Subscribe to SLJ
Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Connect the Pop
Inside Connect the Pop

Congratulations——You’re Now A Sports Fan Even If You Hate Sports

A neat, fandom-based "bracket" from Population Go... "where geek and otaku culture meet." (http://populationgo.com)

In case you need some confirmation, yes, pro sports are those sweaty, hype-heavy spectacles that have little or nothing to with art, literature, and the finer things in life. On the other hand, they’re absolutely ideal when it comes to mindlessly wasting time during evenings and weekends. Sports? That’s an entirely different species of geek altogether—I have my own favorite wastes of time, thank you very much.

All right, so if you’re a non-sports fan of the loftier-than-thou variety, or even an anti-sports fan (Western culture is full of them), I’ve now fulfilled my duties in terms of appeasing you.

For everyone else…

Hey, will you be watching the NCAA basketball championship tonight between Kansas and Kentucky? I will, at least part of it, just like countless millions of U.S. viewers, young and old. I probably don’t have to tell you that the tournament which concludes with this game is unique in its scope and egalitarian promise—any team that’s “invited to the dance” has a chance of winning it all. And although, sure, the pedigreed programs usually rise to the top, we never fail to get excited by the long-shot candidates from District 12.

Oh, and I realize that collegiate sports are not “pro sports” but that hardly matters at this scale—that is, in terms of either mass media coverage or coverage in the hearts and minds of fans. In that respect, March Madness actually ranks far above most professional sports.

More interesting still: few annual events, if any, rival it in the imaginations of those who never tune into a regular game, basketball or otherwise. As evidence, witness the onslaught of tournament-inspired, bracket-driven contests in fields that have nothing whatsoever do to with basketball or any other sport.

Some of my favorites:

Television…

 

Pop music…

From "The Beat" blog (2011)

Authors/novels…

21st Century Fiction Competes Head-to-Head at http://outofprintclothing.com/book-madness/

I particularly like this last one as it allows us to make connections that we might not otherwise. The Hunger Games against Dragon Tattoookay, I can see that. But either one of them against The Blind Assassin (as Tattoo actually is in the “championship” round) well, that’s not just interesting, that’s compelling. (My sentimental pick:  the Atwood novel is among my favorites of all time.)

Following in this vein, even here at SLJ we have the popular Battle-of-the-Books showdown.

In fact, if you look hard enough I bet you’d find similar competitions amongst classical musical enthusiasts and poetry lovers, to name just two enclaves of high culture.

So why do we both reduce and, strangely, enthrone the arts by pitting authors, composers, and other creative types against each other?

Well, first you might want to ask members of any fandom this question. Their answer is at least as legitimate as mine, since they’re the ones doing all this. However, I’d hazard that at the end of the day these battles have nothing to do with the relative merits of those works/artists under consideration but everything to do with generating discourse and reflection amongst fans with informed opinions. After all, none of these comic book-against-comic book, opera-against-opera “tournaments” is conducted with the awareness, let alone the participation, of the pertinent creators. Because when they sit down to compose a sonnet or a sonata, are they thinking about going head-to-head with works that have not even been created yet?

I kinda doubt it.

So that’s one reason I like to keep my interest in sporting contests separate from, say, my prioritizing the books or Blu-ray’s on my Amazon wish list.

Not that I don’t see the value in competition when it comes to the arts. In fact, festivals such as the one portrayed in the documentary Shakespeare High, which is already in some theaters and opens in L.A. on April 6, obviously do an effective job of focusing the drive and discipline of youth. And, as this thoughtful doc makes very clear, teens today are fully capable of distinguishing between the value of winning and the value of the process.

Would that all of us adults could do the same thing.

In short, why are we prone to cramming competition down the throats of young people, especially when these contests involve things that aren’t actually competing with each other?

There are plenty of reasons, of course—too many to go into here, and many of them, I’ll admit, are pretty positive. But do we ever make clear to them how thoroughly “constructed” this entire gladiatorial conceit is?

Bottom line, then: let’s all of us in the cultural-preservation business please stop looking down on sports and sports fandom. We love the dramatic tension of competition as much as anyone… we just prefer to transfer it to more culturally-approved, even academically-sanctioned, objects.

In this sense, then, we’re all sports fans.

Share
About Peter Gutierrez