Tuesday, June 8, 2010

And yet more bread and circuses...

c. David Grim (taken 7/16/08)

I generally try to avoid simply cribbing other people's thoughts for my blog posts. I'd like to provide some original content for the Web. And at the same time I can be a bit of a narcissist when it comes to my writing. It does make me feel like I'm achieving something when I accurately convey my own thoughts, no matter how far from original they may be.

Still I do get around to a variety of sites and often come across stuff that's worthy of wider dissemination. On the Comics Journal message board I found the following quote from Noam Chomsky that has particularly timely relevance for me. I'm making a point of not paying too much attention to the success of the single sports team I follow. I've written about how I feel about spectator sports on my old blog, and I don't necessarily feel like restating how much of a hypocrite I can be on the issue. So without further ado here's Noam on sports:

"Well, in our society, we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can't get involved in them in a very serious way - so what they do is they put their minds into other things, such as sports. You're trained to be obedient; you don't have an interesting job; there's no work around for you that's creative; in the cultural environment you're a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff; political and social life are out of your range, they're in the hands of the rich folk. So what's left? Well, one thing that's left is sports-so you put a lot of the intelligence and the thought and the self-confidence into that. And I suppose that's also one of the basic functions it serves in the society in general it occupies the population, and keeps them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. In fact, I presume that's part of the reason why spectator sports are supported to the degree they are by the dominant institutions. And spectator sports also have other useful functions too. For one thing, they're a great way to build up chauvinism-you start by developing these totally irrational loyalties early in life, and they translate very nicely to other areas. I mean, I remember very well in high school having a sudden kind of Erlebnis, you know, a sudden insight, and asking myself, why do I care if my high school football team wins? I don't know anybody on the team. They don't know me. I wouldn't know what to say to them if I met them. Why do I care? Why do I get all excited if the football team wins and all downcast if it loses? Anti it's true, you do: you're taught from childhood that you've got to worry about the Philadelphia Phillies (**), where I was. In fact, there's apparently a psychological phenomenon of lack of self-confidence or something which affected boys of approximately my age who grew up in Philadelphia, because every sports team was always in last place, and it's kind of a blow to your ego when that happens, people are always lording it over you. But the point is, this sense of irrational loyalty to some sort of meaningless community is training for subordination to power, and for chauvinism. And of course, you're looking at gladiators, you're looking at guys who can do things you couldn't possibly do - like, you couldn't pole-vault seventeen feet, or do all these crazy things these people do. But it's a model that you're supposed to try to emulate. And they're gladiators fighting for your cause, so you've got to cheer them on, and you've got to be happy when the opposing quarterback gets carted off the field a total wreck and so on. All of this stuff builds up extremely anti-social aspects of human psychology. I mean, they're there; there's no doubt that they're there. But they're emphasized, and exaggerated, and brought out by spectator sports: irrational competition, irrational loyalty to power systems, passive acquiescence to quite awful values, really. In fact, it's hard to imagine anything that contributes more fundamentally to authoritarian attitudes than this does, in addition to the fact that it just engages a lot of intelligence and keeps people away from other things."

Obviously I couldn't have said it better myself, or I wouldn't have posted it. If you aren't burned out on the subject, you can find the entire article here.

** How ironic is that?


  1. Excellent quote and I concur with the observation; however, it doesn't meant that you don't deserve to enjoy a few games at an especially exciting energy level. It doesn't make you a hypocrite.
    just my 2 cents.
    ps good talking with you the other eve.

  2. Well. The run was unexpected, and nice while it lasted. But I really didn't watch very much of it.