CAN YOU SAY, “PLATO’S CAVE?”

 

Spectator sports: sentimental, beastly, and ubiquitous.  Society uses it for crowd control.

I don’t want to stay up until midnight watching a baseball game when I have to work the next day.  Spectator sports, with its reproduced fantasy leagues, are overwhelming, and splintering, our society, producing a cultural wasteland of gamblers and superficial, passive consumers.

Last night, as I was walking past restaurant/bars with TVs, most had some meaningless football game on—even as the Giants were playing to win the pennant. 

When I was kid in NYC, the world series was on during the day, and everyone followed this one event; the LA Dodgers might have been playing; it didn’t matter if the teams were not from New York; the world series was on, and every store-front TV broadcast the games; you could hear the world series on every AM radio as you walked down Broadway, or through Central park.

I remember getting a new baseball glove for my birthday, one for a lefty, and it was signed by Tom Seaver, who was a righty.  OK, that was cool.  I wasn’t a Mets fan, either, but that was alright.  It was my glove, and, after all, I was a Tom.  I never thought the glove would get worn in, but eventually it was perfect.  The gift of a glove was accidental and tactile; my father probably took the last lefty glove available at the store: Tom Seaver, well, OK, I’ll take it.  But it served, even though it wasn’t the ideal choice.

There weren’t fantasy baseball teams, but there was Strat-O-Matic baseball, played with dice; again, more tactile.  My group of friends in upper Manhattan, (we played a lot of sandlot sports in Riverside park) all played Strat-O-Matic baseball.

There was more sandlot, and less official leagues, when I was growing up.   As amateurs, we were our own refs; designed our own plays, rules, nicknames, teams, and boundaries.  Today, kids spend their lives in grown-up run, official leagues starting at a very young age.  Is this why, despite all our modern technological innovations, we think outside the box even less, now?  Is this one of the reasons why we have less imagination, and top-down, corporate, thinking is the guiding philosophy more than ever?

Sports was just as ubiquitous in the U.S. in 1965 as it is today; boys were not poets; they were sports fans; this was as true then, as it is today.   But baseball was the game, and baseball had an equal amount of blacks, whites, and Latins; today there are more choices, but also more divisions; there are more specialilzed, isolated differences that separate and alienate—and are often sources of subtle resentment.  

There’s more technology and communication today, but more segregation and separation.  How did that happen?  Hockey is still white.  Baseball is losing blacks.  Basketball and football—especially defenses—are almost entirely black.   People can blend into their specialized tribe, and the choice to do so is a ‘good.’  This is good, right?

Can we blame technology and the 100 plus cable channels?  Sometimes I think we’re too quick to blame technology. 

We’ve always had a choice to pay attention to X, rather than Y, no matter how many cable channels there are. 

The question is: why did those bars put on that meaningless football game, instead of the game that might decide the pennant?  Who made that choice, and why?  

I think it has something to do with the fact that we don’t feel like a whole society anymore, but I don’t know if you can blame that on 100 cable channels; whatever the reason, there’s an increasing sense that we are separate, competing sectors who resent each other along political, social, cultural, and class lines. 

Take a classic division: white collar and blue collar.   One could certainly argue that back in 1965, there was one channel showing sports, the world series, and white collar and blue collar together watched the world series.  

Now, with more choices, the blue collars, let’s say, make the decision to watch football, because it’s a rougher and tougher game, while the white collars, who are more cerebral, choose to watch baseball.  Maybe these decisions are not made consciously, but they are made, and the choices available due to technological advances end up driving people apart, emphasizing, and even increasing all sorts of differences.

My Dad was a New York Giants fan, so I became a Giants fan, too, even though they played in San Francisco—and I lived in New York.  So began my disdain for home town rooters; my worldly, open-minded sophistication was born in a banal choice: which team do I support?  San Francisco had stars like Marichal, McCovey, and Mays, but never won a championship, and so a disappointment deepened whatever was already there.  Did all this make me a writer?

