Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Win the Crowd!

Last Sunday I attended my first professional football game. Technically, I could count my attendance of a Seattle Seahawks game in 9th grade (when they played in the Kingdome), but I'd rather not since the game, the venues and the frills have changed so much since then. Nevertheless, it was the first visit to a NFL game in my adult life. Texas Stadium was surrounded by a swarm of people celebrating the event well in advance. The tailgate parties were plentiful, jerseys were worn with pride and the cheers rose in unified chorus. The sea of humanity we waded through to approach the stadium was impressive. The Dallas Cowboys certainly have a great and loyal following. Fan enthusiasm and expectation is understandable, and it's not only easy to get wrapped up in it, but pleasuring as well. There's a very appropriate emotion of celebration that is conjured by company that is difficult to achieve alone. Recluses are pitiable for at least this reason.

However, after entering the stadium, I was struck by the grandeur of the facility. The migration proceeded inward from the parking lot (immersed with the smells of BBQ and the sounds of Rap music), with several pedestrian streams confluencing at security points. In finding our seats, we finally entered the stadium interior, at which I was struck by the grand scale of the massive structure. This is sobering considering that Texas Stadium is relatively humble compared to its NFL counterparts throughout the country. The structure itself, though, is not the dominant cause of concern. In fact, no element of the presentation alone could account for my unease with the event. (At this point it's important insert how grateful I am for having been invited to the game by my friend, and how thankful I was for not only the fun of it, by the time spent with fine company as well).

Many aspects of the event seemed to cater to my more base instincts. The stadium, though older and in disrepair, was designed to be awe inspiring. The immense crowd, the loud music, fireworks, flames and excitement came together to create a "feel" of the event. This "feel" was both easy to get wrapped up into, yet disconcerting at the same time. What seemed to make the "catering" more obvious was the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. More than merely "cheerleading" in the classic high school or college sense, they were clothed-exotic dancers meant to distract me during the time gaps in the game's action. In the ancient Near East, kings and dignitaries were entertained with such distractions to arouse fond feelings for the host or to make them "feel" royal. Since in America the dollar is king, customers get the "royal" treatment. This includes women as distracting objects for consumers' pleasure.

To avoid hypocrisy, I must admit that the Dallas Stars also have the Ice Girls. I am a great fan of the Stars. However, because of the ice rink the Ice Girls are much more relegated to the side (more out of view). They are not made as central to the spectacle before me. If that should ever change, I will be quite disappointed with the NHL. Nevertheless, the Cowboys cheerleaders' component in the presentation was much more pronounced, leaving me feeling more "catered" to by their show.

The sights, smells and sounds of the stadium experienced with the Dallas Cowboys transported me back to my last viewing of "Gladiator." The film was an insightful social commentary on cultures driven by entertainment (particularly contest-entertainment), and where it can lead to. Roman society degenerated into one in which bloodsport was necessary to adequately distract people from governmental erosion. "Win the crowd," was Proximo's admonition to Maximus. This advice was born of his understanding that in such cultures, entertainment is power. "I am a slave," laments Maximus at one point, "with the power only to amuse a mob." The reply is given matter-of-fact like, "that is power." Another conversation, earlier in the story summarizes well the interplay of entertainment and power in Rome:

Gracchus: Fear and wonder, a powerful combination.

Falco: You really think people are going to be seduced by that?

Gracchus: I think he knows what Rome is. Rome is the mob. Conjure magic for them and they'll be distracted. Take away their freedom and still they'll roar. The beating heart of Rome is not the marble of the senate, it's the sand of the coliseum. He'll bring them death - and they will love him for it.

Though I enjoyed the Cowboys experience, I couldn't help but feel part of the "mob" that Gracchus spoke of. Someone may counter, "How is it that you 'felt' this at the stadium and not at a hockey game?" The point is well taken. I'm not sure they differ in substance so much as in degree. The size, the crowd, the sexy women and the grand spectacle all "felt" more like the Colosseum that I had ever experienced before. Competitive sports serve a productive purpose in society that can be examined at a later time, but to the degree that they conjure the human impulses of ancient Rome they sail on dangerous waters. "Win the crowd" may be the driving market force, but that doesn't mean that it wins me.

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