive what ever war America is embroiled in during your time here on planet earth there will be plenty of time to learn calculus afterwards unless of course working at Jack in the Box is your highest goal.

I have had plenty of friends who looked upon my sorry ass with pity and they have tried to instill an appreciation for organized sports by telling me why they enjoy it so much and I even made an effort to watch a few ball games to see if I could find something I could appreciate and enjoy. I have been to the Yankee Stadium and Candlestick Park but the only thing I recall enjoying was the guy selling peanuts who could throw those packages with amazing accuracy, eating the great hotdogs and drinking soda pop which at that time in my life was the epitome of what life was all about.

And to this day I still don't get it.

Posted by: rob payne at September 27, 2006 04:54 PM

Huh. I went to a private school that I loved, and still love, passionately, where the value of community was taken as a baseline assumption and all attacks had to first disguise themselves against that value. Perhaps it only made us shrewder about backstabbing, but it also made all divisions like jocks and geeks very, very murky and ill-defined and mutable, and made it at least possible to imagine a society where all such groups functioned together quite well.

I have always been somewhat baffled by professional sports. To the extent that college sports and high school footbal are mere extensions of them, the more baffled I am. What makes sense to me is the model that this is a pursuit--a hobby with certain benefits and skills--that one should support the brethren of one's community in. So in high school I was Miss Cheerleader--and I mean that in a completely different sense than the shortskirted one. I screamed and clapped at Basketball games and Soccer games (no question of having football games) with the same enthusiasm and spirit that I jumped up and down and applauded at concerts, and I suppose, in some measure, I in turn received the same applause at dance recitals and when the irregular "newspaper" came out. It wasn't always sincere, and we probably faked it a good bit of the time to please our teachers, but the fundamental idea of supporting our fellows in their pursuit of excellence in their chosen field, even when that included an element of competition, still makes sense to me. It particularly makes sense to me in the context where all these avenues of expression--dance, sports, music, geekery--were only ends to a more basic, less tribal set of goals. The notion that a fit, expresive, disciplined, articulate person is a better citizen, a better servant of society, in the entirely noncompetitive wider goals of life still makes sense to me, all my new layers of cynicism aside.

And that whole model entirely falls apart with the profesionalization of sports, include college football. (Not, including, say, college Lacrosse or Waterpolo.) The minute the spectator sports are an entertainment commodity you pay a lot of money for, rather than a civic/community commodity you pay some money in support of--at that minute winning becomes more important than the people and their wider connection to you. And then you get the professionalization of athletes, the trading of athletes, the much greater focus on winning rather than excelling. And every minute you sit and watch professional athletes is a minute less spent watching student athletes or community athletes or actually doing sports. All the values of encouragement, education, fitness, discipline--they're all drained out of the activity and replaced with mere entertainment. I mean, not to be blasphemous, but what is it to me that Muhamad Ali can punch so hard, or John Elway can throw so far? Who are they to me? In what way does their gettign that much better connect with me in anyway? The professionalization of their hobbies has walled them off from anyone who is not a paying consumer of their performance. In no way does the benefit of sport and discipline impact some other aspect of their life that in turn connects with my life. When I was in college I had a lot of friends on the Cal womens crew team. They woke up early and trudged down to the water and rowed and rowed and rowed. It gave them strength and organization and discipline. Competition gave them a focus for growing those sterling qualities, but they were regular people, and they brought those qualities back to the library and the laboratory with them. The sports served the wider goals of their life, but the wider goals--useful work--were still more important. Therefore winning was less important than excelling, and therefore unfair play or kicking ass was really unimportant. Therefore the sports is not about violence or hatred but about using someone else as a measure of your own effort and skill. And because these women studied with me and played with me, their winning meant something to me, and was worth watching and cheering for. Anything bigger is meaningless.

I say this all as someone who is naturally unathletic but incredibly admiring of athletic prowess and skill and discipline. I have made my friends pledge that they will play games with my future children.

Since Football, basketball, and baseball are the great moneymakers in this country, they hold the least charm for me. I like the structure of the game of basketball. Baseball is sometimes a nice way to be outside, under the stars, the moving equivalent of a conversation piece. I probably would like soccer less if it were as popular here as abroad. I wish there were more athletic fields, and that adults played sports together more often. I might not join but I would cheer, and I think that would be great fun. But as it is now? Baffled. Totally baffled.

Posted by: Saheli at September 27, 2006 08:31 PM

What I find interesting is how homophobic AND homoerotic jock culture is.

Posted by: Lloyd at September 27, 2006 09:09 PM

Along the lines of what Lloyd said...

Posted by: The Idiot at September 28, 2006 09:57 AM

If he gets this upset over football, I can't imagine what Dennis would ever say if he went to a pro wrestling event.

P.S. Don't tell him about the Wolverines candy jar on my desk, and BTW: how about those Twins!

But seriously: I find myself less and less interested in football as I get older, too, but I think he's getting a little too worked up (his son: gentle and thoughtful and bashful, not like the other kids in basketball camp. Jocks, aka "the other": brutish and mindless and bashing, the source of all our nation's problems). You can find violent, cliche-screaming, tribe-minded idiots at Greenpeace demonstrations, too.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at September 28, 2006 05:54 PM

OK, I just read the whole post, and Dennis isn't just a little too worked up; he has completely lost it. The Michigan Block M as equivalent to the Nazi swastika?! Get a grip, man! This is the kind of nonsense that makes it easy for righties to scream about "liberal elitism." Legendary Michigan AD Don Canham was a corporate tool who helped corrupt the college game with his moneymaking schemes, and Bo Schembechler is no Martin Luther King Jr, but he also wasn't Adolf Hitler, for goshakes.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at September 28, 2006 07:24 PM