Johnny America


To­ward a So­ci­ol­o­gy of the Sport Spec­ta­tor: A Rare and Patent­ed Ar­gu­ment (Part One of Three)


In his es­say “Free Time” — an es­say any­one vague­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with or de­sir­ing to be vague­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with the aca­d­e­m­ic will al­most in­evitably in­sist on call­ing “his es­say on free time,” as though Free Time were not in fact a ti­tle but rather sim­ply a ref­er­ence point, a file un­der type of iden­ti­fi­er — Adorno (the Adorno, that Adorno) says the fol­low­ing: “We still lack an in­ci­sive so­ci­ol­o­gy of sport and es­pe­cial­ly of the sports spec­ta­tor.” This seems like a fair enough rea­son to be­gin do­ing work in that di­rec­tion. This, af­ter all, is how the aca­d­e­m­ic — or any­thing vague­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with the aca­d­e­m­ic or even de­sir­ing to be — tends to work: your on­ly chance is to do some­thing that hasn’t been done be­fore, to in­ves­ti­gate what hasn’t yet been in­ves­ti­gat­ed, be­cause that means that you’ll be draw­ing the first con­clu­sions, which means that your con­clu­sions can­not pos­si­bly fail to ef­fec­tive­ly re­spond to or take in­to ac­count con­clu­sions which have al­ready been drawn, which is to say that as long as you are first, then your ar­gu­ment, to say noth­ing of your ar­gu­men­ta­tion, can­not pos­si­bly be ob­so­lete. And ob­so­les­cence, in the aca­d­e­m­ic or any­thing vague­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with the aca­d­e­m­ic, is bad. It means some­body else is go­ing to get your job; it means that your dis­ser­ta­tion com­mit­tee isn’t go­ing to give your work a fa­vor­able eval­u­a­tion. Even if your ar­gu­ment, to say noth­ing of your ar­gu­men­ta­tion, suc­ceeds in tak­ing in­to ac­count and re­spond­ing to every ar­gu­ment — and every form of ar­gu­men­ta­tion — that has been made be­fore in this di­rec­tion, to­ward this ma­te­r­i­al, you will be in trou­ble, be­cause in that case those whose ar­gu­ments are ef­fec­tive­ly ren­dered ob­so­les­cent by your ar­gu­ment will re­sent you and want you, for the ben­e­fit of their own ca­reers and sense of rel­e­vance, to fail. You, on the oth­er hand, if you suc­ceed, will treat their ar­gu­ments, to say noth­ing of their ar­gu­men­ta­tion, gen­er­ous­ly: with­out their hav­ing done what they did, you will say, I would not have been able to do what I have done. You will cred­it them with hav­ing paved the way but, qui­et­ly, you will al­so be clos­ing a door, or draw­ing a line. The place from which I thank you, the place from which I give you cred­it, al­so draws the line you can­not cross, or es­tab­lish­es the in­side that leaves you on the out­side. So it goes, and in any event it would be a stretch to say, even, that I am vague­ly as­so­ci­at­ed with the aca­d­e­m­ic, but then again I guess this is the way it is with every­thing, aca­d­e­m­ic or oth­er­wise. If you’re not the first one do­ing it, don’t even both­er. It’s on these grounds that I’ve been con­sid­er­ing patent­ing two of my re­cent ideas:

