“In a word, they failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.” Brave New World / Aldous Huxley
“...reality, however utopian, is something from which people feel the need to take pretty frequent holidays...” Brave New World / Aldous Huxley
So I'm in a restaurant and glance up at one of the twenty TVs to see people racing go-carts. I don't think anything of it. A few minutes pass and I look again to see people still racing go-carts. It's being broadcast like a wildly low budget IndyCar race. Then it dawns on me: this is a thing. People – evidently – watch other people race go-carts. On television.
How exactly does this happen?
I can remember my old man staring in flabbergasted wonder – well into his seventies – at the television screen as people played cards. Played cards. He wondered aloud if televised Scrabble could be far off before, finally, waxing rhapsodic about Lombardi's Packers and the frozen tundra of Green Bay.
Well Pop, if you can hear me from The Great Beyond, I hear televised Scrabble is a thing now, too.
At some point during the seemingly endless years of America's wars on the other side of the world, a friend asked if I wanted to play paint ball with some buddies. I asked him to explain the concept. It was simple, he said: just playing war, like when you were a kid. There were elaborate rules about what constituted a kill (or being killed) and so on. They even had uniforms.
No, I politely replied. I didn't want to play war.
I informed my friend there was an army recruiting station a few miles away if they were so all fired-up to go into battle. He and his buds could sign up, get free room and board, top of the line training (plus uniforms) and, ultimately, a free plane ride to exotic lands to try their hands at the real deal.
Cornhole, the without-a-doubt-absolutely-no-argument worst named activity ever devised by humankind, became a thing recently. I read that it particularly bloomed with the advent of social media (of course). Then, during the pandemic, desperate for content, networks began televising it for American consumption. Cornhole.
Okay. Okay. To each his own. Years ago, I remember seeing Fuzzy Zoeller hit a ball with a stick, then walk across a beautifully manicured field in order to hit it again. I never confused him with Mike Tyson. Or Chris Evert, for that matter. Seemed nuts, but that's just me. The only golf tournament I ever watched was on “Caddyshack”.
I hear millions of people enjoy watching other people play video games. They gather around screens of all kinds and watch the socially awkward slurp Red Bulls and chomp Doritos while (again) playing war on a video monitor. What is it about Americans in no way equipped for combat wanting to somehow simulate it? Will there come a day when the Purple Hearts you sometimes see on the license plates of very valorous men and women will be for injuries sustained on the virtual battlefield? Scoff at your own peril.
When I was a boy, my friends and I (under the sway of our hero, Evel Knievel) constructed elaborate ramps out of Coke crates and plywood and jumped our Schwinn and ten speed bicycles great distances for hours on end. This went on till one of us needed stitches and everyone was in trouble with mom. We had a blast but never thought, “Gee, this should be on television.” A generation or so later, much savvier wannabe daredevils created “X-Games”.
Yeah, I know, it's whatever you like. That said, I think it a reasonable deduction – for all the time we put in bemoaning the horrendous state of the world – we have far too much leisure time on our hands.
Televised go-cart racing? Cornhole?
It's no wonder some - in places where they do not play at war - eyeball us and think, “We can take 'em.”