Monday, September 17, 2007

The Ascent of Sport

It is with a degree of amusement that I took in comments from the mandarins representing the ICL which they presented as a genuine alternative to the oppressive BCCI umbrella that takes practically every Indian cricketer under its wing whether one likes it or not. Now we have the IPL - I haven't quite been tuned in and so I'm not sure if this was a response to ICL or if it's been on the drawing board. More likely, it's the latter. In the recent past, the prevailing wisdom has been that international cricketers play too much cricket - a view echoed by national team regulars and pundits alike. Now there is an additional format, which probably means more, not less, cricket. Not unlike many questions about sport, the answer to whether too much cricket is good or bad is not as clear cut as some would like to believe, if one were to put aside personal biases. Anyhow. The emergence of Twenty20 and the seeming eagerness to take the format to audiences seems to be part of a larger trend in sport. Sport today is nothing if not mass entertainment, fueled as it is by the same agency - pervasive mass media and so has opened itself up to the same forces of industrialisation / commoditisation. This is of course commonly and intuitively understood by most. However, sport and entertainment both suffer from the same predicament, to varying degrees. Both sport and other forms of entertainment have or have had pretensions of rising above mediocrity and striving for excellence. The glamorous lifestyles, celebrity and wealth were but a by product of the artistic or athletic endeavour, or so we were told. And still are. This view is prevalent not so much among the target audiences (the masses), but among the artistic or intellectual elites within the establishment (former players, commentators, critics etc.) and connoisseurs in the general population. Simply put, the utopian fantasies nurtured about sport are incompatible with the processes that have been set in motion and the force that drives sport and other mass entertainment - television audiences (at the moment). Critics complaining about the establishment pandering to the lowest common denominator are missing the point - this approach alone can sustain the establishment, given its goals - the 'good of the game' etc. has nothing to do with these, contrary to their assertions and lip service from every athlete who knows where the cheques come from. That brings us to the question of what is really 'good for the game/sport', which is in itself a moot point depending on who you ask. There is a presumption here - the institutionalised form of the game has become synonymous with the game itself. It is as if cricket will cease to exist if there are no ICC promoted jamborees in a dozen countries and countless other leagues etc. This is the leap that sport has made in the popular consciousness, from a personal or communal recreation tool to that of an industry, one that promises to deliver a seemingly endless stream of thrills. One is tempted to say cheap thrills, but I guess that is self-evident, as with most commercial cinema or chart busting music. Whether Twenty20 is a 'push' or 'pull' product is immaterial (I'm not sure either way) - it is an opportunity for enterprising investors if it does indeed succeed. Hopefully there are some positive outcomes - instead of seven hours of mindless entertainment, perhaps we will only have three. - NK

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