Even though society today is more fluid, more mobile, and there are more choices and more channels of communication today, fans seem to be  fixated on a home team, or on one team over others, more than ever.  Why is this?  Why, with all these cable channels, are people more rigid, more tribal, and more separated?

But before we die in a nostalgic, sentimental swoon, we should bring things back to reality.  What is the nature of professional sports, really?

Sports rewards arrogance and teeth-baring and cheating.  Sports is war.  It belongs to the god Mars.  People like George Will, the ‘literary’ sports writers for certain city papers, the nice old men who write those smarmy books on the game, the network broadcasters who try to come across as intelligent, perceptive, good-humored, reasonable gentlemen, falsely glaze over, for the more civilized members of their audience, what the game really is: the unsportsmanlike raiding of the best players on poor teams by rich teams (in the name of ‘player freedom’), the headhunting by pitchers who increase their value by letting the batter know: I will kill you, not to mention all the vicious, evil stuff that goes on behind the scenes, the illegal drugs, the fixing and throwing of games, the gambling, and organized crime pulling strings—and that’s just baseball. 

The NFL is obviously a thousand times worse.  Every pro player, in every contact sport, numbs themselves to the horror, and they really don’t care who wins; they’re happy to survive (even as they please the coach and the crowd by willing to maim and be maimed on every play) and bring home that large paycheck.  There are no heroes.  A player sticks out his bat…oh, look what I did, I hit a homerun!  But at the end of the day, all that matters is the big bucks the players make.  Meanwhile, fans with miserable lives believe that it matters.  Can you say, “Plato’s Cave?”

In the playoffs this weekend, if the Yanks or Phils sneak in, what a tragedy. Big bank accounts with hired guns back in the world series.  No offense to Philly and Yankee fans—they are from those cities, so obviously they can’t help it.

But then baseball gets what it deserves. 

Ever since the late Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, in the 1970s, purchased world-champion superstars from the Athletics, turning his team into world champions because of those purchases, the game was essentially ruined.   The Curt Flood clause, which introduced the nutty idea that players are ‘free’ to play where they want to play, handed the game over to the money men. 

Baseball touts the exceptions, in which teams with low budgets, the Marlins, the Twins, win it all, but that doesn’t change the overall reality of the harsh inequity.   A team which has been awful for years, like the Royals or Pirates, cannot afford to keep a good player, a Johnny Damon, or a Jason Bay; they go elsewhere for more money.

This has to be one of the reasons baseball is less popular.

The fixing of games in the NFL is a real problem.  Poets instinctively know that if a referee makes one bad call in a crucial situation, this will affect the game’s result.  The play in football is confusing, rules governing holding and pass interference are very gray, and thus, in broad daylight, through calls and non-calls, results of games can easily be steered in a certain direction, for a definite result.

The NFL has a large audience, just as Pro (fake) Wrestling does, and the former has increasingly come to resemble the latter, even though most NFL fans don’t realize how fake and fixed their game is; fans see inexplicably bad calls by refs, and shake them off; they want their game to be ‘real,’ so they say to themselves, ‘refs are human; they make mistakes.’  Oh, yes, refs are ‘human’ alright.  Trillion dollar sports planners understand that  to sell their product they need good guys and bad guys,  ‘hero quarterback’ story-lines and  dynasties, and if some very visible stars feature disgusting or even criminal behavior in their personal lives, if some ‘genius’ coaches cheat to win, well, in the corporate business of ‘bread and circuses,’ that’s all the better.  The sports market will do anything to ‘win.’

It’s Mars, baby, it’s Mars. 

A sport played by an individual, such as tennis, is a safer bet to be fair.

Perhaps they should invent a new game of baseball and football which can be played in front of spectators with a team of one.

   

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13 Comments

  1. Noochness said,

    October 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    Despite a huge payroll,
    Yanks were downed nonetheless—
    It’s a fitting payment for having
    Their games shown on TBS.

