Vulgarization of American Culture

Yesterday I started a stream of thought on how gaming has now become the place in our culture where morality is played out most clearly. The games themselves are nothing more than the brief focal point of attention. For many folks, a simple jump ahead to the final score would suffice, without the athletic expression. At the last horn, the result lets the “fan “know” if he is happy or sad, until the next game.

Gaming in America is theater, improvisational theater, with stock characters, scripted, easily predicted and just as easily manipulated. Professional sports and high level college sports are predictably rocked by scandals, which, one feels, would not exist without the tacit agreement of the ruling bodies. Major League Baseball allowed more than a decade of Performance Enhancing Drug use, with varying degrees of ill health for the users (still playing out) and absolute destruction of the MLB record book. At Hall of Fame voting each year the electors must now decide if the PED performers should be included in the HOF are made to wait again. You can almost feel the asterisk coming.

Simply put, the games generate the stories, but the peripheral issues, like repeated brain concussions for players, PEDs, cheating, crooked officials (check the NBA) are vastly more complex and vastly more engaging than the games themselves. If art reflects the culture and if gaming (high pressure, high dollar gaming) has become art (movement, color, unity, expression, repeated themes and variations on a theme, complete with heroes, villains, supporting characters ans stock characters). The art around the game is high theater and low comedy, all in one.

Now, gaming presents the culture with its own seamy underbelly. Vulgarity, racism, sexual orientations and all the issues that go with discovering and settling orientations, are now moved to the court. No, not the Supreme Court, the basketball court.

And we are left to deal with the overall lowering, the vulgarization of American culture.

Consider vulgarization in this way: Vulgarization is most visible (and so present) at the point where persons cross accepted (if artificial) supports (also called boundaries) to inject themselves their agendas and causes where they have not actually earned the right to be in order to further aggrandize themselves. The chubby “superfan” who attends a Big-12 school’s games (often traveling up to 30,000 miles each year to do so) stations himself under the goal at one end, near the court, in order to “get in the head” of opposing athletes with coarse language and obscene gestures must garner some kind of perverse pleasure (aggrandizement) in his pursuit to disrupt an athletic contest in which he has no place.

I once had a similar “superfan” position himself court-side during a Junior High girl’s game. He was loud, vulgar and persistent. He announced over and over again, “I will be here all night, ref. I’m your worst nightmare. I will be hear on you all night.”

I stopped the game in the second quarter, called for the administrator and had him removed from the gym. In thirty years of officiating, this is one of two times I have had to have a fan removed.

On the way out, I could hear him bleating to the poor principal who had to escort him out, “But I’m a fan. I can do anything. I paid my money to get in here. I’m a fan. I can do anything I want.”

And he could do whatever pleased him, I suppose. He just could not do it in the gym during the game.

His fate notwithstanding, here is, for me, the underlying issue. He vulgarized the moment, not only coarse language and gestures, but by injecting himself into a time and place where he had not earned the right to be a player on the stage. I wonder who many stock theater artist, on the stage, who could long tolerate a “heckler” dominating Act Three, Scene Two, with various outbursts?

Our culture increasingly, it seems, allow persons to cross lines and enter the “stage” where they have in no way earned a right to play. Their interaction may be announced with language and actions previously thought to be unacceptable. Their faux-voilence,w which may lead to real violence on some scale, against persons perceived to be “the enemy” push back the light that should be artistic expression. As the light decreases, the darkness takes control.


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