Yeah, but do we really need to talk more about sports and reality TV?

David Brooks makes an argument for having a sensible perspective on politics:

… Then there are those who look to politics for identity. They treat their partisan affiliation as a form of ethnicity. These people drive a lot of talk radio and television. Not long ago, most intelligent television talk was not about politics. Shows would put interesting people together, like Woody Allen with Billy Graham (check it out on YouTube), and they’d discuss anything under the sun.

Now most TV and radio talk is minute political analysis, while talk of culture has shriveled. This change is driven by people who, absent other attachments, have fallen upon partisanship to give them a sense of righteousness and belonging….

I figure that unless you are in the business of politics, covering it or columnizing about it, politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.

That sounds good. Do watch that Woody Allen/Billy Graham clip. It would be great to see more stuff like that.

And Lord knows I’ve had enough of the tribal types who define themselves in terms of their partisan affiliations.

But… as I look around me today, when people aren’t talking about politics, it seems they’re talking about reality TV, sports or what some celebrity wore to some self-congratulatory entertainement awards ceremony. Mostly sports. (There were two stories on the front page of The State today. Two. Most of the rest of the space was taken up by sports promos and a picture of a Christmas tree.)

If we pull back on the politics, we can’t really expect the vacuum to be filled by Dick Cavett-type conversation.

Not from what I’ve seen.

20 thoughts on “Yeah, but do we really need to talk more about sports and reality TV?

  1. Bryan Caskey

    What’s your beef with sports, anyway? Every culture in the world has competitive sport as a part of their culture – albeit not the same ones. Teamwork, leadership, responsibility, preparation, hard work, handling victory and defeat: all that is learned through sports. It’s also entertaining and enjoyable to support a team. Sometimes, it’s agonizing. There can be amazing drama and story-lines.

    You think college football is big in Columbia? Not compared to how small towns in Italy treat their local soccer clubs. I was in Siena, Italy a few years ago, and the entire town took enormous pride in their local soccer team. Everything basically came to a stop for the game. Sport binds people together in a way that few things do. It crosses all cultures. It’s part of who we are as humans to want to compete in games and events. When were the first Olympics?

    Maybe the problem today is that too many people treat politics the way that they treat sports, seeing it as a game. One team is winning, the other team is losing, what’s the current “score” (polling numbers), etc… Maybe if more people got that feeling from participating/supporting an athletic team of some kind (as an outlet), the current political climate might be less adversarial.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      You’re dead on with that last bit. I’ve said the same many times. That IS what’s wrong with our politics. We think there are only two teams on the field, and that one must root for one or the other, and all we care about is who wins. And when I say “we,” I’m referring to media coverage as well as everyday water-cooler discussion.

      The problem with sports is that we talk enough about it now. Way more than enough, for me.

      I appreciate sports in the abstract. I like to see good plays. It’s a pleasure to see someone do something difficult, and do it well. But it’s a transitory thing for me. I see a replay of a good play, and I go Wow, and I am satisfied, and ready to move on to something else. Other people want to talk about the most mind-numbing minutiae on the fringes of sport.

      You know when sports talk went too far? When people started getting as excited over the NFL draft as they do a major game. I mean, get a life, people.

      So my point is, sport is a fine thing. It would be an even finer thing if we’d all stop WATCHING it and go out and get some exercise.

      But as I look about me, I just can’t begin to see a need for MORE time and resources and energy to be spent obsessing about sports. It’s just not one of the things that our world lacks.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        What I would heartily approve is more talk about “Breaking Bad.”

        OK, I’m halfway kidding on that one. Or maybe a little less than halfway.

        How about more talk about the Aubrey-Maturin series? I think we need a national mandate, akin to the Obamacare one, requiring everyone to read those novels so they can discuss them with me. THAT would be the best of all possible worlds…

    2. JesseS

      I’d say it goes even further. It is like a bad sports rivalry where the important thing isn’t me winning, but you losing.

      “Yeah, well your team didn’t get 100% pass completion, what a joke. Just more proof that they are dragging the conference down and there is no room for improvement. They need to be de-funded, like yesterday.”

  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    Oh, and by the way, in the culture clash represented by the conversation between Woody Allen and Billy Graham, I side with Billy Graham. Being a Catholic rather than an evangelical, I just express it differently.

    But you probably knew that.

    Not that I don’t appreciate Woody Allen’s films. Particularly the early, funny ones.

  3. Phillip

    “You know when sports talk went too far? When people started getting as excited over the NFL draft as they do a major game.” The draft is legit territory for speculation, discussion, debate…since savvy choices in the draft can do much to turn around a mediocre team’s fortunes (in football and basketball anyway), and ill-advised or unlucky ones (I was in attendance at the 1984 NBA draft where Sam Bowie was picked ahead of Michael Jordan) can damage a team’s prospects as well.

    But I’ll give you a better example of sports talk gone too far: sports talk radio segments or even entire shows devoted to fantasy football or fantasy baseball (and draft picks thereof). I have no problem with people who participate in fantasy leagues, but the analysis on ESPN or CBS sports radio of who you should pick seems absurd, because it’s all about a “game” that’s a conceptual level removed from the actual game.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m with you on the fantasy stuff.

