Noam Chomsky: Deconstructing Sports

The leftwing Nation magazine recently put out a special issue on sports, with the theme “Views from Left Field.”

Although many of the articles offer an appreciative if critical view of professional sports, Noam Chomsky seems to be the the metaphorical skunk at the picnic.

His piece isn’t freely available online, but he is quoted by Giles Harvey of The New Yorker as writing:

In our society we have things that you might use your intelligence on, like politics, but people really can’t get involved in them in a very serious way—so what they do is put their minds to other things, such as sports. You’re trained to be obedient; you don’t have an interesting job; there’s no work around for you that’s creative; in the cultural environment you’re a passive observer of usually pretty tawdry stuff. So what’s left?

I suppose that’s also one of the basic functions spectator sports serve in society: they occupy the populations, and keep them from trying to get involved with things that really matter. In fact, I presume that’s part of the reason why spectator sports are supported to the degree they are by the dominant institutions.

To which Harvey responds:

No doubt there is some truth to this (the public certainly does feel excluded from politics), but the idea that sport is a meaningless activity beneath the intelligence of ordinary human beings is condescending at best. Sport, like art, sweetens life; whether they realize it or not, it is probably the source of many people’s notions of beauty, solidarity, and greatness.

And it reminds me of Noam’s ill-fated 1998 TV special “Deconstructing Christmas“:

This PBS/WGBH special featured linguist and social commentator Chomsky sitting at a desk, explaining how the development of the commercial Christmas season directly relates to the loss of individual freedoms in the United States and the subjugation of indigenous people in southeast Asia. Despite a rave review by Z magazine, musical guest Zach de la Rocha and the concession by Chomsky to wear a seasonal hat for a younger demographic appeal, this is known to be the least requested Christmas special ever made.

(Hat tip: normblog)