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Bread and Circuses
A Culture Of Mass Diversion
© 2012 James LaFond
Social Commentary from the early days of the Harm City shitsperience, This was written in 2012, almost exactly 5 years ago. The copyright has been adjusted on the feed due to website maintenance.
“Baseball really kills me. Five days a week I’m expected to sit around and watch these guys scratch their balls? At least football is combat. But even that, the way people obsess on it… It is as if the modern American man is conscious of nothing other than sports. A dictator could take over and they would not mind as long as they got to stuff nachos in their face while they screamed at the TV.”
-sedan driver [who shall remain anonymous for his own protection]
It is playoff season for the Baltimore Orioles baseball team [or at least it was when I outlined this piece a couple of weeks ago] and football season for the fanatical worshipers of the Baltimore Ravens. The past few weeks have been a parade of orange and purple. A friend recently complained to me that he went to a bar to catch some political coverage [2012 presidential debates I think] and could not find a bar that was not televising football instead. As he bemoaned "a world of knuckle-draggers" I invoked Gibbon and the Decline and Fall. Then he sighed and shook his head. Educated people across the cultural board tend to agree with him, including the grousing sedan driver quoted above.
As an apolitical Social Darwinist I could care less. But I thought you might, believer in improving the world that you are, so have written this piece for you, a public service provided by the cynically apathetic…
Life as Joe Flacco’s Stunt Double
On a Sunday way back in January, as the worshipped Baltimore Ravens, the sports franchise that apparently saved this city, contested some other sainted body of men in a playoff game, I unwisely attempted to go visit a lady friend that afternoon. I spent two hours waiting for four busses that never came. The MTA was not operational. So many bus drivers called out that the service in the city was at half of that fielded by the same organization during national whether emergencies.
Eventually I gave up and began walking home, up the side street of a middleclass neighborhood. Little did I now, until I got home, that Joe Flacco, the white quarterback of the team that represents this majority black city of football fanatics, had thrown an interception.
[I have been informed that this was not an interception thrown by Flacco but a ball dropped by a black receiver. Of course, this correction comes from a white conservative, who does not believe in orally sodomizing NFL quarterbacks. I mean, with sensibilities like that can we trust him? I’m merely an ‘honorary’ African American and I find it suspicious that this man blames the black receiver…]
As I passed one particular house on the hilly street, two large black men in their thirties emerged from a nice brick house onto the open concrete porch to access the beer cooler. As they cracked their beers, the largest man, standing about 6’ 4” and weighing perhaps 350 pounds, with a huge bald head, glanced at me and said, “White muthafuca!”
His friend stepped back and smiled.
I said nothing and continued, looking ahead.
The bald giant growled, “White muthafucas cain’t play ball!”
His friend chuckled as I passed and continued to look down and ahead, trying not to grin.
The giant then barked, “Joe Flacco sucks!”
I continued to walk.
The giant then barked with more authority, “Joe Flacco sucks dicks!”
At this point I knew that this dude really wanted to squash some little white dude, so continued on my way, suppressing the evil, upwelling anti-Ravens grin from splitting my face.
The giant then roared, “Joe Flacco sucks big black dicks!”
I continued on my way, two houses up, as his friend said, “That dude is obviously not Joe Flacco!”
As I crested the hill the giant then screamed in dismay, obviously a failed gridiron hero frustrated that he would not have the opportunity to strangle Flacco before his locker tonight, “All white men suck my big black cock!”
Now nearly out of sight at the top of the hill, three houses up, I stopped and laughed.
The Fan[atic!]
The night after the Orioles won the second game against the New York Yankees, the most hated and expensive team in baseball, I had to listen to some guy who calls himself ‘The Fan’, and who has been given the mike at an FM radio station, rant for five hours. For five hours while I rotated Mister John’s yogurt section [as if that fate were not bad enough] I had to listen to the high priest of millionaire ballplayers, conduct worship, and take calls. He asked every caller how many people they hugged when the final strike was thrown.
