Sunday, October 02, 2005

Spoiled Sport

I hate sports. This much has been established on the blog previously. I suppose if one was to look at it psychoanalytically, I probably hate sports because I was terrible at them as a child, which caused me significant stress and disappointment at the time and probably played a larger role than I'd like to concede in my social development.

Embarrassment over my poor performance at sports, you see, would cause me to avoid any involvement in them around other children. No one likes to make a spectacle of themselves in front of their peers; even adults tend to avoid having to perform activities in front of others at which they don't excel.

Think about it...We don't question the child with learning disabilities not wanting to do a math problem in front of the class. We don't question the stutterer who doesn't want to participate in an open mic slam poetry event. We don't question the man with abnormally large testicles not wanting to shower in front of other men. So why is the child who shrinks away from team sports such a pariah? It's a perfectly understandable reaction to the verbal abuse that child is likely to receive when they go out there and fail to catch an easy pop fly.

So, I'm introspective enough to at least consider the possible origin of my dislike for organized sports. It doesn't make me actually like them any more, but at least I'm a bit self aware.

And now, what with it being early fall, all of America is becoming obsessed with sports. Two sports in particular - football and baseball.

Now, football I kind of understand. I can't bring myself to actually pay attention to it for more than 3 or 4 minutes at a time, but its appeal is not completely lost on me. A bunch of massively large guys beat the hell out of each other. Done. Okay. Gotcha. May not be the most cerebral exercize, but it's based around some clear, archetypal concepts that appeal to people intrinsically. A football game's all about who is bigger, stronger, tougher, more dedicated and more creative. I can appreciate that, so even though the mechanics of the game itself bore me (as do the mechanics of just about every game, except maybe Minesweeper and Trivial Pursuit), the overall impact of watching a football game makes some sense.

I just don't understand how people can watch it for 6, 7, 8 hours on end. My roommates do nothing on Sundays other than watch football. I think their lungs may actually stop inhaling and expelling air for a few hours, lest the sound of respiration distract them from one moment of exciting gridiron action. They find it not just compelling entertainment, but an event of life-changing importance.

When we were watching live footage of Hurricane Katrina destroying a good portion of New Orleans, I'd rate my roommate's level of interest at around a 4. For last week's "Monday Night Football," let's say 500,000,000,000. Give or take a few points.

Whenever I actually mention this to my sports enthusiast friends, they always come back at me with the same counter-argument. My love of film, and obsessive cinema-viewing habits, mirror exactly their love of sports (in particular, football). Just as I don't find it senseless or dull to watch 3 or even 4 movies in a day (not all that rare), they don't find it dull at all to watch 3 football games in a day. In fact, it's what they like to do .

I have a really hard time with this argument. Because it equates the viewing and appreciation of art with the enjoyment of spectacle. Now, I know, I know...that sounds totally pompous and elitist and lame. Why is the thing I like "art" and the thing they like mere "spectacle." Well, because it is. Not just because I said so, but because it is.

The cinema is a creative human endeavor. It is an act of pure expression, not a fun competitive activity. I'm not trying to say there isn't skill required to be an athlete, or it's not an impressive thing, or that athletics is somehow a lesser pursuit. It's not a judgemental thing. It's more that I don't see watching movies and watching football as similar activities. I don't find it hypocritical to say that it's strange to watch football for 10 hours a day and then turn around and watch a marathon of three films.

That's usually where the argument breaks down and I get shushed because the game has come back on.

Baseball, on the other hand, makes no sense to me at all. It's simply irrational for people to invest any emotion into such a dreary game. Baseball is the slow accumulation of statistics. The only time any individual moment or play in baseball actually matters is when you're up to bat with two outs and two strikes and three balls in the bottom of the ninth inning of the last game of a playoff series. If you strike out, you lose. If you get a home run, you win.

Otherwise, every play only matters in how it adds up to the big picture. If you get a strike, you get two more chances. If you strike out, your team gets two more outs. If you get three outs, there's 8 more innings. If you lose the game, there's still probably 2 or 3 more against the same team that week. If you lose the series, it will repeat during the season. If you lose all the series, you might still make it to the playoffs as a wild card team. And on and on and on and on and on.

So what happens is, all these little factoids about how you did in the game all get added together and then divided and turned into numbers that express your worth as a player (and, therefore, person).

My question is, who gives a shit? Who can focus on actually watching a game of baseball when they know that nothing that happens at any given time will have any significance? I mean, they might as well not play the first few innings, am I right? Of all the people in the Nerdosphere, I'd have to say the baseball statistics nerds may be the most creepy. And there's a whole lot of creepy kinds of nerds. Trust me, I know nerds...I work in an independently owned video store specializing in foreign, classic and rare films.

That's why lots of baseball fans are the sports equivalent of Yom Kippur Jews. They only show up for the playoffs out of a sense of duty or loyalty. (CULTURAL EXPLANATION: A "Yom Kippur Jew" only shows up to services on the two biggest holidays of the year - Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur - to make them feel better about blowing off their religion's traditions the rest of the year. I myself was a Yom Kippur Jew briefly, before giving up on the whole stupid organized religion thing entirely and embracing a healthy loathing for theism).

I mean, how could anyone possibly follow this sport the entire way through a season? Baseball teams play more games in a year than an unemployed 22 year old stoner with an XBox 360, no girlfriend and a bottomless jug of Mountain Dew. And they keep playing the same teams over and over. And the games are all drawn out and go on forever. And 3/4 of them are ejected during the actual game for steroid abuse.

Seriously, over a baseball game, I think I'd rather rewatch Serenity...Well, okay, maybe that's too far...


Sean said...

I think you might be a snob.

I grew up in a baseball family. Uncles and cousins played baseball professionally. I, on the other hand, had an eye accident making it pretty much impossible for me to play baseball or football. When I was in high school I found other sports that didn't require the coordination of two good eyes - cross country and track.

I also found Star Wars and movies, in general.

Today, I'm not a huge sports fan. I like watching pro football, but I can't tell you jack about the players. I love to root for the St. Louis Cardinals, but that's because I grew up rooting for them. I don't follow every game, but I still want them to win.

You believe movies are art. Well, I think there's art in sports as well. There's grace, skill, strategy and imagaination.

Is ballet art? There's no less spectacle? Is Deuce Bigalow art?

I understand why you dislike sports. You weren't any good at them, got made fun of, and that was that. You didn't grow up in a sports family (not that there's anything wrong with that one way or another) and you never had someone push you to be a part of a team.

You are elitist and snobbish. There's plenty of room in this world for Kevin Smith films and Francis Ford Coppola films, sports geeks and movie geeks. Don't knock the people who like ONLY one.

I like them all.

Lons said...

This is what it always comes back to. I don't think it's snobbish to say that films are art and sports are not. Those are just categories. It doesn't mean one is "dumb" and one is "smart."

To answer your prior question, the physical act of dancing may or may not be art, but when dancers are organized into a ballet performance that goes along with musical accompaniment? Yeah, that's certainly art, because it's not about the individual movements of the dancers but about some sort of larger creative idea, concept, theme or project.

A football or baseball game is not. It's a competition, one that requires grace, skill, ability, talent, all those things you said. But that's different from art.

I mean, bowling takes skill but that's not art. Ditto table tennis, shuffleboard, chess, model-building and IT Network Configuration. But none of those are artistic pursuits. Why is making that distinction so threatening?