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The Game's A Foot

With all that is happening in the world at this moment, The Jakarta Post has covered its entire front page with reports on Indonesia's loss in the Suzuki Cup finals. Get this, Inodnesia wan the game 2-1 against Malaysia, but lost the trphy because the score wasn't high enough. Go figure. Of course, there is a deep rivalry between Malaysia and Indonesia that occasionally simmers over into outright blows, but I hardly see where a game rates full front page coverage.

Our Korean neighbors are threatening to blow each other up. Pakistan, Afganistan and Iraq are embroiled in war. Israel continues to terrorize it neighbors. Europe and America teeter on the verge of economic collapse. China and Russia are snuggling up to end dollar hegimony. And the only thing that rates as news today is a game.

Sorry, but I just don't get it.

I have tried my whole life to understand this whole pro-sports thing. What I inevitably come to believe is that the whole damn thing is a colossal waste of time, money and resources: massive stadia, black holes of electricity, huge salaries for non-productive people, transportaion to ship teams and their staff all over the globe, even specialties in sports medicine. And all of this why? To draw your eyeballs to some advertising.

It's obscene, really.

Now, I will admit a certain affinity for horse and car racing. There are multiple variables pitting man against himself and against his steed/machine, as well as against other teams. I like the sheer complexity of it. The odds against any one competitor winning are pretty exciting.

But the idea of two teams of more or less equal footing going head-to-head just doesn't rise to the level of real sport, to my mind (all previous soccer puns intended). It's just like American politics. It doesn't matter who wins the game, everyone loses.

Yesterday, Jakarta, a city of roughly 12 million people, came to a halt. In Senayan, traffic was in gridlock as 80,000 people tried to get into the stadium. In my neighborhood, kids went around doing a lion dance and collecting money to pay for a large screen projector in the park across from my house so the entire neighborhood could gather for the game. By start time, the streets were dead and the play-by-play could be heard echoing all across the area interspersed with cheers and groans. Normally, it takes a natual disaster to achieve the same result.

All across the city, people gathered at the warung (small shops and restaurants) to watch the event. As my lady and I trundled to a local hotel by bajaj to meet some friends, I hardly missed a word of the call, as TVs blared out every five meters. The streets were dead in a city that has legendary traffic problems, day and night. The driver could hardly wait to drop us and return to the game. The hotel where we met was apparently full with well-heeled Indonesians who has come in to attend the event. There was even talk of riots should Indonesia win the Cup.

In short, nearly every man, woman and child has their self-image, national pride and hopes tied up in -- a game. A the really absurd part is that Indonesia won the game, but lost the Cup because of some occult, alchemical formula that uses advanced linear physics and quaternion geometry to determine the winner.

Go figure.

I son't suppose anyone thought about how many people could be clothed, housed and fed for what was spent on the Suzuki Cup, or the Super Bowl for that matter, or the World Series, or Formula One, or any other major sporting event you care to pick. The important thing is that absolutely nothing was created from all this effort and expense. It was literally a complete waste of time and effort. It achieved nothing. It produced nothing. It changed nothing.

Yet, the banner headline in The Jakarta Post reads, "Malaysia Win Makes History." Oh really? So absolutely nothing changed the direction of global human history?

The original Olympics I can understand. Here men demonstrated their prowess at skills that were vital in warfare: jumping, running, throwing spears and rocks. But I fail to see the relevance of those things today, since modern warfare simply involves dropping massive amounts of incendiary devices on non-combatant populations. Ostensibly, the modern Olympics were to foster world peace and understanding, but if that's the case, they have failed miserably. Surely, there must be some value to dressing teen-age girls in skimpy outfits, covering them with talc and making them contort themselves on global TV.

I can see the value of high school athletics. The boys are dripping with hormones and need some sort of outlet that at least purports to have some benefit to health and diverts them from more nefarious pursuits. However, by college age, they should have learned some amount of self-control and be able to pursue more productive, if not intellectual causes.

Most of what I have seen is that sports are simply a vehicle for overweight, beer-guzzling, middle-aged losers to invest their low self-images in their avatars so that they can derive some amount of self-importance by doing nothing more than vegetating on the couch.

Certainly, Nero knew the value of 'bread and circuses.' By keeping the citizenry distracted with meaningless eye-candy, they wouldn't interfere with the affairs of state, which were to rob and plunder every individual that could be physically located somewhere. In the same way a baby can be entertained for hours by a mobile or twinkling lights, most adults can be derailed by spectacle and pagentry. It's the most valuable tool of the magician, to distract an audience in one direction, while the deception occurs in the other. As any deceiver will tell you, it's not what you see, but what you think you see that matters.

Pro sports are nothing more than magic tricks. If entire popuations can be made to look in one direction at one time, then the opportunities are endless for what can be done in other directions. If you find it hard to imagine how this works, there is a simple game you can do with a couple of friends on a lazy afternoon.

Go to some public area with a large number of people. You and your friends take up a position that is fairly visible and start staring up at some random point. It helps if you all talk excitedly about some imaginary thing happening 'up there.' Within minutes, you will have a substantial crowd around, all looking up at the same spot and trying to figure out what is so interesting. You can even walk away after a few minutes and just sit and watch the fun. I've actually been able to get fairly large, self-sustaining crowds together for as long as an hour with this trick.

If I were a pick-pocket, I'd be pretty rich by now.

Even if nothing is happening 'up there,' people will wait just for the hope of seeing something happen. It's why so many people watch auto racing. Maybe there'll be a horrific crash. It's why horror movies are so popular. it's why magic works and tight-rope walkers get crowds, and lion tamers are so fascinating. Someone MIGHT get mangled!

It's why we use words like 'trounce,' 'annihilate,' 'vanquish,' and related hyperbole to describe the outcome of pro-sport contests. We are really wanting someone to get seriously hurt, even if only in a mental way. It's the whole purpose of the 'bread and circuses,' to watch the christians get eaten, the gladiators to get hacked to pieces and the slaves to be trampled.

Meanwhile, in the other direction, someone is robbing you blind.

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