Is Life A Spectator Sport?

TV_highquality

“…It has taken and still takes all of us, working together, to do this. We are the ones doing it, every day.

And yet most of us seem to feel that we can have more control over football games than we can over our cities, our jobs, even our own lives.

The curious thing about a spectacle is how it immobilizes the spectators: just like the image, it centers their attention, their values, and ultimately their lives around something outside of themselves. It keeps them occupied without making them active, it keeps them feeling involved without giving them control. You can probably think of a thousand different examples of this: television programs (reality TV especially), action movies (or other self-insert fantasy series for teens), websites, apps and magazines that give updates on the lives of celebrities and superstars, any and all spectator sports, representative “democracy,” the Catholic Church, the list goes on.

A spectacle also isolates the people whose attention it commands. Many of us know more about the fictitious characters of popular sitcoms then we do about the lives and loves of our neighbors – for even when we talk to them, it is about television shows, the news, “something funny someone posted,” or the weather; thus the very experiences and information that we share in common as spectators of the mass media serve to separate us from one another.

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It is the same at a big football game: everybody watching from the bleachers is a nobody, regardless of who they are. They may be sitting next to each other, but all eyes are focused on the field. If they speak to each other, it is almost never about each other, but about the game that is being played before then.

And although football fans cannot participate in the event of the game they are watching, or exert any real influence over them, they attach the utmost importance to these events and associate their own needs and desires with the outcome in a most unusual way. Rather than concentrating their attention on things that have a real bearing on their desires, they reconstruct their desires to revolve around the things they pay attention to. Their language even conflates the achievements of the team they identify with with their own actions: “We scored a goal!” “We won!” shout the fans from their seats and sofas.

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This stands in stark contrast to the way people speak about the things that go on in our own cities and communities. “They’re building a new highway,” we say about the new changes in our neighborhood. “What will they think of next? ” we say about the latest advances in scientific technology. Our language reveals what we think of ourselves as spectators in our own societies. But it is not “They,” the mysterious Other People, who have made the world the way it is – it is We, humanity ourselves. No small team of scientists, city planners, and rich bureaucrats could have done all the working and inventing and organizing that it has taken for us to transform this planet; it has taken and still takes all of us, working together, to do this. We are the ones doing it, every day. And yet most of us seem to feel that we can have more control over football games than we can over our cities, our jobs, even our own lives.

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We might have more success in our pursuit of happiness if we start trying to really participate. Instead of accepting the role of passive spectator to sports, society, and life, it is up to each of us to figure out how to play an active and significant part in creating the world around us and within us.

Perhaps one day we can build a new society in which we can all be involved together in the decisions that affect the lives we lead; then we will be able to truly choose our own destinies.

flammarion

Appropriated with explicit permission by

The Unists (@TheUnists)

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