Friday, December 03, 2004

Commodification, Part II

Bitch, Ph.D. touches on a subject related to the outrage issue discussed below, i.e., personal responsibility. She points out that what ticks her off are students who don't do the work but also want the grade; students are perfectly free to choose Hawaii over doing the work, so long as they're willing to accept the grade that will result from that choice. It often seems (at least to me) that a lot of the outrage that's so popular with the adults these days could be avoided if people (a) took responsibility for their own actions, and (b) actually considered some of the likely consequences of given actions.

Take, for example, the blather about the Fight in Detroit. Everyone is shocked--shocked!--that this could have happened, don't These People know any better? Or, for another example, all of the athletes who've apparently been using steroids or other performance-enhancing substances. There are obviously some differences between these cases, to which I'll get in a minute, but what these events share is the apparent inability to guess what some of the consequences might be, if you take a kid who may have some physical talents, encourage those physical talents, value those talents such that you're willing to overlook other aspects of the kid's education, and--here's the important part--offer the kid a lot of money (maybe, down the road) if the kid performs better than everyone else. I'm not saying that every athlete gets away with crap all through grade school and high school and college (Terrell Owens was apparently quite an obedient, quiet child, if the account in the NY Times is accurate), but it's not exactly an unusual occurance, either. Anybody remember what football players got away with in their high school? Or maybe it was basketball at your school.

One of the major differences in the first two examples I mentioned, of course, is that the fighters in Detroit (and I include here the bozos in the stands who threw things at the players) hurt, or took the risk of hurting, other people; substance-users primarily hurt themselves. Yeah, yeah, they hurt The Purity of the Game. Barry Bonds said in an interview that the last time he played baseball for fun was in high school, I think, and he's right; after that, it's a business, no matter the sport, as long as it's being commodified and people are making money from it. Sport can also be a beautiful thing to watch, despite that commodification--it's one of the few times you turn on the TV and don't know, within five minutes, how everything's going to turn out at the end--but it's not pure, okay?

But, in both cases, you've got a bunch of guys who've been told they're the second coming of whomever in their sport, maybe for years and years, and you've told them they might make a lot of money, and, lookie here, they actually get to that point. But the commodification of their talent, the packaging and buying and selling of it, may be the very thing that killed it off. Artest had just told his team he wanted a break, after all, because he was stressed out from his off-court life (I forget the details). This game, one he presumably used to play for the joy of it, had become such a chore that he wanted a break from it.

This is where (a) and (b) from the first paragraph (remember them?) collide. On one hand, everyone--Artest, Barry Bonds, whomever--bears responsibility for his or her own actions. But, as Wittgenstein taught us, there is no private language: what we do occurs in a social, political, economic context. And that's why, even as I want to (metaphorically; I have a no-hitting rule) smack Artest & co. upside the head, the other part that irritates me is that the system in which they operates shapes their behavior in particular ways, by rewarding and punishing, by paying for or withholding payment from, by holding them responsible or letting them slide--but then steps back and says this thing you did has nothing to do with the likely consequences of the system of rewards and punishments we've utilized, it only has to do with your lack of responsibility.

Look, I don't know where the lines are; often we don't know where the lines are until someone thinks they've been crossed. And I have no problem saying that the players should not have gone storming into the stands, and the audience should not have thrown things at the players. But any analysis of this whole thing that does not address the full, commodified, capitalized context in which it is taking place is looking at the behaviors in isolation in order to avoid thinking about the (likely, predictable) consequences of the commodification of sport.

1 Comments:

Blogger Ann said...

This is exactly what I mean when I bemoan American contempt for nuance--which is, I think, what makes me a liberal (and a feminist). The inability to look at anything in context. Snap judgements, maybe. Every outcome is only related to its most immediate causes. And a consumer culture encourages this kind of response. You hit everybody as hard and as quickly and as often as you can, because you believe it works. BAM! Who's at fault, the fans or the players? BAM! How should they be punished? BAM! What will this do to the purity of the game? These are all extremely isolated--and, in a lot of ways, irrelevant--questions. Especially because the answers will be replaced by a new/not-new set of questions within a few days or weeks.

10:59 AM  

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