  1. Two-sided den­tal floss sticks. The im­pulse for this idea comes, ini­tial­ly, from the fact that I am dam­aged goods. The tem­poro­mandibu­lar joints in my face, which are the joints that al­low the jaw to move up and down, are de­te­ri­o­rat­ed prac­ti­cal­ly be­yond recog­ni­tion. I was not yet in high school when some­one in the den­tal-med­ical pro­fes­sion first took note of the sever­i­ty of the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the joints and put an x‑ray im­age of them in a text­book, and now I am near­ly thir­ty. I am six months away from thir­ty, as a mat­ter of fact, al­though in ad­di­tion to this mat­ter re­gard­ing patent­ing, I am al­so se­ri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing re­main­ing twen­ty-nine for a num­ber of years — let’s say six, or un­til I ac­com­plish some­thing re­mark­able and/or fi­nan­cial­ly lu­cra­tive — and then, per­haps, as­sum­ing that I have by that time ei­ther ac­com­plished some­thing that jus­ti­fies, with­in the sys­tem of so­cial co­or­di­nates, my be­ing in my thir­ties, or giv­en up on the idea and sim­ply re­signed my­self to the paces of mediocre adult­hood, sud­den­ly turn­ing thir­ty-five. But the joints: they don’t work. This means that I can­not open my mouth very wide, or hold it open for very long. This means that it is im­pos­si­ble for me to floss my teeth with reg­u­lar den­tal floss, be­cause floss­ing one’s teeth with reg­u­lar den­tal floss en­tails fit­ting a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of one’s hands in one’s mouth. I know peo­ple — more than one per­son, that is — who can quite lit­er­al­ly make a fist and in­sert it in­to their mouth — the whole thing — but I am not one of those peo­ple. As a re­sult of this, I did not floss un­til, when I was al­ready well in­to my twen­ties, I was alert­ed by some­body in the med­ical-den­tal pro­fes­sion that if I did not start floss­ing my teeth were go­ing to start de­te­ri­o­rat­ing. This, in the end, would lead to more se­ri­ous den­tal in­cur­sions, and den­tal in­cur­sions in­volve hold­ing the mouth open, for one, and gen­er­al­ly cause pain and ag­i­ta­tion and ir­ri­ta­tion around the mouth and jaw area, and both hold­ing my mouth open and any pain or ag­i­ta­tion or even ir­ri­ta­tion as­so­ci­at­ed with the mouth or jaw area cause my tem­poro­mandibu­lar joints to both fur­ther de­te­ri­o­rate and to hurt. Al­so, at or around the same time, a girl­friend who has since di­vest­ed her­self of me re­ferred to me as “the king of bad breath,” a ti­tle that was ap­peal­ing to me, in that it in­volved the word king, but un­ap­peal­ing in that it in­volved the cat­e­go­ry bad breath. So I use the floss sticks, these lit­tle bits of floss stretched like can­vas over the breadth of a lit­tle plas­tic claw at the end of a plas­tic stick. You can get one of these lit­tle bits of floss be­tween your teeth — even the back teeth, the wis­dom teeth that are go­ing to have to come out one of these days — with­out so much as putting a knuck­le in­to the mouth it­self. This is good. What would be bet­ter is if the floss sticks were dou­ble-sided, such that you could in­sert one in­to the mouth and then bite down on it so that one bit of floss went be­tween two bot­tom teeth and an­oth­er be­tween the near­est two cor­re­spond­ing top teeth. This would al­low for a halv­ing of floss time.
  2. Hang­ing light­ing fix­tures that could be screwed in­to a light sock­et. This re­quires some ex­pla­na­tion. I am the pro­pri­etor of a loft type of apart­ment in mid-city Los An­ge­les. It is a mas­sive and some­what de­crepit space, but it’s cool, your friends think you’re cool the first time they come to vis­it you — and then, if it’s win­ter, be­cause we have no heat here, the next thing they think is that they’re cold — and so peo­ple want to live here. I don’t par­tic­u­lar­ly want peo­ple to live here, but be­cause the rent is about four times what I can af­ford to pay in a month, I need to have peo­ple liv­ing here. And so I do. They live here. Every­one stays in their rooms most of the time, which is fine with me, but on the oth­er hand we do have, at the back of the build­ing next to the kitchen, a room that I have tak­en to call­ing the com­mon room be­cause — since it is nobody’s room in par­tic­u­lar — it is avail­able to com­mon us­age. Use it com­mon­ly. Use it in com­mon. There are com­mon us­es of such a room: tele­vi­sion watch­ing, con­ver­sa­tion mak­ing, can­dle light­ing, wine drink­ing, din­ner par­ty­ing. The prob­lem, how­ev­er, is that the room sucks. It’s ter­ri­ble. It’s ug­ly and it’s awk­ward. Some of this, I think, comes from the shape: it’s a long rec­tan­gle. Oth­er of it comes from the fact that it has to serve two pur­pos­es: din­ing room and liv­ing room, or per­haps three if you con­sid­er den as a func­tion, but I do not. Per­haps this comes from hav­ing grown up in a small house. I fold, in a bit of res­i­den­tial-men­tal origa­mi, the den func­tion in­to the liv­ing room func­tion. In any event, this room must serve both, or all three, but be­cause of its shape it is not eas­i­ly di­vid­ed in­to dis­crete parts. And the win­dows: there are two huge win­dows, but they are at the far end of the room. Does a couch go in front of the win­dows? It al­ways did in the house I grew up in, but the prob­lem here is that if you put the couch in front of the win­dows, then your couch is all the way at the far end of this rec­tan­gu­lar room look­ing out. In any event, I’ve had ideas. One of those ideas, for in­stance, was to turn the room in­to a kind of ear­ly-cen­tu­ry par­lor. To­ward this end, I ac­quired a num­ber of an­tique chairs. Are they Vic­to­ri­an? But some­thing was miss­ing. I need­ed more ma­roon, for one, but I didn’t know where to get more ma­roon? I didn’t want to paint the walls. I couldn’t af­ford more fur­ni­ture. How does one sim­ply ac­quire the col­or? It al­so oc­curred to me that if I was go­ing to suc­ceed in cre­at­ing this par­lor mo­tif I would need chan­de­liers, or in any event some kind of hang­ing light fix­tures and so I shopped around. Chan­de­liers, as it turns out, are easy to find, but the prob­lem I ran in­to there was that you have to know how to wire them in­to the ceil­ing. I, on the oth­er hand, do not do wires. I was knocked across the room by a fuse a cou­ple of months ago. I al­ready didn’t do wires, at that time, but af­ter that I def­i­nite­ly don’t do wires. Or fus­es, but that has noth­ing to do with this. I have since aban­doned the par­lor mo­tif, but main­tain that one could do a handy busi­ness sell­ing hang­ing light fix­tures that do not have to be wired in­to the ceil­ing but can sim­ply be screwed in­to pre-con­fig­ured light sock­ets. Per­haps such an item al­ready ex­ists. As far as the an­tique chairs went, I post­ed them for sale at, but when they gar­nered too much in­ter­est I de­cid­ed to keep them. They might be worth some­thing. Some­day I might take an­oth­er crack at the par­lor motif.

