Monday, April 02, 2012

Noam Chomsky: On the Basic Role of (Non-Participatory) Sports

Excerpt from:

For [Chomsky], the basic social role of sports is diversion aimed at "Joe Six Pack," rather than, say, relaxation, aimed at forming and sustaining families, communities, and friends. In the film Manufacturing Consent, for example, he suggests that there is a range of ways in which popular culture seeks to divert people, to "get them away from things that matter," to "reduce their capacity to think." From this standpoint, sports is for him "an example of the indocrination system," "something to pay attention to that's of no importance," which keeps people from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some chance to do something about. A scene recorded in the film is as follows:

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laughter] I mean, I don't know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why am I cheering for my team? It doesn't mean any--it doesn't make any sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements--in fact, it's training in irrational jingoism. That's also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that's why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.


[A] careful examination of what he says, even in this short quote, reveals a basic attitude one can discern and probably admire outside of the example that he provides: he hates arbitrary authority and submission thereto, he has scorn for irrational beliefs and jingoistic replies to complex issues, and he looks for ways in which corporate America abusively incurs into our lives in search of new ways to make profit.


But the point is, this sense of irrational loyalty to some sort of meaningless community is training for subordination to power, and for chuavinism. And of course, you're looking at gladiators, you're looking st guys who can do things you couldn't possibly do--like, you couldn't pole vault seventeen feet, or do all these crazy things 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 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 contribute 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.

Still another aspect is his noting from the example of professional sports the real creativity, intelligence, and concentration that people devote to their assessment of sports, which leads them to call into radio stations and grill with carefully articulated approaches the erroneous assessments made by coaches and "authorities," a point he reiterates:

In fact, I have the habit when driving of turning on these radio call-in programs, and it's striking when you listen to the one's about sports. They have these groups of sports reporters, or some kind of experts on a panel, and people call in and have discussions with them. First of all, the audience is obviously devoting an enormous amount of time to it all. But the more striking fact is, the callers have a tremendous amount of expertise, they have detailed knowledge of all kinds of things, they carry on these extremely complex discussions. And strikingly, they're not at all in awe of the experts--which is a little unusual. See, in most parts of the society, you're encouraged to defer to experts: we all do it more than we should. But in this area, people don't seem to do it--they're quite happy to have an argument with the coach of the Boston Celtics, and tell him what he should have done, and enter into big debates with him and so on. So the fact is that in this domain, people somehow feel quite confident, and they know a lot--there's obviously a great deal of intelligence going into it.

If only, he thinks, people would do the same with their politicians, if only they'd stand up to their "commander in chief" when he lies to them, or if they'd call their "leaders" when the strategy they are using is leading to obvious failure. (x-xii)

Quotes of Chomsky from:

Manufacturing Consent (click to watch in another screen)

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