Tuesday, March 25, 2008

As Baseball Season Begins ...

Encountering another complaint that spectator sports are nothing better than an opiate of the masses, Norm Geras notes

It is loved the world over and by millions of people. This is not because these people are either deluded or have cramped little lives. It's because, at its best, sport is simply brilliant. It offers those who love it something they get nowhere else - a combination of drama, spectacle, great skill, the observation of individual character under pressure, a contest that seems at the time to matter even if (when all is said and done) it matters only in a limited way, and moments of thrilling beauty. Those who treat it as merely a compensation for limited lives or horizons, or, worse still, look down their intellectual noses at it as some form of vulgarity, don't as a rule know what they're talking about.
For me it has always come down to the element of drama. Sports was reality tee-vee before anyone ever knew that label, and for that matter, before anyone knew of tee-vee. The most compelling thing about following sports is that it pits persons in high-conflict situations to which no one can tell the outcome beforehand. It conforms to the rough shape of conventional narrative without any guarantee of narrative's conventional consolations: in sports, not every fall is rounded off by a second coming; the 'good guys' may win in the end, or they may not. The experience of that uncertainty is the experience of true drama.

And you're free, with almost no penalty, to change your mind about who the 'good guys' are -- and that, too, can be part of the drama as it is felt and experienced. The latter isn't really possible with Homer or Shakespeare: it's possible to force yourself to root for Iago, but it's hard to truly feel it. The artist and his artifice is too strong; Iago is written to be despicable, and he is.

Then again, I've been working to get over "the catch" and the 49ers since they crushed my spirit in 1981 and I've never really felt that either. So read that as you will.


mikesdak said...

I tend towards football, but I watch a variety of others with varying degrees of enthusiasm.(I find sumo's simplicity very compelling, but it's hard to find on U.S.television). I tend not to cheer for a particular team, although I do enjoy upsets in the NCAA tournament.

Dale said...

Me too, Mike. [American] football remains the only sport I still follow with interest throughout its season. But even that comes and goes, and it's pretty far below where it used to be on my list of interests.

I like to watch the decisive playoff moments of almost any organized sport if I have a chance. It's terrific drama!