When I was growing up, there was a determined cabal of sports watchers in my home who succeeded in making regular incursions into what was rightfully movie time.
In addition to not having videos in those days, we also didn’t have any, whatever you call it, second TV, either. We did have library cards, so it’s okay, I kept busy. But if I read more Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle than other kids did, I also saw fewer movies than did the kids in homes where they didn’t let the sports cut into the movie time. That is why I will spend the rest of my life as someone who as a kid saw fewer movies than he might have because of the way sports were allowed to cut into the movie time. Bitter? You bet I’m bitter, bubba. Bananas, bath, bildung, borscht! I am bitter and alliterative, a lot!
Movie theaters. Okay. I remember seeing the last two thirds of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and the first third of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, in that order, in the theater. (Time to go, Dad decided; this is where we came in. Yeah, just throw the celluloid at me in whatever order, I’ll rearrange it in my brain later.) The next movie I remember seeing in the theater was Star Wars. So for most of my years growing up it was TV fare or bust. Did I also see the original Roller Ball in the theater, the one with James Caan? Possibly. It sort of rings a bell, or maybe I just saw it more than once on TV. I remember liking it well enough.
So now you’re saying, ah hah, you, Brown, like a movie “about sports,” therefore you like sports as well, gotcha! Nice try smart guy, but no, a movie “about sports” is not the same thing as “sports.” I like many movies “about sports.” But if you look hard enough they usually turn out to be about people and conflicts.
Sports, by contrast, are about human-looking mannequins running around on a field of some sort, or in a boxing ring, trying to achieve some sort of point advantage, or make “first down” or whatever. (In one of the sports games the players keep trying to put a ball through a hoop, and the more times you put it through the hoop, the more points you get…people watch this.)
There are no characters in sports games, and the so-called conflict is a completely bogus setup, like wrestling. If it weren’t for the weird makeshift rules and the attempts to get points, the members on the opposing teams wouldn’t have any reason to battle each other at all. Sure, the two sides do clash mightily, in a manner of speaking, and it’s all very “exciting” in the minds of the CGI-created crowd hollering in the stands. But the clash is meaningless. All the competitors stop instantly as soon as the clock runs out. Then they wipe off the simulated blood and sweat and knee injuries and go home.
Movies, when they are well done, depict a conflict that you can be persuaded is real, or at least seduced into not caring whether it’s real, as opposed to this thing of just trying to accumulate points and then going home when the clock runs out. Movies have the appeal of art. Games of sport are not art, and they’re not life either. They’re just…sports. There is not even any dialogue to engage you, unless you want to count all the repetitive grunts, and possibly some barking at a referee.
Now you are saying, it is sad that you are so predictable, that there are indeed characters in the sports games. Real people in fact. And we the fans do care about their ambitions and fates. We are inspired by these heroic athletes. That is why we so nobly yelp our garbled incoherent pleas at the television. We know the point averages, the teams with which the players played before, something about their hobbies and endeavors, their advertising deals and their music videos if they decide to become rappers, etc. “I know all about Marcus Maxwell or Wade Boggles or whomever and I pray constantly for his success,” you might insist.
Sorry, but that’s cheating. You are conning yourself into becoming interested in something, a sports game, not at all interesting in itself, by dint of escaping the confines of the game to pore over sports statistics, listen to interviews, read news stories about this or that player and how his parents gave him his first golf club while he was still in the womb, attend to the pontificating of the pundits talking over the game, etc. Can you plausibly claim that “pundit voiceover” is integral to the progress on the field? No. But in order to fool yourself into believing that the repetitive, boring, fake, sham, phony, vacuous, time-killing world of the game is at all bearable, you are obliged to glom onto some tawdry unimportant facts and supercilious opinings which may indeed be of fleeting interest insofar as they insipidly go, but which have nothing whatever to do with the contest as such and its ludicrously artificial terms and how these play out in a particular game.
When I watch a movie, I don’t have to know anything about the actors as they are in real life to get caught up in the world of the movie. I can skip the tabloids. I don’t have to listen to the director in a voiceover saying, “Okay, what we did in this scene is very interesting and successful because….” The movie just stands or falls on its own. Totally unlike sports, a kind of opiate for persons with nothing better to do but watch sports.
David M. Brown is the publisher of The Webzine, from which this article is adapted. He also runs the blog for the Laissez Faire Books web site, where he has been talking about Wal-Mart versus commies, spychips in your wallet, the secret to earning a billion dollars per second, and other things.