      The NFL draft is especially pointless to a guy like me who doesn’t know who any of the players are, and doesn’t want to know. My appreciation of sports doesn’t extend to following players. I see a great play, and I appreciate it as a great play, and don’t much care who accomplished that feat — I just enjoy it for itself.

      But I really DO enjoy a good play.

      Back when I would occasionally cover a football game to help out sports, early in my career, I always sat in the stands rather than the press box (something I continued to do as I covered politics and other things — I hate being shut off from the event as it’s experienced by most people there). When there would be an exciting play, I’d stand up and go “Yeah! Wow!” And then look around me at the people sitting around me, staring at me, depressed because that great feat was accomplished by the team that they were not rooting for. And I’d sit back down…

      1. Silence

        “But I really DO enjoy a good play.” – Brad
        “the play’s the thing Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” – Hamlet

  4. bud

    The State has devoted an enormous amount of words to the rather minor issue of strong mayor. Will it really matter? Of course it won’t. So why all the naysaying about discussions about sports? College football in particular is to me the most incredible form of entertainment ever devised. Sure some of the recruiting news gets tedious. But given the color and pageantry of the game, the rivalry factor, the raw emotion and excitement of the Carolina-Clemson game it is simply beyond comprehension that anyone could not be a huge fan of the game. And it saddens me that we may soon have to choose between the magnificent game that we have today and a measure of safety for the athletes. Not sure of the answer but the risks really are great. Perhaps we can bring back something safer, like gladiator fights.

    1. William

      If you love it today, you’d have been head over heals 20-30 years when fundamentals actually mattered. Today it’s about being ESPN’s Play Of The Day. I won’t even bother discussing the lost sport of basketball.

  5. Kevin Dietrich

    When sports – and a particular sport, and a particular team within that sport – along with partisan politics appear to dominate well over half the conversations, based on talk radio, letters to the editor, etc., it demonstrates that a community or a society has lost perspective and balance. Most South Carolinians don’t have the slightest clue about such items as the name of the US’s biggest partner in trade, how much oil we actually produce ourselves, the status of the situation in Russia and the other former Soviet republics, or any number of other issues that are ultimately a whole lot more important to our future than whether the Gamecocks have a good recruiting class or what the latest over-the-top inflammatory political press release says. And South Carolina’s not alone in this myopia. Newspapers and radio stations across the nation are full of this narrow, parochialism that reminds me of the old metaphor about bread and circuses.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Amen, Brother Kevin!

      Not to mention the two biggest stories of this week so far — people taking to the streets demanding governmental overthrow in the Ukraine and Thailand.

      Oh, wait — you mentioned “the other former Soviet republics.” Sorry. I should say, “not to mention Thailand…”

    2. bud

      Biggest partner in trade – Probably China, but Japan is probably high on the list
      We currently produce about 7.5 million barrels a day. That’s way up from just a few years ago but nowhere near the 17 million or so we burn.
      Russia and Ukraine may not be as chaotic as most believe. Sure they are different but to them we seem strange.

      True many ardent football fans don’t pay attention to important issues in the world but there’s no reason why you can’t do both.

      1. William

        From what I’ve been hearing that we could double or possibly triple the current output from the wells in the Baaken Oil Fields in North Dakota without even making a dent. The issue right now is the weather and the fact that they’ve run out of drilling rigs to use, if they could double the number of rigs available they’d all be drilling wells today.

      2. Bryan Caskey

        Largest Trading Partner: Canada. (Yo, It’s right there, Mr. White.)
        Domestic Oil Production: No idea, but it could be higher. (Or do you mean olive oil? If so, I prefer Genco Pura, since I have connection with the company.)
        Russian and Ukraine Status: From my extensive “Risk” experience, Ukraine is weak. You can never hold it very long.
        Gamecock Recruiting Class Status: We haven’t gotten may commits yet. Too soon to tell. But the HBC will coach ’em up.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yay! Breaking Bad reference! And a Godfather reference! Excellent!

          As for Risk, the problem with the Ukraine is that it has too many borders — if I’m remembering the board correctly.

          I generally try to quickly dominate Africa and/or South America. They’re easily defended, and you can sit there and build your strength while everyone in the northern hemisphere wears each other out.

          Then you take the world in a huge, global pincer movement, sweeping north and east from Africa, north and west from South America.

          It defies history, but it can work.

          1. Bryan Caskey

            I like starting in North America. The three choke points IIRC, are Greenland, Mexico, and Alaska. If you can hold those all down with your main forces, you can keep the interior sparse. It gets you an entire continent, and if you defend the choke points well, you can build up strength, then take South America.

            My sister always liked to start in Australia, since it was very defensible. The only problem is there is only ONE way out. If you don’t break out early, someone who really wants Asia keeps you bottled up.

        2. bud

          Canada may still be number 1 but with declining oil imports that could be changing. China is the top country for imports. But because we sell so little to them the overall trade number gives the edge to Canada.

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