During the Roman Empire, chariot races and gladiatorial games served to entertain the people. The U.S. empire’s equivalent, of course, is NASCAR and the NFL. Serve up some bread to go with the circuses and you have a surefire way to keep most people satisfied and distracted.
That’s true enough, but let’s dig deeper. NASCAR features expensive, high-tech machinery, heavily promoted by corporate sponsors, with an emphasis on high speed and adrenaline rushes and risk-taking — and accidents, often spectacular in nature. Indeed, turn to the news and you see special features devoted to spectacular crashes, almost as if the final result of the race didn’t matter.
Turn to the NFL and you see it’s about kinetic action — big plays and bigger hits, with players often being carted off the field with concussions or season-ending injuries. The game itself is constant stop and go, go and stop, with plenty of corporate sponsors again.
High-octane violence sponsored by corporations facilitated by high-tech machinery; big hits and repetitive stop-and-go action also sponsored by corporations; spectacular (and predictable) smash-ups and serious injuries, all enfolded in patriotic imagery, with the military along for the ride to do recruitment. Yes, our leading spectator sports do say a lot about us, and a lot about our foreign policy as well.
It used to be said that the Romans fought as they trained: that their drills were bloodless battles, and their battles bloody drills. We conduct foreign policy as we play sports: lots of violence, driven by high technology, sponsored by corporations, with plenty of repetition and more than a few crash and burn events.
A good friend wrote to me to contrast rugby with American football (the NFL). In rugby, he explained, the goal is ball control. Big hits are less important than gaining the ball. The play is hard but is more continuous. Playing as a team is essential. In rugby, there’s far less physical specialization of the players (e.g. no lumbering 350-pound linemen as in the NFL); every player has to run long and hard. There’s far more flow to the game and much less interference by coaches.
We could use more flow and patience to our foreign policy, more “ball control” rather than big hits and kinetic action and quick strikes. Yet, much like NASCAR and the NFL, we prefer high-octane “shock and awe,” the throwing of “long bombs,” with a surfeit of spectacular crashes and collateral damage. All brought to you by your corporate sponsors, naturally, where the bottom line –profit– truly is the bottom line.
Perhaps we should look for new sports. Tennis, anyone?