The Role Diversion Plays in Society…

August 14, 2008

…specifically, in this instance, sports.

I’m not the world’s largest sports fan…I love baseball, it’s history, it’s great players and it’s culture, and in baseball season I like to see at least one full game a week; I can take or leave most basketball games, I dislike football but somehow always end up watching the Superbowl, and I enjoy many Olympic events (Specifically Women’s Beach volleyball, but hey), but I would never consider myself a sports fanatic. But recently a few things have made me consider the role sports and athletics play in our society. Bear with me while I mention a few of these incidents and then I’ll try and pull all of this together.

Instance one–at my place of work, a client (or customer depending on how you look at it) began spewing a tirade complaining that people in America are too concerned with “big men throwing balls through little hoops,” and that these people had no knowledge of politics and world events. The next instance that prompted this particular article is the coverage of the ongoing Olympics (as an aside, when Bob Costas was interviewing ‘President’ Bush and began one of his questions with “Even with the problems America faces…” Bush began his reply with something along the lines of “Well I don’t think America has any problems…”– wow). The third event occurred fictionally. I’m currently reading Ian McEwan’s novel Saturday, and in it the narrators’ teenage son says that if you think big, things seem terrible, scary and only getting worse–terrorism, global warming, current political situations…they seem to only get worse and they seem to be unmanageable. But, he says, if you think small–this girl I just met, this movie I’m going to see, an upcoming trip–then things seem great. So the motto is think small.

Now, I feel all of these thing kind of correlate. First off, I don’t think we should only “think small.” It does help sometimes though, because the big issues are always there, and we are tiny next to them. But even when approaching these big problems we quite often must “think small” because we can only solve one bit at at a time-going after the whole thing at once is often too much. But the relevant aspect of this concept here is that to stay sane and to enjoy the time we have on this earth we do indeed have to focus on the little things sometimes. We have to think about our circle of friends and loved ones, our hobbies and interests, we have to soak in our diversions to deal with the cruelties of the world. But does this mean that everyone who enjoys sports or other diversions has no knowledge of politics, world events and serious issues? Not hardly. I recently made my way through the excellent documentary Ken Burns made about the history of the game “Baseball.” The “National Pastime” has showcased the good and the bad of our society and mirrored our progress throughout our national and its own history. It has served as a diversion and a celebration of it’s people and life throughout its entire existence–through the roaring twenties, through the depths of the great depression, through World War II and Vietnam and on to Reaganomics and the high-salaried nineties. Do those that love the game have complete ignorance of the world around them? All of them? No, not at all. Do some of them? Quite possibly, but just like non fans of the game as well.

Political interest and knowledge does quite often seem to be in recession in the US and around the world. Quite often, educated, knowledgeable citizens with an understanding of politics, history and the true needs and concerns facing our population seem to be able only to shake their heads in bafflement as the popular votes and opinions weigh in. But I also feel that many of the brightest and most knowledgeable know that it can’t always be only a constant focus on the issues or they’ll go crazy.

I’m not about to claim myself as being one of those “best and brightest” but I do think I have a general understanding of politics and cultural issues. I do read about what’ s going on in the world, talk about the issues and think about what should be done, but I also divert myself quite often. I love baseball, like I said. I also love films, music, books, beer, friends and comics (a great and underrated genre unlike any other–mixing aspects of film, episodic television, literature, high art and pop art, and which I’ll be addressing ten excellent examples of the genre in my next article). I feel that diversion like this serves a great purpose. These things often are much deeper than they appear on the surface and can reflect the issues that may be bigger than they are in their own way–and if we didn’t have them to lead our attention elsewhere, from our own problems, worries and also away from the societal problem and worries occassionally, we may all very well go crazy together. As for the “big men throwing balls through little hoops” guy, he seemed nice enough, and I’m sure he’s disgusted at the current situation in the world–but I’m also sure he has some sort of diversion as well even if it isn’t sports.

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