Thursday, April 10, 2008

GUTTER SNIPING

Like every self-respecting white Rustbelt kid of a certain age, I grew up bowling. I’ve never been good at another sport. My Little League batting average never rose above .100, because one in every ten times ball and bat will randomly connect. My high school intramural basketball team had a 1-5 record. We lost our first game, yes it's true, 49-0. The only game we won was a forfeit. But on the hard, polished maple of our local lanes, brandishing my own monogrammed Brunswick (I still have it, somewhere down in my dusty basement), I ruled. My high school intramural bowling team, Impending Doom, made it into the league championship, even though one of our teammates, a Ricky Schroder look-alike, dragged down our stats quite a bit, even if he did attract the attention of the girls.

But don’t accuse me of being overly romantic about bowling. I don’t toss and turn at night fretting that the disappearance of bowling leagues is a symptom of America’s civic decline. No one marched to freedom wearing bowling shoes sticky with spilled beer. More than that, bowling reflected the everyday racial segregation of life in twentieth-century America. In the 1940s, the United Automobile Workers led a successful struggle to integrate bowling leagues. They succeeded in busting ten-pin Jim Crow in Detroit, Buffalo, and elsewhere. But newly integrated bowling alleys did not do much to undermine shop floor discrimination or housing segregation.

During my Rustbelt childhood, bowling alleys remained unbearably white. And as proud as I am about the only sports trophy I won or will ever win, I didn't learn any valuable lessons of citizenship from my bowling experience or any of my other mostly hapless forays into athletics. I just don’t think that all of the overblown rhetoric about the social benefits of sports stands up to close scrutiny, though I can’t say that I’ve seen any good social scientific studies one way or the other. While data are not the sum of anecdote, most of the hardcore jocks I knew were jerks, politically conservative, and all too militaristic for their own good. Paeans to competition be damned. The hyper-competitiveness of most sports does not provide a compelling model for a just society. Don't get me wrong. Sports can be fun, even for Anti-Jocks like me. And the health benefits of regular athletic activity are well-documented.

One last bit of gutter sniping. As a Rustbelter and a erstwhile bowler, I have to say that the sight of Hillary and Barack bowling was at best a silly spectacle, at worst an insult. It’s a sign of how out of touch with ordinary, Rustbelt Americans the two leading Democratic candidates are that 1) they believed that carefully staged visits to bowling alleys would demonstrate their common touch and 2) that they couldn’t stay out of the gutter. I want a President who will solve the mortgage crisis, who will restore investment in our cities and public transportation, who will deal with the ongoing hemorrhage of well-paying jobs, and who bring America's health insurance system into line with the rest of the (post)industrial world. I don’t care if they can hit a strike or a spare or if they bowl together or alone. I just want to get America out of the gutter.

Footnote: Afro-Netizen Chris Rabb suggests that Barack drop the bowling ball and pick up the b-ball. Says Chris:

"He can spend the rest of his campaign through the Democratic Convention working on his form. But no matter how much he improves his bowling game, it will still be bowling. And say what you like about what White working classfolk are into. The simple fact remains that White guys do not live vicariously through professional bowlers -- be they White or Black (assuming there were Black professional bowlers)."
As for Hillary: Come next year, she and Bill will have a lot of time to golf, when they aren't collecting six-digit speakers' fees. Fore!

3 comments:

Jeremy Young said...

Thankfully, Obama's political aim is much truer than his bowling arm. I can't wait for President Obama to throw a legislative strike in his first hundred days in office!

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