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

by Eli S. EVANS
 

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 Craigslist.org, 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 ]

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