So it goes. In both cas­es, what mat­ters is that I was there first, un­less I don’t take out a patent, in which case the fact that I was there first doesn’t mat­ter at all. But in tak­ing out a patent, the on­ly thing that mat­ters is that you were there first. If you were not there first, you can­not take out the patent. Un­less the per­son who was there first — some­body like me, for in­stance — failed to take out the patent. In which case, for all in­tents and pur­pos­es — or, at the very least, for patent­ing pur­pos­es — that per­son was not there at all. There is a com­mer­cial that pur­sued me when I used to lis­ten to sports ra­dio in the car. What the com­mer­cial was sell­ing was some­thing called an “inventor’s kit.” I do not know what the inventor’s kit con­tained — I re­mem­ber, or per­haps sim­ply take on faith — that it promised to help with the patent­ing process, but what I am more in­ter­est­ed is the sell. The com­mer­cial asks you whether you have ever come across some big mon­ey-mak­ing prod­uct — I sort of vague­ly re­call a ref­er­ence to The Clap­per, which al­lows the user to turn on se­lect­ed elec­tron­ics by clap­ping his or her hands to­geth­er — and thought to your­self, I thought of that first. I’m the one who should be rich. And what’s ef­fec­tive about the strat­e­gy — what was ef­fec­tive from my point of view, when I used to lis­ten to sports ra­dio in the car and this par­tic­u­lar com­mer­cial used to fol­low me around — was that al­though I could not, and still can­not, think of any par­tic­u­lar case in which such a thing has hap­pened to me, I can eas­i­ly imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ty of its hap­pen­ing, and this both­ers me in the same way that it both­ers me that, ac­cord­ing to the sto­ry, my grand­fa­ther once had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to buy in­to McDonald’s but in­stead put the mon­ey he had for in­vest­ing in­to a bi­cy­cle seat com­pa­ny that my Aunt Judy’s hus­band Allen’s fa­ther Sam had start­ed. The com­pa­ny — or the seat, I sup­pose — was called “The Tush.” And it both­ers me in the same way that it both­ers me that, ac­cord­ing to the sto­ry, my grandfather’s moth­er owned three large parcels of land in what is now Mi­a­mi Beach be­fore that meant any­thing, but de­cid­ed to sell them when a cho­rus of ob­jec­tors con­vinced her that they would nev­er be worth any­thing more than they were worth then, which was hard­ly any­thing at all. It both­ers me in the same way that it both­ers me that all of the Jew­ish chil­dren of im­mi­grants who owned fur­ni­ture busi­ness­es in Mil­wau­kee when my grand­fa­ther owned his fur­ni­ture busi­ness in Mil­wau­kee — there are two or three oth­ers in par­tic­u­lar that I am think­ing of, all part of the same crowd — got very, very rich, and now the fam­i­lies they left be­hind and the fam­i­lies be­hind those fam­i­lies are or will be very, very rich, but un­like them my grand­fa­ther, af­ter the orig­i­nal neigh­bor­hood went through the 1969 race ri­ots, did not move his busi­ness but rather, be­cause prices were down, bought the build­ing. It went to shit. Ten years lat­er it was worth less, not more. On two dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions he was robbed and the weapon of choice was a set of brass knuck­les. Twice. In any case, no­body got rich. I am not rich. And it is like­ly, it seems very like­ly, that ten or twelve or twen­ty years from now I still won’t be rich. I live, and al­so make a liv­ing, writ­ing and teach­ing writ­ing, and al­though some­body is go­ing to get rich do­ing this, most peo­ple will not, and the chances are not in my fa­vor. I might get rich. I hope I get rich. I’d give all of the mon­ey to my sis­ter, maybe. Keep enough for my­self to kick all of my room­mates out or per­haps move to the coun­try, or out of the coun­try, us­ing the word “coun­try” in a dif­fer­ent sense, then. But I prob­a­bly won’t get rich. Even if I suc­ceed — is this a suc­cess? — in mak­ing my­self mid­dle class, even up­per mid­dle class, the top third or even the top quar­ter, I won’t be rich. Even the up­per mid­dle class strug­gles. The hous­es and tele­vi­sion sets are big­ger, and the cars wear bet­ter brand in­signias, but the in­come and the out­go are still do­ing bat­tle with each oth­er. And in any or all of those cas­es, I can imag­ine my­self walk­ing in­to a store, for in­stance — I’m think­ing of Ikea, in par­tic­u­lar, be­cause I’ve heard that the man who owns Ikea is now the rich­est man in the world — and find­ing hang­ing light fix­tures that can, safe­ly and sim­ply, be screwed in­to ex­ist­ing light sock­ets and func­tion with­out any cum­ber­some cords, with­out any rewiring; I can imag­ine my­self see­ing these hang­ing light fix­tures sell­ing for twen­ty, forty, a hun­dred dol­lars a pop, and think­ing to my­self, I thought of that first. I should be rich. And I’m not. I could be rich. Dit­to with the dou­ble-sided den­tal floss. The prob­lem would less be not be­ing rich than it would hav­ing come that close. This is what hurts.

