Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Partial Explanation Of Why You See So Many Idiots Cheering Like Idiots On The Teevee

If you’re watching the TV screen instead of being on the other side, and you’re watching sports, and the camera takes one of its periodic jaunts into the crowd, and the crowd is predictably acting like idiots while screaming into the camera unintelligibly, you’re liable to think, “What idiots,” from the safety of your couch. I’m not saying this reaction is wrong exactly, but things look a lot different from the other side of the lens.

Some background: a few days ago I was in the New York sports bar that seems to have become the headquarters of Stanford football, at least as the Alumni Association has it. It’s not a particularly distinctive bar by any means: like most New York sports bars, it is dark, cramped, and possessed of a din so buzzy that you cannot hear anything. So here we are, enjoying a good, new-fashioned Stanford beatdown of a pretty good team (for all this, I still believe Arizona is a good team), and—sometime during the second quarter—the lights come on.

If you’ve seen movies in which there’s one of those police chases of, say, a runaway, you’ll note a particular kind of spotlight (they’re often deployed by helicopter) that seems impossibly white and bright. The impossible, at least in this instance, is very possible: these lights were exactly the same kind of piercing white, and it’s a shocker—you’re minding your business, drinking beer, watching football, and BLAMMO, you’ve got bright lights surrounding you from all directions. (Somehow I suspect this was not the origin of the phrase “Bright lights big city”)

The lights were for the camera, which prowled about the crowd hoping to incite loud, boisterous cheering. This was done, because it was the only thing to do: look, they’ve gone through a lot of trouble to come here and set up their bright lights to shine in your face and oh god the red light’s on the camera is recording and I’d better be good and….(cheering like idiots). All this is to suggest that some nontrivial percentage of the people on the TV cheering like idiots know that they are, in fact, cheering like idiots; the camera, it turns out, is a coercive machine to which the only response is to fall into the traditional ways of doing things because it’s likely to make everyone involved satisfied, at least a little bit. I’m not sure this entirely explains the amount of camera-captured idiocy in the world, but I think it’s a pretty good start: sometimes fulfilling the soft bigotry of low expectations is the best way out.

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