Monday, August 06, 2007

Impact of commercialism of sport – and the internet on writing

I was watching a movie last night ‘Any Given Sunday’, the story about American football. In one of the scenes they were lamenting the commercialisation of sport and how that had impacted on football. The poignant line was “In the old days it was our concentration that mattered, now it’s them [the audiences].
This is a very apt description since it highlights the importance of ‘making exciting football’ to boost stadium attendance and TV ratings. That demands wins and compelling game play to excite the audience. Yes, its true, in the days of old, there was more soul in professional football. But we need only look at junior or amateur football to see that pride and personal efficacy are still the underlying basis for the game, as much as ‘the money’ might be pulling professional players and administrators in directions that they would not otherwise go, whether its:

  1. The use of drugs to enhance performance
  2. The misbehaviour of sporting stars off the field
  3. The lack of consideration of the broader interests of players for the sake of earnings

In short, yes, the industry does place a heightened importance on money at the top of the league, but then their concern for money is likely to erode once they have enough, and then does it not become ‘just about football’ for everyone but the large stakeholders – the shareholders and executives with stock options.
At the junior level, the tendency of some parents to place undue pressure on their children to perform is not a new phenomena, and in fact has probably declined in recent years as parents become more aware through education. But some parents persist as they attend to live their own lives gregariously through the opportunities presented to their children. Why? They feel inhibited to perform in their own lives, that they feel compelled to shift their expectations to their children.
Is there any cultural malaise in sport. On the contrary, achievement in the field is still praised. Players have unions and managers to look after their interests, allowing them to focus on what they are good at.
Some argue that there is an excessive focus on sports in society, that other fields of professionalism like art, literature and scientific endeavours are not afforded the same level of interest given to sports. Well that’s certainly true if we look at the money involved, but then there are several important differences:
The art and literature world is not as professional as the sports sector, in the sense that the art world is still relatively self-indulgent until one reaches a high level of capability
The art and literature world embodies a smaller fraction of society. Growing up, probably 70% of people enjoy watching sport, and half of us play it. But perhaps only 10-15% of us read serious literature and 1-2% write it, and fewer still seek a career as a writer.

The interesting question is – Is the internet, with the advent of blogging, developing a greater level of interest in writing as a career choice? Well that remains to be seen, though its clear that many more people are writing because they feel they have a chance to expose their ideas to the broader world in a non-confronting way. Certainly the quality of many blogs and the commitment of many bloggers is surely not there, but t minimum the process is exposing them to a great many other writers, so we can see that this might be the basis for a growing industry – if not support for writing then surely support for reading. OK the seeds of professionalism are not there yet, as the quality and commitment to many blogs will attest, and its a steep learning curve for those that want greater exposure for their ideas. Already we see the impact of writers who capture the interests of readers. Look at the worldwide impact of H.K. Rowlings with ‘Harry Potter’ series. Clearly there is a market for literature for those that recognise the market, but I would suggest that a great many professional writers and artists are rather self-indulgent. The reason might be that no objective value is placed on such self-mastery, in the sense that there is a popular belief that any art is good art. Perhaps artists are missing the deeper expression of values. And I say that in the content of what is currently considered ‘art’ in the art world. What is the deeper sense of values invoked? What are we getting from a Monet that we aren’t getting from aboriginal rock art? Are they of the same calibre? As far as I can see there are 3 factors that underpin artistic value – whether we are talking sport, literature or art:

  1. An expression of values – the more profound, the more valued; the more concrete, the less valued
  2. Technical skill
  3. Relevance to the lives of the audience

By that criteria, aboriginal art falls short of the Monet.
The last pertinent question to ask is why aren’t people inspired to write books like ‘Harry Potter’ or produce artwork like Monet. The reality is that some are – and the success of those examples is testimony to that. The problem however is that there is not enough of it. Few parents are preparing their kids for success. Parenting is another one of those areas where its supposed to come naturally, or might others rationalise, ‘if you’re old enough to have kids, then you’re old enough to look after them’. Personally I don’t think I was ready for kids until I was 35yo, though its hard to say given the less onerous provisioning for ‘baby’ parenting as opposed to ‘teenage’ parenting. So perhaps I could have had a child at 32yo and performed well. The reality is that little regard is given to parenting. Most parents teach the way that they were taught. Fortunately some parents are reading and learning how to be better parents, and increasingly the importance of parenting is being communicated through the media, eg. Dr Phil, Oprah and self improvement books. The lesson being missed fundamentally is structure and purpose. Parents are not giving adequate attention to the development of a child’s sense of purpose, and nor are they helping them to pursue that purpose by giving them a framework for growth. Its not about living your life through your child, or overtaking theirs, or pushing them into something they don’t want to do. Its about inspiring them to act in a certain way by demonstrating the value of a structured or systematic approach as opposed to a random, self-indulgent or haphazard approach. If that lesson is learned in childhood, and its value explicitly stated, then the value is retained, and achievement becomes a breeze. If its not fostered or its value not highlighted, then its easily lost when they leave the highly structured school environment, and they are vulnerable to failure. The later those lessons are taught, the harder they are to learn as we have become creates of bad habits.

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