"Why are they talking about the Brooklyn Dodgers in the same way they'd talk about what happened on D-Day?"
Yeah - why do Americans get so solemn and pompous about sports?
Don't get me wrong: I like sports. I watch around 4-6 hours of sports and a few more hours of sports-related programming (news, etc.) each week on TV, I go to one or two sporting events every year, and I keep up with sporting news every day on the internet.
But, really, watching sports is just a leisure activity. Not that they aren't important (in some way) or that they shouldn't be taken seriously. But we shouldn't treat the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers' last season in New York as if it is as serious and important as, say, the story of the Prague Spring.
Following on things Camille Paglia and Paul Fussell have written, I get that in contemporary American society sports serve a kind of ritualistic function: they provide heroes and spectacle and a sense of community and common cause. Still, though, listening to someone like Bob Costas drone on about the dignity of some overpaid athlete, I can't help but think: "Get some perspective, man!"
I'll focus on what I think are two major "causes" of overly solemn sports talk: one that is sports-specific and one that is relevant to contemporary American culture in general.
First, forgive the armchair psychoanalysis, but I think there's a kind of institutionalized defensiveness in the world of sports journalism. I mean, sports journalists tend to be smart, literate guys who just know, deep down, that what they are covering is essentially frivolous. Not only that, but most - if not all - of them are pursuing a passion for sports that they've had since they were little boys. So, not only do they fear that what they are writing about is frivolous, they fear that caring about it so much is kind of childish. Because of these fears, they must never, ever talks about sports as if there was anything frivolous or childish about sports.
Second, across the board, we've lost perspective as a culture. I'm still not quite sure why exactly or when exactly it happened, but I'm pretty sure it has something to do with the mass media. The example I gave my brother is A&E's show Biography. Now, because Biography is a basic cable show, it has a standard format: this saves time and money and it lets them (fairly easily) churn out the content they need to fill all those hours of programming. But this standard format means that they end up presenting the life of Madonna the same way they present the life of President Eisenhower. Now, I'm not saying that shows like Biography are the cause or even a cause: rather, they're symptoms of a lack of perspective and they also help to reinforce this lack of perspective.
Maybe "perspective" isn't quite the right word. Perhaps it would be better to say that, culturally, we have trouble talking about certain things - sports, entertainment, etc. - with "right sized" language.
(Hey - I think this is related to something I wrote about in the comments section of this great Michael Blowhard post. I'll just quote myself:
There's also a hang-up about how high-arts & culture/academic folks in American talk about pop culture. The short version: the way we're supposed to talk about a piece of high art like, say, a Stan Brakhage movie, doesn't quite work if we're trying to talk about, say, Rio Bravo. Though some writers/critics make this work - see Michael Sicinski, for instance - for most people it just seems to get in the way.
I mean: in Cinema Studies grad school, we paid a lot of attention to American popular movies. But the profs and most of my fellow students did not approach them as popular movies. So, our prof presented Busby Berkeley's movies through the lens of Michel Foucault's theories and the class dealt almost exclusively with the question of to what extent Berkeley's work conveyed a fascistic ideology. There was no discussion of the musical theater/revue elements that Berkeley was drawing from or anything else involving the practical, nuts-and-bolts issues of these movies as entertainments. These issues were beneath discussion and I was shot down by the professor when I attempted to bring them in.
Likewise: Putting hot-rods on display in a museum, next to little placards explaining why they are important, seems to be missing the point. (I'm reminded that Manny Farber wrote that Scarface was one of the best movies ever but also said that it was definitely not art like you'd find in a museum).
This is why, as much as I love Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's Fantastic Four comics, Robert Crumb's work in Weirdo, and E.C. Segar's Popeye comic strips - as much as I think these are among the greatest American arts & culture things - I'm not that enthusiastic about cartooning museums or "teaching" these comics in the college classroom, like you'd teach Faulkner. Not that they shouldn't be taken seriously, but part of what is great about them is that they don't come with "high art/culture" baggage - trying to load them down with it is kind of a drag. It's good to have conversations about arts & culture that doesn't assume a high art-centric p.o.v. or that bland "cultural studies" perspective that flattens everything out so that a toothpaste commercial is just as "interesting" as a Robert Altman movie. Personally, I liked that there was stuff out there that I could discover and engage with outside of any academic-high art-museum-"it's good for you"-"because you'll learn something about society" context.
This is definitely a subject that calls out for more discussion, though.)