I generally view the time I devote to spectator sports as proof of one of my many character weaknesses; but being able to learn about Gramsci's definition of hegemony in your post ("the widespread acceptance as common sense of ideas that legitimize the power of some in society over others") is proof of the opposite. Thanks a lot, Nathan!
There is, I think, much to be gleaned from this. First, we have the issue of whether watching sport is indeed "a character [weakness]." Second, there is the question of whether there is some redeeming quality to sport spectatorship. These are problems that, although seemingly secondary to the day-to-day existence of my reader, are absolutely central to my own experience.
My professional life (such as it is) is as an aspiring academic, currently working on a doctorate. While the department in which I work is broad in its scope (Social and Political Thought), my own research concentrates on the study of sport, with a particular emphasis on spectatorship itself. I have taught in courses on the socio-cultural analysis of sport and written academic texts on the subject.
What I am trying to say is that the question of whether sport is "a character [weakness]," or vice, is absolutely critical to my daily life. Which is to say that I should probably have a neat, logical, and compelling answer. But, I'm afraid, I don't.
For some, this question may not seem like a question at all. What's wrong with watching (and playing) sports?. Much could be written in response to this pivotal query, but I will try to keep my explanation relatively brief
Another problem, not applicable to all forms of sport, is the question of violence. This is, in a sense, an extension of the first point. Much sport is competition taken to an extreme. Violent sports teach not only to privilege the self over the other, but that it is acceptable to physically dominate an opponent in order to achieve this end. I have written about this issue before in the context of high school football. Currently, it is in the news again with the NFL's bounty scandal, which raises the question of what level of violence is appropriate in a sport that is predicated upon it in the first place. This is a position that I find to be nearly unimpeachable. Sport that teaches and endorses violence does not have a place in the theoretical society in which I want to live.
Photo: BILL FRAKES/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED/GETTY
Fandom produces miniature national communities that follow a strict "us against them" logic. While the community of fans seems on one level to produce comraderie and act as a source of meaning, by the same token it also relies upon an opponent against whom the team defines itself. In this way, fandom teaches what has been called a Manichean--good vs. evil--way of thinking that is not, in my mind, unrelated to broader destructive ways of thinking that continue to be so prevalent in our world.
Clearly, it is.
This may seem to be a resolution to the question at hand. Logically, it is. The problem with sport, though, is that logic has little to do with popularity. This is certainly true in my own life. Despite all that I have said above--and I believe what I have said--I still love sport. It is still, as loathe as I am to admit it, one of the principle sources of meaning and pleasure in my life.
I play sports (softball, basketball, volleyball, currently) and look forward to games all week. I watch on television and still live and die with the fates of the teams with which I identify. I even consume sports media, and not merely in a watchdog capacity. I play fantasy sports and make transactions daily, often spending ages pondering the moves I will make.
This is not the product of some kind of in-born natural inclination. I was socialized--taught--to love these games. I was given balls and bats and sticks to play with when I was young and was shown how to use them. I watched games on television with my father and learned who to cheer for. Why I was cheering for them didn't really come up.
Sport has been paralleled to religion, and I believe this is why the analogy is so pertinent: both are systems of meaning that are taught early and come to structure desire and purpose.
I have learned to accept that I am stuck with my sports passion. To repress it would be to repress a now fundamental part of myself. To give it free reign, however, would be to eschew my own system of ethics. This is a delicate balance that I constantly try to strike--a dialectic, tension, contradiction, hypocrisy.
Is there a lesson in all this? I think there is, and I think it is the point that my reader made: perhaps the redemption for those of us socialized into simultaneous obsession and discomfort with sport is that it is an arena we can learn from. There is genuine value to immersion in what is perhaps the most popular form of recreation in North America today.
There is value to be found in staying involved: we can remain participants in the conversation that is sporting culture and by participating, seek to alter its terms. This is not simply a noble quest--it would be pathetically disingenuous to suggest that there isn't pleasure in it. But, as my reader asserts, maybe through this pursuit of pleasure we can gain surprising bursts of enlightenment. Perhaps, balance itself is the key. Instead of embracing sport as it is or rejecting it outright, we need to play and watch while experiencing the struggle.
The alternative is to become ascetic--to disavow and reject. But what does this accomplish or change? Little, I think.
This is the power of the dialectic: through the contradiction, something new can be born.