I don’t really like football. I can appreciate and admire the dedication and raw talent it takes to compete athletically on a national level, but being a spectator to the sport has fairly limited appeal for me. The same goes for pretty much all sports, actually. In this I am sometimes seen as a deviant by my friends, and certainly the rest of my family, the latter of whom I think it’s safe to say meet the bar for “football fanatic.” They watch, talk, and argue about teams, players, strategies. They go so far as to base their home decor around the priority of their team favor, dedicating wall real estate proportionally to each team.
I don’t really understand the emotional investment many seem to have in their preferred teams. Players themselves rarely seem to show a similar loyalty, and even at the college level, the role money and athletic scouts play seems to make the location and name of a given team more of a branding decision than any real representation of the people in that particular area. Yet it’s teams that are nearest to where a fan lives (or where they grew up) that seems to play the biggest role in whether a team is liked. I have to admit it: I just don’t get it.
Because spectator sports are something so well-liked, and at the same time so alien to me, its preference as a cultural pastime is something I’m really only capable of thinking about as an outsider. As an outsider to the fandom, I frequently encounter a meme that, in addition to being unfair, inaccurate, and pretentious, is rooted in a kind of unwarranted elitism that is, in my opinion, even more harmful to the cognitive potential of the person holding the opinion than the “divisiveness” caused by maintaining a rude or dismissive belief.
You’ve probably seen someone say something along these lines. “Football is the opiate of the masses.” It’s the contemporary bread and circuses of our modern-day Roman Empire, so says the supposed intellectual — even he who admittedly enjoys the gladiator bouts himself. I’ve seen the opinion spouted by everyone from well-thought activists and philosophers, to pseudo-intellectual posers, and even the arguably well-meaning but laughable walking meme factory Alex Jones.
Maybe the idea took off because it’s easy for an outsider to believe at a glance. To someone who’s not into spectator sports, strangers watching the game can become hordes of faceless sports fans, often encountered while drunk and loud at bars and restaurants, painting the caricature of a tribalist idiot more concerned with what men in tights are doing than the realities of what’s going on around them. What’s “really going on,” of course, is entirely subjective. “Imminent societal collapse,” especially in the wake of a recent presidential election, is a pretty popular one.
Assuming football is such an effective distraction, let me ask you this. What do you really think would happen if people stopped watching football and “woke up?” What would you have them do, stand in crowds waving signs every moment they weren’t watching the game? Football does literally nothing to prevent people from engaging in the political process. People aren’t so distracted by sports that they cannot take the time to get informed and vote. They’re already doing that, and all of the other things you think are helping, and it’s accomplishing nothing.
The truth is that sports have nothing to do with it. Even the most zealous fan is not an opium addict, and the belief that escapism is the problem — especially “their” preferred type — is a stupid and detrimental belief. It rejects the reality that many humans are capable of complex, varied, and sometimes contradictory thought in favor of masturbatory pomp. It’s detrimental because it distracts from the very realization it masquerades as: that we really are alive in an era of bread and circuses, and it has little to do with television or smartphones.
The plebs of the classical era were regularly beaten into submission, starved, manipulated, and killed for small amounts of material gain. Concepts like economic and social progression were wildly out of scope for what they could ever hope to achieve. Practically all of them suffered living conditions that are almost unfathomable to us today.
If rebellion sounded like it might net some reward, and seemed even remotely within grasp, a violent insurrection was very probable — which is why dissent in the age before easy access to information was punished with incredible brutality. It was quelled not only with barbaric treachery, or even with simple social distraction, but by providing comforts that were otherwise out of reach.
Technology has enabled unprecedented access to information, including the ability to share experience. The restriction to information as a safeguard to the patrician has been removed, and to counter, the old bread and circuses have been done away with. The new opiate is the obfuscation of violence.
Violence, especially violence against otherwise peaceful people, permeates all modern societies. Because it is rarely acted upon, the average person has stopped detecting it. Like the smell of bread in a bakery, you forget it’s even there when you’re not tasting it for yourself. Even when your friends are taxed into oblivion, unable to afford adequate healthcare, or beaten by police, you’re directed to submit written petitions asking for relief. Maybe the state will get around to it, maybe it won’t — it all depends on if the right people get the vote, right?
It isn’t working, and you don’t need them. You don’t voluntarily pay for the things the state provides or the rules it makes, even when you think it’s a wonderful idea. You can’t escape this, certainly not by voting or protesting, and if you try to, you risk having violence used against you. This arrangement is not only unnecessary, but it keeps you the subject of a system which does not have your interest at heart. The bread and circus of the modern era is the idea that you are a part of the social contract; the opiate of the masses is the belief that you are not a pleb.
Stop shitting on football and start stabbing tyrants.
— David Neely, written for TruthVoice