Spectator Sports & Vicarious Violence
The late OU professor J. Rufus Fears pointed out that our day and age is one of the very few to have an obsession with spectator sports. Like citizens of the Roman Empire of the Caesars, who gloried in gladiator games, we love our spectator sports. The more violent, the better.
Dr. Fears points out that the Romans of the Republic and “the boys who fought at Gettysburg” did not watch spectator sports or feed on the “vicarious violence” found in video games. The Roman republicans and Civil War men knew their share of violence and masculinity. But the difference was, it was not a vicarious or a spectator violence.
Now I have not seen the “Hunger Games” movies or read the books, but I understand the author parodies and parades this vicarious blood-lust we have today. We are raising an entire generation that is far removed from real-life violent acts, like hunting an animal to harvest the food, or fighting in a just war, or simply catching a fish and cleaning it. Yet every day, on screens and in sports, we feast on violence vicariously.
Now, I am no pacifist. Far from it, I believe strongly in weapon ownership and that “there is a time for war and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:8). I am, however, concerned that we are losing a part of our souls by the mindless embrace of vicarious violence.
Building on this, just think about what sports are popular. We have gone from noble sports like fencing or boxing to all-out, bare-fisted cage fighting. We have taken rugby and football and turned to extreme sports. In short, our sports have turned from civilized to sheer brute force.
Of course, I am a huge sports fan and take in more than my share of spectator sports. At the same time, I try also to participate in sports and athletics, not just view them. As for weapons, I want to know how to safely use swords and guns, not just virtual ones on the screen.
Today, Christians can actively find ways to live life in the bodies the Lord gave us, not just live attached to digital screens. Whether it is video games, or fantasy football, or spectator sports, don’t live your life exclusively as a second-hander. Get out of the grandstands and find what the Lord has for you to do this day. That, in the end, is the most fulfilling activity of all.