I understand the people of an impoverished midsized town feeling elated that their team was taking on the team from the mightiest city on the planet. I enjoyed the intensity of the games I watched and imbibed 0.7 beers to my normal 0.5 beers per inning. But ‘The Fan’, the Baltimore Sports Ayatollah, frightened me with his fanaticism. It was as if he were selling a drug, extolling its virtues to the stoned, and making sure they imbibed again before getting sober, even as he hung up on the naysayers who did not "believe in the magic."
I well remembered the days of my youth when I was the only person I knew under 30 who did not get high, and how my friends constantly ranted about the virtues of intoxication, like The Fan now did about the perfection of his sports team, the perfect vehicle for hope and optimism.
Monday Night at the Pigskin Zombie Apocalypse
A few weeks ago the Baltimore Ravens, the team led by our very own O.J. Simpson, Ray Lewis, a former thug with an angry demeanor that is worshipped by elderly conservative suburbanites and urban gangster rappers alike, played on Monday night. I had just finished watching the first episode of The Walking Dead, in which the protagonist woke up from a hospital bed and wandered a deserted world.
There were no pedestrians on the street.
The bus was at ten percent capacity. Mind you, these are working people, headed to work, coming home from work. Where were they?
When I got to work the store was deserted and the men had the overhead radio tuned to the game. This part was pleasant, a nice break from the piped in music, until ‘The Fan’ began his hours long rant about the virtues of our gridiron heroes.
The spooky thing was, the next morning, the buses were deserted at rush hour and car traffic was light. This was like a national holiday.
I then got a call from my former night captain at a chain supermarket. We keep in touch primarily through an ongoing discussion of the deterioration of the retail food industry. He informed me that six of the eleven night crew personnel at the second busiest store in Maryland called out of work to watch the game just as EBT money surged into the ghetto and they were most needed!
I do not know how to calculate such a thing. But for all of the talk among sports promoters that the economy gets a boost from such events, I’m seeing a few dings here too. I suspect that there is a leveling effect, and that no additional economic activity is generated, just a redistribution.
Really though, I have no complaints. All of the jerks stayed home or went to the bar. The cops and the bouncers surely had their hands full, but my night was smooth.
The Third Base Apostate
Cal Ripkin, ‘Iron Man’ of baseball, recently said that a current third baseman was better at that position than Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles hall-of-famer, winner of a record number of golden gloves I am told. Cal has been vilified in the press. At work I was forced recently, by a merciless coworker, to listen to a debate between sports casters and a football player as to whether or not Cal’s opinions had any veracity.
Now, I do not know baseball. My baseball career consisted of swatting gnats in left field for two little league seasons, striking out every at bat, and getting beaten up by the first baseman every day after practice. Oh yes. I took a single at bat against a triple-A pitcher who sailed a 95 MPH fast ball by me. I was not intimidated until I heard it whistle by while I was still looking at it leave his hand! Now, the ancient Greeks and Romans thought that ball sports were only something you did with the ladies, and the rest of the world only played ball with severed heads up until two thousand years ago. However, even though baseball is not combat, I very much respect the level of skill required of these men.
So, when a meathead football player and two geeks begin second guessing the technical assessments of a man who was the master of his craft and currently manages and trains ball players, I know that we are on religious grounds. Religion trumps politics, and our new religion is major league sports. All of my friends who follow baseball, although all of them have never coached the sport, and none of them have seen the National League player Cal was talking about, have sided with orthodoxy, with the radio geeks and the gridiron goon. Not one of them has the heretical gumption to say, “I don’t know. Maybe the genius-level ballplayer is right about ball playing?”
Football and baseball are our civic religion, and have to be, because only religion has the gravity to divert our attention from politics. The professional politicians who rule us gain immeasurable latitude through the public’s addiction to religion-as-sports. A thing that would surely interest Gibbon, if he were alive today, would be the similarity of our current seasonal civic-based major-league sports to the polytheistic seasonal civic-based cults and associated sacral athletics of ancient Greece.
Let Caesar keep what is his, it is kickoff time.
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