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Culturally Sound

by Lewis Krell

Over the holidays I took in the ballet. I dressed up nicely, went to the San Francisco Ballet and watched a beautiful, world-class rendition of "The Nutcracker". I felt good as I left the performance and patted myself on the back for taking a night out to experience some culture as this is a relatively rare achievement in my life.

Within the last month I will have attended an NFL Playoff game, four NBA games, a college basketball game, and an NHL game. This is more of a normal month then an outlier as I spend a good portion of my free time and income on attending sporting events.

I bring these points up because I recently had to defend myself in a conversation where I was being told that I need to experience more culture. Some say I should get out more, and that I should expand my horizons. I should be going to more ballets and the like, that I should immerse myself more fully in "high culture". For some odd reason this resonated with me. Should I really care about games this much? As I pondered this question (and my existence) I realized something; sports IS culture. There is no more cultured experience one can have that attending a live sporting event in modern day America.

We watch sports the same as we watch the ballet or the opera; quite simply, we are watching the best in the world performing at the highest level possible. Football may be more brutal but it is the same basic idea. We take in a performance, a superhuman performance. We are witnessing something us mere mortals in our seats are entirely incapable of. The Nike marketing campaign for LeBron, doling out shirts baring only a swoosh and "WITNESS" tells us exactly what we show up for: to witness greatness. And to hopefully catch a t-shirt out of cannon. But mainly to witness greatness. Admiring the elegance and beauty of what the human body is capable of is one of the principal reasons we pony up ridiculous amounts of money to watch Cirque de Soleil or a Broadway show. This logic readily applies equally to Wimbledon and the World Cup.

The more diverse events I witness over the course of my life, the more certain I am that there is nothing greater than sports when it comes to the human experience. Sports can be used as a metaphor for everything. Sports provide clear winners and losers, a rarity in life. Sports provide learning experiences usable outside of the fields and arenas. Sports provide life-long bonds between you and teams, you and players, you and your friends and you and your family.

Sports also have the effect of being an incredible participatory experience. Outside of maybe a sing-along/dress up midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Castro, most performances entail nothing on your behalf. You might cheer at the end, you might applaud gently during a few breaks, but overall you are there to watch and shut up. Attend a sporting event and you get the added bonus of participation. Your screaming may have actually helped cause that false start or that missed free throw. Your scream may have helped the cellist fuck up her note, but no one in the crowd is going to high-five you. Asshole.

To me, sports, concerts, and live comedy are the three most enjoyable aspects of ‘culture’ due to the improv factor. You’ll never see the same thing twice, you never know what to expect, and you never know the outcome until it’s happened, forcing you to pay attention to every single twist and turn. There has been tens of thousands of NBA games played and yet no game has ever had an identical last 5 minutes. EVERY "Nutcracker" performance has an identical last 5 minutes. And every one of those performances involves an unbelievable amount of dancing. Oh god, so much dancing. There is value in that, in admiring the technical perfection of a performer, but seeing the truly dynamic is more awe-inspiring to me.

In ballet, or on Broadway, you are watching someone perform a skill they have absolutely mastered through repetition. In sports, you are watching someone do something they have mastered through repetition put through an infinite amount of different situations and scenarios. And often times, someone trying to physically stop them from completing their task at hand. Sometimes with a threat of decapitation.

Ballet would kick ass if every performance had a slight twist. Can you still complete your dance even though a crazed fan ran onto the stage naked? Can the fat lady still hit the high note with Patrick Willis charging at her at full speed? If she could then she is undoubtedly the world’s greatest opera singer. Can Jean Valjean and Javier successfully complete their ‘Confrontation’ while local drunks Murph and Sully heckle them about how hot their sisters are? Could Baryshnikov still do a perfect performance if he was forced to dance off against the younger, brasher, more athletic and more tattooed version of Baryshnikov? God I want to see these ideas tested....

So don’t look down on me because I’d rather watch a basketball game then go see a play. Sports are as artistic as anything else a person can do and to top it off you get to drink and eat and yell obscenities while you watch it! How is that not the perfect form of viewership? So the next time someone tells you that you should watch less sports and ‘take in more culture’, pull out your foam finger and shove it directly...into their face while you politely and respectfully give your reasoned and rational argument about why sports is the equivalent of any other art form. But better.

Image courtesy of theb9

Lewis Krell is a Canadian expat and Inclusive staff writer. His work with a more maple leaf-styled slant can be found at Fifty Mission Cap. Contact him at lewis.krell [at] theinclusive.net