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page 4 of 5

THE SPORTS PAGE

Two motives urge middle-class and prole fans to obsession with their sports. One is their need as losers to identify with winners, the need to dance and scream "We're number one!" while holding an index finger erect. One hockey player says: "The whole object of a pro game is to win. That is what we sell. We sell it to a lot of people who don't win at all in their regular lives. They involve themselves with their team, a winning team." In addition to this appeal through vicarious success, sports are popular for middles and proles to follow because they sanction a flux of pedantry, dogmatism, record-keeping, wise secret knowledge, and pseudo-scholarship of the sort usually associated with the "decision-making" or "executive" or "opinion-molding" classes.

The World Series and the Super Bowl give every man his opportunity to perform as a learned bore, to play for the moment the impressive barroom pedant, to imitate for a brief season the superior classes identified by their practice of weighty utterance and informed opinion. Which is to say that the World Series and the Super Bowl constitute harmless twice-yearly opportunities occurring, oddly, near the winter and summer solstices, as if designed by Nature herself for the plain man to garner some self-respect. They are therefore indispensable as democratic holy days and ritual occasions.

If the prole doesn't know what might cause Union Carbide to go up or down, as a master of "the fine points of the game" he can affect to know why the Chargers or the Dodgers are going to win this time, and that's a powerful need satisfied. The barroom or living room debates occasioned by these events are a prole counterpart of the classy debates in statehouses and courthouses, and the shrewd weighing of evidence and thoughtful drawing of inferences ape the proceedings in the highest learned conferences and seminars. In addition, the satire and abuse visited upon holders of opposite views, especially in bars, is the prole equivalent of the contumely dispensed by the better book reviewers and theater critics. Exercising authority in learned matters like these is one way the middle and prole classes assert their value.

Paul Fussell Class (Ballantine Books 1983, pp 130-1)

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There's the real mass media, the kinds that are aimed at the guys who get a six pack, the purpose of those media is just to dull people's minds. For the 80%, or whatever they are, the main thing for them is to divert them, to get them to watch national football and to worry about the motherless child with six heads, or whatever you pick up at the supermarket stands, or look at astrology, or get involved in fundamentalist stuff, or something just get them away from things that matter, and for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think. Take sports, that's another crucial example of the indoctrination system, because it offers people something to pay attention to that has no importance and keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives, that they might have some idea about doing something about. And, in fact it's striking to see the intelligence that's used by ordinary people in sports, if you listen to radio stations, to people who call in, they have the most exotic information, understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this...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, typically they do have functions, and that's why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them, and why advertisers are willing to pay for them.
Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent 1992

Below golf comes baseball, and below that, football. Then ice hockey. Then boxing, stock-car racing, bowling, and, at the bottom, Roller Derby, once popular with advertisers until they discovered that the people watching it were so low-prole or even destitute that they constituted an entirely wasted audience for the commercials: they couldn't buy anything at all, not even detergents, antacids, and beer. "Low-Reach Undesirables," the Roller Derby audience became known in the trade, and the event that had attracted them was soon removed from television.

Paul Fussell, Class, (Ballantine Books 1983, pp. 129-30)

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