Sunday, February 5, 2012

George Orwell on the Militarization of Sports

Today is the annual fist-pumping-scream-fest known in America as The Super Bowl. Or should I say "Stupor Bowl".
Millions of chickens will give up their wings. High-fructose corn syrup will rain from the sky, clinging to the sweating brows of obese former high school athletes.
Bud and Bud Lite will battle on the field of crappy Beers.

I wrote in November that Martial Culture is not Jock Culture.
The "Art" of martial arts and even the challenge of man-to-man sparring is something intensely personal, while (especially "corporate") team sports (read football) provide that false sense of patriotism so necessary to gather the people around empire.

George Orwell, famous for his novel "1984", wrote a stunning essay on this type of sports in 1945.
Keep in mind that when Orwell mentions football, he is referring to European soccer.
Now, I am not fully in agreement with Orwell, for instance he lumps Boxing in with team sports in his critique. I disagree with that, but let's see what you think. Here's a few excerpts, you can read more at the highlighted link above:

"Nearly all the sports practised nowadays are competitive. You play to win, and the game has little meaning unless you do your utmost to win. On the village green, where you pick up sides and no feeling of local patriotism is involved. it is possible to play simply for the fun and exercise: but as soon as the question of prestige arises, as soon as you feel that you and some larger unit will be disgraced if you lose, the most savage combative instincts are aroused. Anyone who has played even in a school football match knows this. At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behaviour of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe — at any rate for short periods — that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue."
"Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting."
"Even in the English public schools the games cult did not start till the later part of the last century. Dr Arnold, generally regarded as the founder of the modern public school, looked on games as simply a waste of time. Then, chiefly in England and the United States, games were built up into a heavily-financed activity, capable of attracting vast crowds and rousing savage passions, and the infection spread from country to country. It is the most violently combative sports, football and boxing, that have spread the widest. There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige. Also, organised games are more likely to flourish in urban communities where the average human being lives a sedentary or at least a confined life, and does not get much opportunity for creative labour."

Sound familiar?


Anonymous said...

I think Orwell might have been correct when he spoke of boxing back in the 1940's. There was huge nationalism involved when Max Schmeling fought Joe Louis, and lots of small towns had their big man that no one could beat, and some travelling shows had an unbeatable boxer who would fight locals for the amusement of the crowd.

Today, boxing has become so corporatized, the masses simply don't see it the same way any more. Now, in America at least, it's just a spectacle without nationalism. Our nationalism is reserved for the spectacle of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with embedded reporters so the couch potatos back home can see the carnage. (How many moronic people said "F*** yeah!" at the sight of the American forces urinating on dead enemies?)
I wandered off point, there. My point was, I think Orwell's view of his times was correct (in re: boxing) but is no longer correct in our time.

Dojo Rat said...

Then again, Orwell may have just been an introspective geek...

Bob said...

America has morals...