    For proles lacking cable
    Couldn’t watch the head-to-head—
    So old eps of “Columbo”
    On Roku served instead.

  2. thomasbrady said,

    October 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    The Phils are seen on Fox,
    Going for pennant number three,
    Halladay and Oswalt in a box;
    And last year they bought Cliff Lee.

  3. thomasbrady said,

    October 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    2010 Payrolls

    Yanks 206 million, the most, Wild Card playoffs
    Phils 142 million, NL East Champs
    Giants 98 million, NL Champs
    Twins 98 million, AL Central Champs
    Rays 72 million, AL East Champs
    Reds 72 million, NL Central Champs
    Rangers 55 million, AL Champs
    Pirates 35 million, the least

    The fact that the Rangers (55 million) prevailed over the Yanks (206 million) in no way mitigates the obscenity of the Yanks out-spending other ballclubs. The inequity here is absolute. There’s no excuse for it.

    • October 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm

      The Rangers led the league in “productive outs” and the Giants were number three. That is the kind of unglamorous stat that used to be at the heart of winning baseball–moving up runners and scratching out runs. It’s hard for me to cheer for anything from Texas aside from Willie Nelson and Bob Wills, but the Rangers team is scrappy and charming.

  4. Noochness said,

    October 25, 2010 at 8:40 am

    The BoSox did shill
    One sixty three mil
    For one way team tix
    To Palookaville.

    • October 26, 2010 at 4:00 pm

      Now you are provoking the full-on dumb jock fan in me! The Sox do have an obsene payroll, but this year they were whammied by the most amazing string of injuries I have seen in over 30 years of watching. They played most of the year with a minor league quality starting outfield, earning the league minimum. Their two best players–the Super-Midget and former MVP Dustin Pedroia and the Golf Glove, 100+ RBI machine Kevin Youkliss both missed most of the second half. The highest paid pitcher in their starting rotation, the former ace of the staff Josh Beckett, was also out for most of the year. And they still were in contention until the very end.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 26, 2010 at 8:47 pm

        I rooted for the Sox to break the Curse, but now they’ve turned into the New York Yankees: buying whatever they need. Beckett wins the Series by shutting out the Yanks in Yankee Stadium for the Marlins, so the Sox grab him. The Sox empty their pockets for Dice K. They spend big bucks on Lackey, who won a World Series Game 7 as a rookie for the Angels. It’s the Yankee method down pat. You buy champions from other teams and put them on your own.
        They needed punch in their lineup, so the Sox go out and acquire the hapless Indians’ no. 3 hitter, Victor Martinez. They acquire Beltre. Come to think of it, the Sox broke the curse by acquiring Yankee-slayer Curt Schilling, who beat the Yanks in the World Series with the Diamondbacks. Breaking the curse in 2004 was so magnificent, one can forgive this. But enough already.

      • Noochness said,

        October 26, 2010 at 8:48 pm

        Yes, I agree, never mind the pelf—
        I’m a hardcore BoSox fan meself.

        2004 was a Golden Door;
        2007 a second glimpse of heaven;
        Let’s hope for a third in 2011.

      • October 27, 2010 at 1:17 pm

        Tom–

        I agree that the Sox have become an evil empire all on their own. When they spent 100 million just to acquire Dice-K, who has mostly been terrible, I knew that my days as a diehard were over. Beckett, though, was not so much a case of buying a player–they packaged Hanley Ramirez for him, and even when he was playing AA in Portland, everybody knew Ramirez would be a superstar. But, like the Yankees, they go out and throw tons of money at .500 pitchers like Lackey and pervert the balance of power. When we were growing up Pittsburg was a top franchise. Baltimore was nearly as cursed among Red Sox fans as the Yankees were. Every team started spring training with at least a partisan sophist’s argument for why they might have a shot. It was much more entertaining to be a fan in those days.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 27, 2010 at 1:45 pm

        Briggs,

        That’s true; the Sox did give up a potential hall-of-fame shortstop in their system to get Beckett. That was a deal, not just a big-bucks signing; you’re right. Of course, money allows you to get a pennant ‘now,’ rather than waiting to see if young talent pans out.

