Monday, September 15, 2014

Perspective and Entertainment

Last week the controversy about Ray Rice, the NFL and domestic abuse got new legs when the video of the battery on the elevator was released.  Many people felt renewed shock and began calling for the resignations of the league commissioner, the coach and the team owner.  They wanted to punish everyone involved and demanded new attention on the issue of domestic violence.  Now the FBI along with the US Senate may be organizing investigations of the actions of the league – what did they know and when did they know it?

Outrage at domestic violence is understandable and efforts should be made to reduce the incidents, to educate and to punish the offenders; but using perspective calls up another question, a question ignored by media and pundits, a question that may be the most important one:  Why is Ray Rice, or any other athlete for that matter, considered a role model?

If any other ordinary individual had committed this act, it would have been equally appalling, but it would not have been front page, national news.  It would have been covered by the local news and (unfortunately) forgotten much sooner.  Because it involves a person who carries a football for 16 weekends a year it’s deemed important.  He is being a bad example to our kids who want to grow up to be like him.  The main reason they do is that he is famous and made a lot of money, tens of millions of dollars, for carrying a football.

Step back and think about it for a minute.  Our society values and honors and idolizes people who play games and who entertain us in movies, on the stage and on television.  We think they are so great that we tune in to watch them congratulate each other at awards shows.  This is upside down!  We pay lip service to teachers, firefighters, police, veterans, innovators, hard-working Americans, even parents and grandparents; but when it’s time to put down our money, we over pay and look up to baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, television and movie stars.  We buy jerseys and souvenirs, pester them for autographs, pay large amounts of money for tickets, spend inordinate amounts of our free time watching games, building fantasy teams while following the latest news about them and support the paparazzi by buying the magazines and watching TV shows that feature celebrity gossip.  (Sometimes it seems like we pay more attention to their marriages than we do to our own!)

We have so much free time and disposable income that we can afford to squander it on continual entertainment.  Whereas a few hundred years ago the main concern in life for all but a privileged few was survival, today our lives are filled with distractions and entertainment to the point where we have to carry it all with us on our phones!  People rarely stop to think how lucky we are to have such easy lives.  Entertainment has become a new subsistence, almost as important as food and air.  We feel empty and deprived without it.  We raise the best, or at least the best-hyped, entertainers to high levels of fame and fortune.  We give them power over our lives that borders on worship and continue to be shocked when some act like they translate this adoration into permission to act above the law.

In an ideal world where everyone (or even most) had perspective we would tell our kids, “This inconsequential man hit his girlfriend.  It’s wrong; don’t act that way.”  That would be the end of it.  Until then it’s important to ask why it takes a celebrity to call attention to unacceptable behavior, and why we seem disproportionately surprised and outraged when they do.

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