This is where I come in on the so­ci­ol­o­gy of sport and the sport spec­ta­tor: to fill a void, or to un­do a lack. You can’t go wrong. Ex­cept, of course, that Adorno wrote his es­say on free time, which is in fact an es­say called “Free Time” — and in my opin­ion this dis­tinc­tion is an im­por­tant one — in, I be­lieve, 1969, which means that the very state­ment from which this piece of writ­ing pro­ceeds — that we “still lack an in­ci­sive so­ci­ol­o­gy of sport and es­pe­cial­ly of the sports spec­ta­tor” — could it­self very well be ob­so­les­cent. Do we still lack a so­ci­ol­o­gy of sport or the sports spec­ta­tor? It seems un­like­ly. Two days ago — that would be Tues­day — I did some­thing that I have re­sist­ed do­ing for years, pri­mar­i­ly be­cause I haven’t had enough mon­ey to pay for it; that is, I had ca­ble tele­vi­sion in­stalled in my apart­ment. The rea­son for this is that I want­ed to watch more sports. I’ve been want­i­ng to watch more sports for awhile, now. In Au­gust, when I was re­turn­ing to Los An­ge­les af­ter a sum­mer away, I de­cid­ed that one of my goals for the com­ing year — be­fore the next sum­mer, which is still the next sum­mer, which I will al­so spend away — was to watch more sports. When I went home for the hol­i­days I could not help but be hon­est with my­self: in that re­spect, at least, I had failed to meet my goals. The prob­lem was not a lack of mo­ti­va­tion, nor was it that I was not gen­uine when I set the goal; the prob­lem, rather, was that there is so lit­tle sports on net­work tele­vi­sion these days. This prob­lem was ex­ac­er­bat­ed by the fact that I don’t have an an­ten­nae for the tele­vi­sion that I keep in my bed­room, which means that even on those oc­ca­sions when some sport­ing event was broad­cast on net­work tele­vi­sion, I was un­able to pick up the sig­nal ex­cept by en­ter­ing the com­mon room, which was com­mon­ly be­ing used al­ready by some­one else.

[ Con­tin­ued in Part Two ]

Filed under Non-Fiction on February 1st, 2006

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Becky wrote:

Look­ing for­ward to #2.

[…] A con­tin­u­a­tion of Part One […]

[…] A con­tin­u­a­tion. Part One and Part Two […]

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