Thursday, October 13, 2011

In the past few weeks, I've been spending time down by Baltimore's McKeldin Fountain, as part of the Occupy Baltimore movement, in solidarity with New York City's Occupy Wall Street group. One rallying cry is "We Are The 99%," referring to the statistically proven fact that 1% of Americans control a majority of the wealth in the country. What's funny is how often we, as Americans, are split into groups, at odds with each other. This is a big part of politics, obviously. These groups are also being depicted as being relatively close in size to one another, which is why it's important that everyone vote, and represent for their half, to get the edge over the other half. The idea of a group that identifies itself as a mass of people, united by shared suffering and empathy for each other, is sort of a radical idea. What's funny is this conservative backlash on the internet, of people saying "I'm the 53%," which I believe refers to people paying federal income taxes? Their point is they don't complain about things, they just work hard, despite maybe having terrible lives. The important thing is they're positioning themselves as a majority that wins. Society as it stands is working out for them well enough to not want sweeping reforms, and their slight-majority threshold ensures that reforms won't be coming anytime soon, despite the undisputed fact that were reforms to come, they and many other people would benefit.

When I've been home, I've been watching a lot of Seinfeld. I've watched the first three seasons, courtesy of a loaned box set. One trope I am catching now that I never previously took note of is how often sports are talked about, specifically baseball, as a topic for male bonding and social activity. Seinfeld doesn't have anything to do with the class struggle, but it might help explain to you why I was thinking about sports, and why they're such a good metaphor for the way these things work.

Professional athletes make up a very slim group of people in this country. Obviously, to be a professional athlete means being in better physical condition than, oh, 90% of the populace. However, other people still play sports. They do it because it's fun, and healthy, and you do it with your friends and it makes you feel like you're part of a larger community. Not everyone does it. I don't do it, although if someone were to organize a game for people at my low level of athleticism I might take part. That would be a nice, small, human community I could be interested in. Obviously, pick-up games occur with some regularity, I don't hear about them, maybe I would be outclassed, whatever. Hooray for those who get together in backyards or in school parking lots to take care of themselves in a way they find enjoyable.

What's off-putting to me is the idea of sports as a thing you follow, like politics, a set of stats and people to find solidarity with, to root for and against. It's against the very idea of "sport" as game at the root of the definition, the same way party politics counter the idea of democracy in a very real way. People love to support their team, though, don't they? Talk radio and news coverage, is all about professional sports, this thing with lots of money behind it.

Particularly germane to this, actually, is a thing I heard (from Occupy-Baltimore-supporter, and my idea of a semi-successful person, Dan Deacon) about how the Yankees operate, as a professional sports team. There are salary caps in baseball. If you pay a player more than that, you get fined. The Yankees, in order to fairly artificially cultivate their image as winners, pay more than what the league allows, with the knowledge that they can just pay the fines and go on with it. People still root for The Yankees, despite this essential illegality, because they like the idea of winners. Obviously, "fuck the Yankees" is a proper response to this, it makes sense that you would then just root for anyone else, even if they don't have anything in common with you, people root for their local team even though it's probably just a collection of mercenaries from elsewhere. That's a thing people do, but it doesn't really make sense to me.

"We are the 99%" is being mocked by people who see the game being played on a human level and think that looks awkward, when what they are seeing is people doing something healthy.