22 September 2007

Globalization and Tribal Nation

Since 1989, the NFL's revenues have grown by more than 6X, to over $6 billion a year. Major League Baseball and the NBA have also steadily grown, fueling in turn a sports reporting and analysis industry that has benefited companies like ESPN, Fox Sports, and the major networks.

What has driven demand for sports? I think it's obvious that we're wired to want "us vs. them" situations - to take a side in a conflict. We want something visceral, something engaging, something that smacks of violence and tribal warfare. The problem is, in a world increasingly global where former enemies (or at least those we didn't care about) are now trading partners, there is a dwindling opportunity for such situations to arise in the natural world. Gone are the days before the birth of agriculture when 15% of the population could expect to die in physical conflict. Such situations are gone, but the genes that helped us to survive this period are not.

Into this void of the modern age stepped professional sports, offering us a fix for our tribal impulse. We have an us vs. them. We have conflict. We have clear winners and clear losers. And, thanks to stadiums and broadcasting, the experience of a few can be shared by many, the vicarious thrill and frustration packaged for easy consumption by those of us whose daily lives are not the sites of any great drama or such clear rules and score keeping.

In an age when abstract, global dynamics define our lives, and vague goals define success or failure, professional sports gives us a means to feed those parts of our psyche that felt most at home in kilts or loin clothes, a time of tribal chiefs and the ability to see one's community around a single camp fire. 15 to 40 men on the field or bench, success clearly defined and important, outcomes decided in the space of hours rather than decades. It's a chance to feed one's inner warrior without the risk of blood shed. It's modern sports.

Professional sports - making the world safer for primal impulses.


exskindiver said...

Coming from a woman who wouldn't know the difference between a line of scrimmage and a hat trick, sports do provide a positive influence in the form of entertainment, engagement, and and that oh-so-pesky need to belong.
I believe if it were not abused, spectator sports can very well be used as an outlet for frustrations being lived out in one's daily life.
Take for example the trait of one (who shall remain nameless) to be unable to express himself emotionally--that trait, suddenly goes MIA when there is a "blow-out" Penn State game (whatever that means).
He is suddenly galvanized into expressing himself with enthusiasm.
That it provides a special experience for him and that a game is able to stir up such emotion,
I take that as a good sign.
It keeps his emotional muscle active and ready for use in the event that he chooses to use it outside of the sporting arena.

exskindiver said...

PS. I am feeling a blog post emerging from this comment.

cce said...

I, on the other hand, have a husband (who shall remain nameless) that seems entirely above the tribal fray. His ancestral clan must have been pacifists because he truly can't find it within himself to give a rat's ass, win, lose or draw. I find this highly suspect, abnormal. I came from a tribe of chest thumping New England Patriots and Red Sox fans. This time of year there is nothing else. Nothing, I say. I am raising my children to relish the gladiator like ritual of the professional sports event. They will be normal aggressors, damn it.

Ron Davison said...

xSD and cce,
nameless husbands all around, which I guess is only fair given that you women still so often get stuck with our names.
cce, I suppose I'm wired more like your husband. I enjoy sports - some. But the stakes always seem artificial in contrast with the political competition that engages me so much more. I suppose both guarantee frustration and hence the development of character.