28 November, 2009

On Football.

Humans do not engage in activities that are meaningless. If you think you see people doing things you find meaningless, look again and try to understand what the activities mean for them. -- Henry Jenkins

There is an old Bloom County Sunday panel that surely lies somewhere in one of the many cartoon/comic books in our mess of a house in Seattle. However, I am not there right now, and Google Images doesn't do well searching for cartoons by subject matter. Someday, there will be a "Google Comics" sub-search. I await the day.

Anyway, in this fabled cartoon, as best I can remember, there is an old lady who doesn't understand football. She is presumably foreign but of vague ethnicity. You know how humorists often create vaguely offensive "Eastern European" characters that speak with a generically weird accent but don't represent any particular country? One of those types. She says she doesn't understand why anyone would want to run around with a ball made from the skin of a pig (get it?) and that all the players appear to do is run around and butt heads like goats. The punchline is something along the lines of "They run like goats and play with pigs ... Some Great American culture! Ha!" And then she spits on the ground, as all Eastern Europeans are wont to do.*

The cartoon is not very funny, but I remember it because the goat imagery stuck with me.

I don't understand football. Nobody in my family likes football. My mom and brothers are baseball people--or were, in David's case. One douche coach turned him off of non-skateboarding sports for life when he was twelve or thirteen. My dad must have been teased mercilessly as a misfit adolescent because his hatred of jocks and cheerleaders runs deeper than the hatred of any junior high student I have ever met. Personally, I can't say that I HATE football, but I do think it is boring. Which is a pity because I think I'm missing out on a huge aspect of American culture. I mean, those Japanese are nuts about baseball, but is football popular anywhere outside of the U.S.? That's not a rhetorical question, by the way.

I don't think hating things. Does that make sense? I like to think that I can see the appeal of pretty much any pastime you can think of. Hence the quote at the beginning. I like to think I am open-minded and empathetic enough to see the appeal in dressing up in Renaissance garb and hosting fake jousting tournaments, or writing Star Wars fanfiction, or ... um ... playing shoot-em-up video games? Video games and televised football are the two things I have the hardest time understanding, both in terms of the "how" and the "why."

I blame my parents for this, particularly the non-love of football. They never watched football on TV, so not only do I find any televised football game impossible to follow, I don't have the good memories to hearken back to. I have a friend who watches the BYU football games in large part so he can have something to talk about with his father when they talk on the phone. That makes a lot of sense to me. My family does the same thing with movies. In fact (and this is a little embarrassing to admit in a public forum) every time I see a movie, or plan to see a movie, I brush up on trivia from imdb.com so I have something to contribute to the conversation at the next family event. I know useless irrelevant facts about pretty much every movie I have ever seen in my entire life. And watching those movies with people I love makes me remember those arguments and conversations, and makes me happy. I am pretty sure this is why my brother and I spend such an inordinate time watching movies (and the Simpsons) whenever we hang out. To the untrained eye, it looks like we are sitting in silence and staring at a flickering screen. But in reality, we are reliving the first time we saw that movie together.

Have I ever blogged about the argument my dad and I had after we watched the film Memento together? Oh man. It was EPIC. Also, I was right.

So like I was saying, I can totally get behind the idea of watching football because it reminds you of your dad (or your mom ... I don't judge) or because you'll be left out at the water cooler conversation otherwise come Monday morning. I can also understand watching football for social reasons, because everyone else is doing it. Returning to the theme of goats, there were several Saturdays this summer when I woke up early and drove to a farm in Southeast Provo and fed old squash to goats, partly because I like animals/gardening, but also in large part because that was what all my friends were doing.

I have noticed that some people really don't like to talk (or rather, explain what's going on to idiots like me) while watching football, which takes away a lot of the social aspect of it in my opinion. On the other hand, I get really mad when people talk during movies (in the theater) so maybe it's not that strange after all.

Here's what I don't understand about football, though. I don't understand the tribal rage associated with it. Here is an example conversation from a typical Monday morning in one of my classes:


[Class is about to start but the professor wants to make a few minutes of conversation before returning our latest assignment. ]

Professor Eggington, who is from Australia and secretly I think only cares about soccer and cricket: So, how about that game?


Me: (in my head) So we must have lost?

Kid 2: Seriously, that was SO HUMILATING.

Other ignorant kid: So we lost?

Kid 3: No, we won. But just barely. Our offense and pretense was abysmal! If we can't totally trash the Vixens we're gonna be NOTHING against the Octopi next weekend!

