Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Red, White, and Blue at the Rose Bowl

I only caught parts of a few bowl games this season. Though I say "only," I consider watching any sports unless under duress proof that I am not totally sanctified. This year's intake was more than in the past, and like any addict, I find that the more I take in the less I enjoy. On the other hand, having an excuse (if not, alas, this time, the opportunity) to rub my wife's feet during the game goes a long way to making the experience worthwhile, even if I find my inability not to watch the third replay of an incomplete pass and the fourth showing of a commercial I didn't like the first time reprehensible.

If you really hate me, buy me a wide-screen TV and a hundred channels of cable to go with it. You'll never hear from me again. I will literally amuse myself to death, and sports will likely be the most healthy part of my suicide diet.

But just as the best action is not without sin, neither is a serious waste of time without some gain.

Did you catch the Rose Bowl? I don't mean the game, I mean the stadium. You had to be looking for it, because the cameras never focused on it, and I can't find any pictures online to back this up, but if you can find a recording of the game, look for shots of the front entrance to the stadium and the facade on the press box. You'll see a red, white, and blue theme, not really a flag, but certainly reminiscent of it, and four words, which I think included strength and integrity, maybe duty, honor, and justice. As I say, it was backdrop, and I didn't think to write the words down. While these words can apply to football, I don't think that was the point. I think it was about the military.

My guess is prompted by something else I noticed. The referee, and probably all the officials, were wearing prominent American* flags on their chests (to the left, under the heart). Now there have been nickel-sized American flags on the backs of college and professional football helmets for years, and Major League Baseball jerseys all have on one sleeve American flags the size of those worn by the astronauts, and referees' shirts probably did also. These are somewhat unobtrusive, and if their purpose is ungodly, they are effective by being insidious; the equivalent in the sexual realm would be, oh I don't know, the beginnings of a cleavage or butt crack. But there was nothing insidious about the flag on the Rose Bowl referee's shirt; it was meant to be prominent, like a "cleavage" that includes everything above the nipples.

So what's wrong with displaying the flag? you ask.

I reply, Flags are political. What do sports have to do with politics? Isn't this supposed to be a fun time when we gather as a community to celebrate young men who have been training for years as individuals and as teams as they get together to enjoy the pleasure of competition and sportsmanship?

At which you guffaw, and rightly so.

Bowl games, and really all intercollegiate sports, are where we have tax-supported institutions (and even the "private" ones are tax supported through government loans to students) fielding teams to play games in tax-financed facilities that are broadcast over government-controlled media. But the purpose is indeed to build community. What kind of community are these events intended to build?

Here's where the flag comes in, because it is the symbol of that community. This is why all sporting events begin with a salute to the flag: this is the time for those in attendance to state the purpose of the gathering. The flag stands for what the gathering is all about, a symbol for the cement that holds the community together.

What does the American flag stand for? Not what did it stand for ten, a hundred, or two hundred years ago, but what does it stand for now? If nothing else, the flag at a sporting event stands for the government's right to take money from people under threat ultimately of death to finance sporting events. You got a problem with that?

But that's not all. When the Blue Angels or Thunderbirds fly over the stadium, the message is that the government has the right to send soldiers where it wills so they can do what soldiers do best, and that's creating a demand for orphanages and hospitals, not filling it. And when there is a moment of silence for "those who have made the ultimate sacrifice," the message is that real heroes go where the ruling class tells them to go, and they fight, kill, and sometimes, tragically, die.

Are these people the real heroes?

Years ago documents were declassified that showed that Uncle Sam lied to the public to build support for the war in Vietnam. The architect of that war, Robert McNamara, said the same thing before he died within the last year. Yet this is never mentioned during the solemn moments at athletic events.

During the war years, there were at least three men who suffered greatly because their overt opposition to the war was not well received by the public: Daniel Ellsburg, and Fathers Philip and Daniel Berrigan. And, of course, many young men had to choose between leaving their native land for Canada or either serving in a war that they considered immoral or going to prison. Why are these men are never honored? Is it more heroic to march off unquestioningly to participate in a "theater" that involves the killing of innocent people, or is it more heroic to call a lie a lie and suffer rather than go along with it?

I've written about last year's Super Bowl halftime show, how intentionally or otherwise it looked to me like a deliberate poke in the eye of the warfare state. Poke or no poke, that state has become more intrusive and abusive over the last year, but the same company that sponsored last year's show is sponsoring this year's and their featured artists, the Black Eyed Peas, have a song out that pulls no punches in its opposition to Uncle Sam's wars.

Will they dare perform it? If they do, will anyone whose mind might be changed be listening? The song for which I know the Peas is downright crude, and if they perform that song before they perform "Where Is the Love," the Sarah Palin crowd will have turned off, if they had even begun to watch out of curiosity. (What we're known for definitely affects how our message is received.) But the main stream of viewers, for whom "My Humps" is frivolous at worst and the wars are far away, might well be paying attention, and some might even change their minds.

How ironic that a music group that makes its money mocking godly sexuality joins the distinguished ranks of the Berrigans, Daniel Ellsburg, and Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, while the bride of the creator of the universe stands with those who lie to bring on death and destruction. When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?

UPDATE: On second examination, "Where Is the Love" is not as anti-Uncle Sam's wars as I'd first thought. That should make some people happy.

*I use the word "American" here simply because I expect people to know what I mean, not because I think that Old Glory represents America in any meaningful sense. For what a truly American flag would represent, see my post on America.

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