Sunday, February 03, 2013

Baseball Basketball Football

I posted on twitter earlier that baseball is a 19th century religious ritual, basketball is jazz music, football is the nation's unconscious fascination with war. Let me explain. Baseball is a pastoral game, played in a field, originating in the 19th century. It probably has roots in cricket, but I'm not going to research it. The game is filled with nonsensical rituals that have meaning primarily to the adherents of the religion: the first pitch, throwing the ball around the field after a recorded out ("around the horn"), the 7th inning stretch. Its values are those of honor, loyalty, sacrifice, and teamwork. All players on the field must work collectively for the common good, as in other sports, but the emphasis on offense isn't on any one particular player, all player's must bat. Even great players are expected to sacirifice personal glory for the purposes of team victory: advancing a runner, bunting, etc. The game isn't overtly violent. And, the most telling and important religiouos aspect, it exists primarily to torture its followers. Entire generations of Chicago Cubs fans have been born, lived, and died, without seeing their team win a single championship. Still, fans are expected to remain loyal to their team for the entirety of their lives, not to do so, is antithetical to the spirit of the game. I heard someone say once, "Baseball isn't a religion, the Red Sox are." That's it, in a nutshell. Basketball is jazz music. The emphasis of young players learning the game is to master fundamentals of playing. In Jazz, you practice until you are proficient with your instrument, in basketball with the ball. Practice, practice, practice. The basketball player that wants to be great practices dribbling, passing, shooting, rebounding, defense. He practices in solo, he practices in ensemble with a team, and after years of practice, he can make the leap to the next level of evolution in the game. The player must go from wrote repetition of exercises, to the ability to improvise in the moment. Great players of the game such as Magic Johnson and Pete Maravich could demonstrate dribbling and passing exercises with an impressive ease, but it's their improvisational plays that are so memorable. In fact, this is what elicits the love of basketball fans. The unbelievable flying up and under move of Dr. J, the dunks where Michael Jordan soars by and over defender, Magic Johnson's absurd no look passes. Basketball requires commitment to the fundamentals, but it celebrates the moment of spontaneous genius. And then there is American football. American football is a war game. George Carlin summed all this up in his football vs baseball routine. In football you play on a gridiron, in rigidly segmented 15 minute quarters. The goal is for the quarterback, the field marshal, to muster his troops, select his strategy under the guidance of the general and his aides (the coach and coordinators), and penetrate enemy territory with the goal of dealing a devastating blow in the form of a touchdown. Carlin called it something like a sustained ground attack supplemented with an aerial bombardment. Football takes place in all forms of weather with the conditions a consideration in the team's strategy. It's hierarchical with a chain of command, but with the necessity of all players performing their task well for the collective victory of the team. Football accepts violence as a necessary and understood component of the game. Baseball has few moments of violent contact, perhaps a play at the plate when a runner trying to score collides with the catcher. This can be dramatic, but it's also uncommon. Basketball can be physical, even dirty, but engaging in striking or hitting your opponent is still punishable by a foul. Football makes violence an active component of the game. There's nothing illegal about a linebacker slamming into a player with the ball and knocking him unconscious. The possible lifelong effects of football on the brain are just beginning to be understood, with new studies indicating the degree of brain damage it causes being perhaps more severe. Football is now America's game, and its replacement of baseball as the nation's most popular sport was a sea change. It has larger implications about the culture. Football fits well in a TV screen, baseball doesn't. Football is faster paced, more exciting, and more visceral. The growth as football has as much to do with the growth of television in American culture as people's interest in violence. Today is Superbowl Sunday. The amount of media hype that surrounds the event is probably greater than any other event. The 2 rituals of Superbowl Sunday are the halftime show and the commercials. The halftime show is a spectacle and miniconcert for, primarily, the biggest stars of the music industry. The commercials are a separate feature length movie written by the funniest and smartest executives from Madison Avenue. The facilitators of the capitalist system we live under collaborate on a serial narrative in multiple parts, occasionally interrupted by a sporting event. Superbowl Sunday is the triumph of the secular commercial values of modern America over the Religious Roots of the nation. On Superbowl Sunday we will watch the battle unfold in our Roman Coliseum, we will watch with fascination as one army defeats another and enjoys the spoils of victory. We will be entertained by the clever attempts to sell us more goods and services. Many of us will drink, and we will celebrate what has become one of the annual holidays. It seems significant that it falls on Sunday.


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