Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A-Rod, Banned Substances, and the Nobility of Sports

SPORT IS NOT A virtue.

It may be embodied by virtuous people and have as some of its goals the betterment of humanity, the goodness of human potential, and a team ethic over individual excellence, but sport as a practice or an endeavor is not itself a good. Of the many annoying aspects foregrounded in the doping case of Alex Rodriguez, the most annoying has got to be the ongoing discourse of sport nobility.

Lovers of sport tend to invoke words like "pure," "ideal," and "natural" when describing what they think sports should be. Fans feel "wounded," "disappointed," even "heartbroken" when they hear their favorite athlete cheated--as though it were their wife or girlfriend who broke the faith.

These aficionados make the great mistake of seeing sports as a democracy. They think sports should be "fair," and that athletes should be on a "level playing field," and no one should get an advantage. They think sports should be about the game, and integrity. They believe that sport, through its nobility, rewards those with a true heart, those who work the hardest.

But, sports are not democratic. Sports are capitalistic.

Sports are about acquisition, accumulation, and defeat. They are about getting the most land, points, runs, yardage. They are about triumph. They are about victory. They are not, nor have they ever been about equality. They have always been about winning and doing pretty much whatever is necessary to win--building better training equipment, hiring the best coaches, amassing the stronger team, developing the most impressive work-out regimen, creating the best diet, constructing the best strategy.

Sports have been about one-upmanship since they began. And, even in college, sports has become primarily about money, making its philosophical and structural links to capitalism hard to ignore.

There seems to be a myth that in the good ol' days, men were men and fought fair, played honest, and upheld the rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. Evidence abounds that players threw games, clawed for unfair advantages, and played fast and loose with rules. Early pitchers used to drink cocktails of goat semen thinking it made them throw harder.

There are no level playing fields. There is no parity in sports. There are only humans competing. And no two humans arrive in the ring or on the course equal. They only arrive as humans who want to win.

And, winning, at least in the capitalist arena, has never been fair, nor noble.

If we want sports to be honest, then we need to change the discourse of sports. We need to start talking about it for what it is--not what we wish it should be. As long as we expect different behavior from baseball players than stock brokers, sports will always disappoint, and they will always be fake.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Inaugural Poem Re-Mix

BACK IN 2004, NEW JERSEY'S WFMU did a fabulous re-mix of the Republican National Convention. Republicans had never been so funny.

This year, WFMU is back with an inaugural poem re-mix contest. Posted on the site are 51 different versions of Elizabeth Alexander's inaugural poem sent in by listeners who were encouraged to make Alexander's poem their own. Sped up, set to music, funked up . . .it doesn't matter.

David Lynch fans will thrill to incantatory rhythms of the Log Lady from Twin Peaks version, while Beavis and Butthead loyalists will appreciate this locker room version.

Though the contest is a bit of a stunt, it also raises fun questions about the degree to which art is democratic. Is the poem Alexander's or ours? Is it disrespectful to turn the most watched poetry reading in the history of the world into a log lady chant? Is Alexander being mocked, or is this an homage?

From our perspective, any time people interact with a poem with this much attention to detail, it's a good thing for poetry--and a great thing for listener-supported radio.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Interview with Elizabeth Alexander

OVER THE WEEKEND, I received an email from Dave Rosenthal, who writes for the Baltimore Sun's book blog, alerting me to a recent interview he did with Elizabeth Alexander. He asks her a series of questions about the experience of writing and reading the inaugural poem, and he also talks with her about the reaction to the poem.

You can read excerpts from and listen to the interview here.