Monday: Covers from the Hall Collection



Having grown up in a household devoid of sports of any kind, unless you consider to be a sport our nightly competitions to see who could hang a spoon longest from the end of the family’s characteristically big schnoz, I came to admire the camaraderie and uncanny retention of useless facts and statistics of the sports fanatic. A year living in “tail-gating ground zero”, the quarter of a mile surrounding the Gamecocks football stadium in Columbia, South Carolina, soon cured me of this, but I am left with a troubling question.

Where is the thrill in watching teams vie for territory with a scrap of pig hide and ridiculous padding when—and here’s the kicker—the whole thing is made up. To the uninitiated, it looks like war, except that both teams belong to the same country and what’s really at stake here? The leader of the winning army gets a cooler of cold Gatoraid dumped over him. The players are paid no matter what. I suppose they get attention, but even fame or notoriety come to them no matter the outcome.

Do human beings have an innate need to watch other people best one another through physical contest, i.e. manhandling a scrap of pig skin across territory, or wrestling for the last couple of ounces of vodka on the tailgate of their SUV before heading in to the sold-out ultimate fighting match?  Or trying to navigate the traffic around well-attended sporting events that, as everyone knows, is like living in Atlanta, and nobody wants to live in Atlanta.

Or is it our broader need for drama as an antidote to boredom. Many people don’t watch team sports. This might come as a shock to people who do watch them, but I assure you, our numbers are great, even if we’re at home watching Masterpiece Theatre while you’re running amok through a neighboring town, throwing benches through storefronts and swilling cheap beer. So I guess we have that much in common: we do enjoy some sort of drama, even if yours is a made up pile of statistics and ours has to do with which member of the dinner party Miss Marple must out as an actual murderer.            -e.scripsi

You can find more Covers from the Hall Collection here.

Published in: on November 12, 2007 at 11:52 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Greetings, Mr. Scripsi! In your query about sports, you have touched on an issue with which I may be of some assistance. I am neither sportsman/woman nor sports fanatic, but your biologist-cousin, with a bit of insight from the world of Charles Darwin and beyond… to the realm of the “Red Queen.”

    The peacock has its enormous tail feather display, a shimmer with iridescent eye spots, while females are quite drab in color. Bull elephant seals grow to sizes of 5,000 pounds and spend much of their time pounding their bodies against rival males, all to monopolize a harem of diminutive females. Male deer, of course, have antlers for fighting off other bucks and defending a territory. Humans are just another example of this sexual dimorphism. Charles Darwin was once quoted as saying the sight of a peacock made him SICK. Why? Simple principles of natural selection could not explain their elaborate tail feather display, clearly an impediment to predator avoidance or escape. He later decided that another, albeit related, principle must apply: sexual selection. In sexual selection, traits that attract mates are “selected for” and become more common. The showy feathers of many male bird species are a burden in terms of natural selection, but alas, the only way to score a “date.”

    Behavior may similarly be shaped by sexual selection, and in the human realm, we can thus turn to aggression and competitive sports. Aggression and competition are routinely more common amongst males of the species. Before I am rebuked by progressive, feminist women, let me reassure you that the trait is not restricted to males, just simply more common among them. This is a benefit to the species, as extreme competitive and aggressive behavior among women would put their offspring in jeopardy, as women give birth and, throughout evolutionary time, have been responsible for much of childrearing. Engaging in dangerous activities would put their children, and thus their “genes,” at risk.

    Why, then, should males assume risky, aggressive behaviors? Because they can maximize their genetic contribution to future generations by competing with other males for females — something females can’t do. So they fight. They yell. The strap on helmets and shoulder pads and slam their bodies against each other a la elephant seal, all in a primal show of dominance and power. Really, when you look at it through the lens of evolution, football (or any other male sport) is just a by-product of an ancient mating ritual — a way to say “Hey girls! I’m physically superior! I’ve got good genes!”

    Now, the non-sportsman may snicker at the absurdity of it all, but it isn’t just physical sport that can be explained in this manner. Any form of competition –the arts or literature or humor — is just a way of displaying our virtues and thus attracting mates. And we must have mates, to recombine our genes and adapt to the forces at work against us — namely, disease. (Anyone interested in the area of sexual selection can Google “Red Queen principle.”)

    So, Mr. Scripsi, it isn’t completely “made up,” this defense of one end of a football field. Its a socially acceptable way of performing some approximation of a territorial display — something a little more civilized than a bar room brawl, but a little less-so than dangling spoons off one’s nose :-)

  2. Thank you for the astoundingly informative and well-written response (other than the fact that you’re making me look bad). Better watch out or you’ll be given a login and orders to blog (the horror!). On second thought, where’s YOUR blog? I’d subscribe to this kind of stuff. The biological underpinnings blog? Do I detect a sociobiological vein? Or is this biocultural?

  3. Thank you for your complimentary response to my FIRST BLOG post :-) I don’t think I’m ready for my own blog… I’ll just parasitize (“blogasize”?) yours occasionally, if you don’t mind. Yes, I like to delve into sociobiology now and then… particularly when I teach human biology. I find — and I think my students will agree — that exploring the evolutionary explanation (sexual selection) for our large brains and some of our unusual behaviors is much more fun than discussing the urinary system in minute detail ;-)

  4. Dear Mr Scripsi,

    Your reference to “our nightly competitions to see who could hang a spoon longest from the end of the family’s characteristically big schnoz” shows a startling propensity to rewrite history. Surely these competitions did not happen nightly! If they had, raw sores would surely have formed on the ends of the nasal masterpieces to which you refer.

    Need I remind you that exaggeration is the worst evil in the entire universe?

    Pater Scripsidude-orum.

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