        It’s also true that money matters when very young players are signed into the farm system, too, not just in headline-making veteran signings. Money corrupts from top to bottom.

        The Orioles have been bad for how many years, now? It’s sad that teams have to wait for a George Steinbrenner to come along in order to compete. You’d think there would be enough gazillionaires out there to all have a team and spend as much as they could on them. Competition that’s not equal, that’s not really ‘sporting,’ is a crime against nature. Oh, hell, maybe that is nature.

        Tom

      • October 27, 2010 at 4:07 pm

        The worst owners in the majors are the fucking Waltons, who run the Royals exactly the same way they run their stores–paying the lowest possible prices to their labor. KC is another team that was almost always a contender when I was growing up, that has now been terrible for a generation. I remember one of the first games I saw in Fenway was against the Royals, and it was exciting to go see them–Brett, McCrae, Quizenburry. It wasn’t about seeing the Red Sox beat up a glorifed AAA team, the Royals in those days were the stronger team.

      • thomasbrady said,

        October 27, 2010 at 9:52 pm

        Briggs,

        But does this mean owners who pay high salaries in order to have a winning team are good folk? Was Steinbrenner a good guy because he paid his “labor” (superstar baseball players) well?

        Why own a ballclub if you don’t want to win? How do the KC-owning Waltons look other owners in the eye?

        Are some owners simply wealthier, and therefore they can afford to put a winning team on the field?

        The MLB have/have-not situation, determined by which owners have the biggest pile of cash, is pitiful, but I suppose in a ‘free market,’ it’s the best we can do.

        I must admit there ARE examples of teams which spend a lot and fail, and teams which don’t spend that much, and succeed…

        Tom

  5. October 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    Tom–

    Sports belong to Mars–absolutely. But let’s be honest: some part of human affairs is going to belong to Mars, and far better for humanity if we could ever determine how to limit it to sports. The problem isn’t that Mars rules sports–it is supposed to rule it. Sports provides the proper and safe outlet for those psychological/spiritual forces to achieve expression in human society. If I had not been a football player and wrestler as a teenage boy, I am quite sure I would have racked up and even more substantial record with the police.

    The problem is that sports, like everything in our society, is ruled not just by its proper daemon, but overall by Mammon. You correctly point out–sports have been more or less destroyed by corporate greed. Like everything. And wheras the proper and healthy relationship to sports is to be a participant first and a spectator second, Mammon has created a reality in which we are herded into a state of passive spectatorship in everything, sports included. The Cave metaphor works well here. So does Joe Bageant’s concept of the Hologram. Sports is central to the American Hologram.

    You have so many of the most troubling symptoms identified. The rise of adult-controlled sports leagues in replacement of kids just organizng their own games in a vacant lot or pasture is one of the worst things to happen to childhood in the last couple of decades. I was also tickled to see you mention Stratomatic–I loved that game as a kid. Sometimes I have to fight the urge to hunt down a game and start wasting all my free time playing it again as a 40 year old adult. There was a tremendous difference between Stratomatic and today’s video games. Not only was Stratomatic tactile, but playing it made you create the entire game in your own mind. A kid playing that game was engaging his imagination in a way that was like reading AND writing at the same time. You wouldn’t see a kid like that sitting glassy eyed and entranced.

    I have to take exception to your critique of home town fans. I actually think one of the worst symptoms of the corporate destruction of sports has been the rise of the free-picking, bandwagon jumping fans of the new generation. Mall culture, with the Lids Store selling every possible hat, has created this. When I was growing up in Southern Maine, you were a Red Sox fan, unless your family had moved from somewhere else. There was something very untrust worthy about somebody who had decided to cheer for the Yankees instead. I am a definite conservative on this issue–fandom should be inherited. Of course, as a Giants fan you are okay since that was your dad’s team.

    Briggs


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