“All of those people who were screaming for Kurt Warner to be benched in favor of Eli Manning should be publicly flogged.”
I doubt most people who read my site know anything about professional sports, but this quote was written back in 2004 from Charles Robinson, a sports correspondent. I won’t bother explaining the details of what he means except to note that the same player he’s railing against there would become a Super Bowl MVP in a bit over three years. The core point of this rant revolves around his statement that some sports fans should be publicly flogged for their opinions.
Now I know that he doesn’t actually mean that. I know that he’s a sports writer and he’s paid to say outlandish, attention-grabbing things. He’s no worse than the film critic who says that Freddy Got Fingered should be considered cruel and unusual punishment. They’re just trying to be funny.
But jokes and hyperbole aside, there is a serious problem with America and how seriously it takes its entertainment. Here we’ve got someone saying that fans should be beaten in public for voicing their opinions. In an interview around that same time period, we got an NFL wide receiver claiming that the NFL treats its players like slaves. Oh yeah…those athletes that get paid six or seven figures a year just to play a stupid game sure look like slaves to me. Poor, poor things.
Moving beyond stupid statements that come from stupid people, there’s a lot of cases in this country when our entertainment devolves into violence. A fan who interfered with a catch in a baseball playoff game got death threats. In my own town of Burlington, Vermont, a riot broke out on my old college campus when the Red Sox beat the Yankees on their way to the world series in 2004. I don’t know how people make the leap from, “Hey, our team won!” to, “Let’s flip that van!” It just goes to prove that people are as stupid as the athletes that they watch.
In America, we take our entertainment more seriously than anything else. When Ken Jennings lost after an amazing 74-game winning streak on Jeopardy!, it made national news. Right up there with the death count in Iraq, earthquakes, and famine, we are suddenly transfixed by a blonde Mormon from Utah whose skill with a buzzer and knowledge of potpurri netted him $2.5 million. As a fan of the show, I traveled over to the Sony Pictures message boards and looked up some people’s reactions to Jennings’ winning streak. Some people were actually angry because, “The game isn’t exciting anymore.” Here’s a slight newsflash, folks: Jeopardy! has never been all that exciting. It features a series of mostly useless tidbits like, “Two of the five states whose motto is in neither English nor Latin.” The twist is that you have to answer in the form of a question. Like I said, I enjoy the show because I like trivia, but seeing three folks race to buzz in and answer, “What are Hawaii and California?” is not exactly my idea of pulse-pounding excitement.
Then we’ve got the numerous celebrities who do horrible things and walk away because of their status as entertainers. We’ve got OJ Simpson and Ray Lewis accused and aquitted of murders that they obviously had a part of. We have Mike Tyson beating the shit out of his wife and then walking back into America’s good graces after a short period of jail time. We had Michael Jackson accused of molesting children, and then we had his fans saying that he couldn’t have done it. Why? Because they like his music. How can the creator of “Smooth Criminal” be a bad man?
In other countries, people worry about one day having free speech. They worry about whether or not they have food to eat for the evening. They hope that some dictator’s soldiers won’t break into their homes and kill their children. In America, we throw things at basketball players and cause a brawl because our favorite team is losing. While poorer nations are choking down maggot-infested meat, we’re watching someone get paid a million dollars for eating a bowlful of bugs on Fear Factor.
I’m not saying that entertainment is a bad thing. I like to play video games and I enjoy watching Jeopardy!. Heck, this entire web site is largely devoted to my overindulgence in various media and my obsessive nature in critiquing it. At times I even like to watch the New York Giants play some football. But the thing to realize is that it’s all entertainment. If the Giants lose, my life goes on. Hell, they’ve been losing for years and my life is still going. When Ken Jennings broke every record in game show history, I thought, “Cool. He’s a nerd just like me.” But I’m not about to cry when he loses. I’m not going to go to a baseball game and throw garbage on the field if my team loses. I’m not going to smash my video game console because a game locks up on me. It’s absolutely great that in America we have time to waste watching shows like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? instead of fearing that we’ll be killed for expressing our religion. However, just because entertainment replaces those concerns in our society does not mean that it becomes as important. When I was a child and I lost a board game, I threw a fit and cried. Eventually I learned not to put so much importance on a game. America is not only stuck in the childhood phase about their entertainment, but many people add violence and stupidity to the problem.
It’s great that we live in a land of freedom. Someday maybe we can live in a land of maturity as well.