Sunday, July 21, 2002

Men Behaving Badly


"the soaps: for the sorority of the bored american woman, they are the next best thing to a life."

"...there [is] something absurd and pathetic in having such an exaggerated interest in the outcome of this endless succession of essentially identical encounters and of the people who paricipate in them or, in other words, in being a woman."

those are two sentences you will not see written in a mass circulation magazine. yet substitute "sportscasters" for "soaps" and "man" for "woman" in the above two sentences and you have the cover story of today's new york times magazine.

oh yes there are articles on the banality of life as a middle class american woman but the contempt is missing, as is the equivalent of the cartoon accompanying the times article depicting a bug-eyed chap, caffeinated drink in one hand, remote in the other, watching sports at 3:05 am, the floor scattered with pretzels, beer cans and sports publications.

never mind that the story is written by an alleged male (peter de jonge, french for "my peter is not long." ok that was a defensive sophomoric cheap shot, the kind the guys on sportscenter would utter off the air) it has long been fashionable to trash the habits of contemporary "guys." a legitimate cultural icon like mel kiper, jr is ridiculed for his verbiage and hairdo, his contribution to consciousness raising for an event of no less significance than the NFL DRAFT FOR CHRISSAKES, ignored. he's avant garde and like all great artists he showed the way before the masses were ready for it.

all of us guys have felt the sting of a remark by one of our betters putting down our interest in sports. "people who watch spectator sports are a lower form of life" said a (female, of course) friend, the sting all the more pronounced because it was not said directly to me but overheard. we have felt the panic of being seated next to an attractive woman and trying to make conversation but being stymied by references to books read by her and not even heard of by us ("did you read nietzsche's "the last man"? "no, but i do think he was the greatest middle linebacker of all time.").

there is misunderstanding about the meaning of sports to us. it is not the game that matters so much as it is the post-game commentary. sportscenter, whose debut on sept. 5, 1979 is quietly celebrated by guys as one of the seminal events in american history, is a microcosm of our existential reality. we live in a fast-paced world, we don't have time to watch the whole damn game and so we have to subsist on highlights. the brilliance of sportscenter, grudgingly acknowledged by de jonge in a comment by aaron sorkin that it is "one of the funniest and best-written shows on the air," is that it accompanied the highlights with witty, high-brow commentary that even we got. de jonge pays homage to the current sportscenter team of rich eisen and dan patrick but he apparently missed keith olberman and dan patrick whose repartee and hilarious highlight editing made the 11:30 edition must-see tv.

de jonge is uncertain of the meaning of it all. is it symptomatic of our atomistic existence, our subliminal need to be part of a larger community, even one that convenes in the middle of the night? no, if de jonge knew anything he would realize that it is the american manifestation of the hindu life cycle.

of the five stages of life for the hindu male, those of us who watch sports and the talk shows in particular, are in the "forrest dweller" stage, where the scriptures tell us, a man begins to withdraw from life. the next, last and most exulted state is that of the renouncer, when man comletes his seperation from society and goes off alone to walk the last days of his life contemplating existence. unwittingly, de jonge gives the perfect description of this life in his account of ubermensch john madden: "some might find this womanless nomadic existence a bit lacking if not desolate, but to madden, life on the bus is the finally realized ideal of pure, unfettered freedom."

so there you have it, peter. we have passed through adolescence into honorable manhood, we have contributed the sweat of our brow to labor, we have married and propogated the species, we now begin to withdraw, with sportscenter our metronome, to contemplate the meaning of life, or at least who the jets will take in the second round.

-benjamin harris