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Noam Chomsky On The Cult Of American Sports

In this clip from the documentary Manufacturing Consent (1992), Noam Chomsky talks sports and the “indoctrination system” it encourages. It’s an argument that, back in 2005, the Free Republic found laughable, just another “example of the faux-intellectualism we see everyday from the left”:

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

“Why do we root for the home team?” Chomsky asks near the end of the clip. As an adult, it’s a question I’ve often considered (especially living in Pittsburgh, where sports is on par with organized religion). According to Chomsky, it’s because we display “irrational attitudes of submission to authority.” But in reality, that premise seems entirely wrong. More aptly, sports fandom seems more rooted in self-indulgence (i.e., drinking and eating rituals), escapism, pride, and a loose-knit sense of community than bowing to an almighty authority.

When mob rule takes hold, as we saw Wednesday night when Penn State University students rioted in the name of Joe Paterno, it shows the consequences of fandom gone berserk. But generalized judgments like Chomsky’s — stating that if you follow or engage in sports you are nothing more than a lemming — are often as short-sighted as those who riot when their team’s pride has been tarnished.

[Video via Aaron Jentzen]

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