Kid 2: Dude, where have you been? The Octopi SUCK!!!

Kid 3: Yeah, well that's what everybody said about the Gremlins and look what happened! 5000 to 3.14!!!!! I wanted to feed cyanide to my newborn child so she wouldn't have to live in a world where we lose football games like that!!!!!

Kid 1: Yeah, but the Gremlins are Mango Bowl-ers, man! They ranked ninth last year and almost made it to the UNFRED tournament! They got a legacy!!!!!!!

Kid 3: THEY DON"T DESERVE IT!!!!!!!!


Me and fellow ignorant kid: silently exchange what-the-hell looks

Now that I have revealed how little I know about football, let me just say that every single conversation I have ever overheard about football has left me both confused and scared. I simply don't understand where all that passion and vitriol comes from. I mean, I guess I can get sort of smug and up-in-arms about people who don't like, say, X-Men, but I don't think I would ever yell at someone about it. To be fair, I dressed up for the Where the Wild Things premiere, as well, so I can understand the desire to paint one's face or spend forty dollars on a sweatshirt to make sure people know whose side I am on. I can understand yelling and jumping up and down at the game itself, especially because 1. it's easy to get caught up in the general excitement in the arena, 2. you might get on TV and 3. because it's so effin' cold you have to do something. But I really don't understand why football seems to bring out the worst side of people.

One theory: there are so few healthy outlets of aggression that organized sports is pretty much the only one left. I could see that. But wouldn't PLAYING said sports be a better outlet? I mean when one plays football, one contributes to the outcome of the game. Watching it doesn't do much. Am I wrong? Prove me wrong!

Other theory: there are so few opportunities to be RIGHT and to KNOW that you are right in our modern society, organized sports is one of the only ones left, and quite possibly the only one that won't end up with you possibly dead (presumably). I mean, if you get too caught up in the idea that America is always right, you might end up in some godforsaken desert two thousand miles away, opening fire on sleeping children because of some outdated intelligence. I was talking to one of my friends recently (can't remember who) about being in the military, and he said he would probably enjoy fighting in wars--but not the kind of wars we fight nowadays, the ones where you're defeating evil like World War II. The kind of conflict where you are on the moral high ground and your enemy is truly scum. That kind of black-and-white conflict doesn't occur very often nowadays, so we use football to create it? Am I wrong?

I don't know any more about football now than I did when I started this post.

*Sarcasm. Also, I don't remember if she actually spat on the ground in the cartoon, but that image effectively demonstrates the attitude she had.


theFinn said...

I think the broader question here is why people enjoy watching sports at all. I don't watch football because of my family. I don't watch football to make friends. I only like to watch football (or any sport) if 1.I'm watching a team I really care about (BYU) and 2.I'm with other people who also really care about that team. For me, it's not about beating the opponent (unless we're playing the U, but that's mainly because their fans are mean and wear red, which is a rage-inducing color). I do, however, really enjoy watching the team I like succeed. For me, it's not about being right. There is this uncertainty going into every single game.You hope that your team will do something incredible, and sometimes, you get to see that happen, and it's amazing. Even though you don't have any direct bearing on the game, you still feel as though your support somehow helped.

That being said, I MUCH prefer to watch Finnish Olympic hockey.

Austin said...

um, sometimes i talk in movie theaters. during the movie.

also, i don't think i've ever seen x-men.

uh oh.

Anonymous said...

Being as I recently married a guy who is nuts about any kind of sports, i might be able to share some insights into why so many watch them. You see, we just haven't evolved enough yet to let go of the warmongering instincts that we needed back in prehistoric times. So a game is just a mild type of war, and your side has a 50% chance of winning (more or less) which ain't bad. And if you watch the game as opposed to playing it, you don't even have to get hurt or maimed for life - cool! Plus it's a great way to forget about the real issues that bug you (like real wars, the economy, broken hearts, school policies, etc. And you can eat and drink and cuddle while doing it!

And Elisa, we will watch at least one football game when you visit us in Phoenix and we will explain the rules to you so that you are no longer ignorant of this part of American Culture! Love, Mom
PS I still can't watch golf on TV though.

Chrissy said...

I too wasn't a football fan. Until my son started playing football. Then I had no choice but to get into it. I found a book that helped me understand the game called A Sportscaster's Guide to Watching Football by Mark Oristano. It’s written by a guy who spent his broadcast career in the NFL. so he knows his stuff

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