Thursday, May 19, 2016

Phoenix Preacher's Kevin H on the Penn State legacy of looking the other way, Louis Menand at The New Yorker on how the entire sports industry may just be a bubble, maybe we're a civilization that overlooks abuse to save bubbles

The Penn State child sex abuse scandal came back into the headlines in the past couple of weeks. 
New information has gained public awareness and it was reported that one of the claims that Penn State settled with a victim dates abuse all the way back to 1971.  This was forty years before longtime defensive coordinator and convicted child sexual abuser Jerry Sandusky was arrested.  Another report claimed that one of the victims informed legendary head coach Joe Paterno of abuse in 1976.  Other reports claimed that a couple different assistant coaches were aware of Sandusky’s abuse in the 1980’s.
With the new exposure of these allegations, Penn State has taken to denying and deflecting.  It is pretty much the same tactic they took the first time around before the plethora of evidence became so great that they had practically no choice but to be humbled.  Evidence that showed that the university and its leaders had not properly handled what they knew about Sandusky.
So it's not just Catholic priests or Protestant megachurch pastors, it can be campus athletics coaches or movie directors or fashion photographers or comedians or athletes.  I mean, let's think of particular cases of controversy and it seems that across a great swath of human activity in the contemporary English-speaking world there are people in power (very often dudes) who use and abuse people and they get protected because of a concern for the sanctity of the brand. 
Outwardly, the Washington, D.C.–based FitzGibbon Media appeared committed to feminist ideals: In addition to clients like Amnesty International and WikiLeaks, it represented NARAL Pro-Choice America and the women’s rights organization UltraViolet. But despite the ostensibly progressive environment, the alleged victims evidently didn’t feel as though they could speak out, and until recently, by all accounts, they didn’t speak to each other. Assuming the multiple and still-proliferating charges are true, it begs the question: How did FitzGibbon get away with it for so long?
The piece was titled "The Nice Guy Fallacy" but I've written before that it's probably more accurately described as "the peeps on MY team wouldn't do that" fallacy, or just plain old No True Scotsman ... .  The idea that politically progressive men can be misogynistic rapey asshats is just not acceptable for some people to consider, kind of like for religious conservatives they don't like to imagine some of their more popular men could be misogynistic rapey asshats. That people on the left and right can even imagine that nobody on their team would be able to do that stuff because ... politics ... suggests how far gone we are in tsunamis of self-selected propaganda and groupthink.  An abuser can have any perspective on life and the universe. 
Not being a sports fan I was, admittedly, curious to read a long feature by Louis Menand at the New Yorker on the question of whether the whole sports entertainment industry as we know it is some kind of bubble:
...Two things especially concern him. One is what might be called the Michael Jordan effect. As Futterman is not the first person to note, the model for contemporary sports marketing was set in Hollywood in the nineteen-fifties, and the key figure was Lew Wasserman, who ran the talent agency M.C.A. What Wasserman and the studios figured out was that stars sell a picture. If you promote the actors, rather than the story, you will sell more tickets.

This meant paying the stars a lot more, and sometimes giving them a piece of the action—“points”—as Wasserman did, starting in 1950, with his client Jimmy Stewart. The result is what we might call, if the analogy were not a little grotesque, entertainment-industry income inequality. Stars make astronomically more than the rest of the talent. For “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” Harrison Ford is reported to have been paid between twenty and thirty million dollars; Daisy Ridley, one of the leads, got between one and three hundred thousand.

Futterman’s other concern is more alarming, at least to the oligarchs of professional sports. He thinks that the industry has expanded beyond the scale of its actual audience. “One of the great illusions of the sports industry is mass fascination,” he says. It’s true that hundreds of millions of people watch special events like the World Cup and the Olympics, but the day-to-day audience for sports is tiny. [emphasis added] In the United States, it amounts to about four per cent of households. Fewer than three per cent on average watch their local N.B.A. games; fewer than two per cent watch their home-town N.H.L. teams.

The exception proves the rule. The one major sport that continues to attract viewers and high Nielsen ratings is football, and that, Futterman argues, is because it is the only sport that broadcasts all of its games on network television. Its income is an accurate reflection of the size of its audience. [emphasis added] All the other leagues and teams have deals with cable companies, like ESPN. Some, like the Yankees, own a stake in their own cable companies.

Cable works by bundling: your monthly cable bill is split up among the channels your carrier provides, whether you watch those channels or not. Futterman says this means that about twenty per cent of the average cable bill goes to sports channels, which pay the teams or the leagues for the right to show their games. Which means that sports are currently enjoying a very large subsidy from a public that doesn’t watch them. Cable looks to be on the way to disaggregation, and, when that happens, sports will be worth what the actual audience is willing to pay for them. We may be looking at a bubble. [emphases added]

The irony, if that is the right word, is that sports is essentially aestheticized labor. It is the spectacle of men and women exerting all their mental and physical powers to produce . . . nothing. Kant defined art as “purposiveness without purpose.” I think (gulp) Kant was wrong about art—artists have purposes, and people who watch, listen to, or read works of art try to grasp what those purposes are. But he would have been right about sports. [WtH: although surely we could suggest that athletics and sports could be considered a form of art for the human body ... somewhat analogous to, say, fashion?]

Sports, Maxim Gorky wrote, makes people “even more stupid than they are.” Fran Lebowitz, not always known for agreeing with Soviet writers, agreed. “What is truly chilling is that there are a lot of smart people interested in sports,” she said. “That just gives you no hope at all for the human race.” Still, leaving aside all the trash talk and chest thumping (maybe you can’t), there is something beautiful and touching about watching fellow-members of what is fundamentally a klutzy, badly engineered, and underpowered species perform difficult physical acts. A squirrel watching a gymnastics routine would just laugh. On the other hand, squirrels can’t endorse pizza. We’re way ahead of them in that department.

Why mention all this stuff about the possibility that sports may be a bubble?  Well, what if the abuses we're discovering across the elft and right and center in American society suggests that it's all a bubble?  What if we're papering over injustices in our own backyards because it's easier to condemn the other team, however we define other team?  But what if the reputation we're trying to protect turns out to be a bubble, the result not so much of real long-term impact but the cumulative effect of the echo chamber that is our self-reinforcing intra-group hype?  What if we have communiteis that have looked the other way from generations of abuse to preserve a collective self-image?  Have we been seeing a bunch of people looking the other way or really just not seeing things because we're seeking to preserve the self-perceived legitimacy and integrity of something that's ... just a bubble?

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