Election 2016 and Politics as Blood Sport

“Addiction is what remains when we remove the meaningful rituals that stand between us and chemical destiny.” - Jeff Einstein
Who to hate: Yankees or Red Sox?

By Jeff Einstein

Happy to say that I’ve long since reached the age where a conversation with an old friend is in fact a conversation with someone old (where the word “old” describes the actual friend, not just the friendship). In one such conversation with an old friend some years ago, I mentioned that I’d been raised as a devout SF Giants fan, and therefore hated the LA Dodgers by virtual birthright.

“Why did you hate the Dodgers?” she asked. Her question stopped me in my tracks. “Never really thought about it,” I said. “Just seemed like the right thing to do.”

Years later it occurs to me that the real benefits of sports loyalties might have less to do with the love or civic pride they engender, and more to do with the broad license they confer to hate someone else. Granted, it was fun to be a Giants fan and grow up in proximity to the incomparable Willie Mays. But it was really fun to hate the Dodgers, each and every one of them. A Giants/Dodgers series was blood sport, pure and simple.

These days my Giants-Dodgers love/hate relationship has been replaced by the Yankees and Boston. And while it’s been a great blessing to witness the individual and combined  greatness of Rivera and Jeter and Posada and Pettitte over the past couple of decades, it’s been an unmitigated blast and obligation to hate Martinez and Ramirez and Pedroia and Ortiz.

In essence, sports loyalties provide us with the legitimate excuse to express our irrational hatreds (much more fun and far less conditional than love) without the bothersome need to explain ourselves.

Same with politics, especially in Election 2016, where more Independents and Republicans will vote against Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump, and vice versa: more Independents and Democrats will vote against Donald Trump than for Hillary Clinton  It’s not just an election. It’s a free kick, a license to exercise our irrational hatreds.

Of course, the most partisan and politically correct among us on both sides will argue that they don’t hate their opposition, only their policies. Reality, however, suggests otherwise. Electronic media like TV, the Internet and smartphones sell emotion, not reason. Commercial advertisers (including and especially political campaigns) champion platitudes like love and respect and liberty and individual empowerment but in fact sell only fear and envy. The medium is the message, and in blood sports the true message is always about the Coliseum, not the gladiator.

Remember: in commercial media the ads aren’t there to support the content any more than the Coliseum was there to support the gladiators. In commercial media the content is there to support the ads — just as the gladiators were hauled in to support the Coliseum (and Rome). The Romans didn’t care which gladiator prevailed any more than Budweiser cares who wins the Super Bowl.

Fast forward: TV Everywhere is the American Coliseum of the 21st century. Blood sport is blood sport: while they may give voice to every manner of reasonable argument for doing so, the Democrats of MSNBC and CNN hate the Republicans of FOX, and vice versa. Growing up in the 1950s and 60s, sports and politics used to be about sports and politics. Now everything is about TV.

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