I can remember how exciting it was to watch the likes of “Killer Kowalski” and “Haystack Calhoun” among others, as they stomped around the wrestling ring filled with the wrath of the vengeful, cheered on by crowds of spectators, urging them to wreak havoc upon their opponents. I was cheering too, even though my pals and I were under twelve years-old and watching it on my friend’s giant, 21″ black and white TV screen. It was Saturday morning, a time when the lads could get together and enjoy a little madness and mayhem.
In later years, my taste for such feigned violence ebbed. For viewing entertainment, I turned instead to the real violence of professional boxing. I recall exchanging pseudo-knowledgeable comments with a high school chum as we became part of the crowd of students trying to exit our main building but being hampered by the realities of trying to funnel too many bodies through narrow doorways and down restricting staircases. We had time to talk. The fighter then known as Cassius Clay was to fight the bear, Sonny Liston. So it went. We all know the outcome of that fight. Watching boxing was exciting, I admit, but as I grew and matured I began to examine the realities of violence in general and boxing in particular.
Boxing, it seemed to me, amounted to finding two men who would otherwise be extremely poor, training them to be fighters, then pitting them against each other, to batter each other into senselessness for the entertainment of the masses. Yes, my heart would pound watching the brutality unfold before my eyes, but it was okay. It was “sport.”
Intense physical competition among well-trained persons of roughly equal merit is fascinating. Most sports do relate in one form or another to a demonstration of physical prowess and domination. This is less apparent in figure skating than it is in baseball or football, but it is there. It is there. But baseball, football, even ice hockey (Olympic, not professional) do have goals that do not focus on punching the opponent’s lights out.
Boxing, however, is essentially a blood sport. Let’s see injury! If not actually seeing the blood flow, perhaps just let us know that after that terrible beating (taken by both the champ and the vanquished) the men will never be the same. They may not be diminished right away, but we all know that diminishment is sure to follow. What is there to cheer about? There are softer, less punishing ways of recognizing and celebrating our animal roots than to find excitement in seeing men ruin each other’s lives.
By about 1968, I had thought that all through and had the further thought that I would witness within my lifetime the demise of professional boxing because surely, other people would see what I saw and recognize it for what it was.
I couldn’t have been more wrong!
What I hadn’t recognized was that I was wrong in my belief that formative forces like schools, information sources, corporate structures and governments were attempting to help all people reach their highest potential. Populist information sources, in particular, (movies, television, internet) have exploited our most base urges because they know that touching the so-called “lizard brain” within us is powerfully influencing. Rather than appealing to our higher instincts collectively, these well-moneyed forces are instead glorifying stupidity with entertainment shows like Duck Dynasty, and many so-called ‘reality’ shows that have nothing to do with anyone’s everyday reality. They are shows that help their viewers to feel superior by comparison while simultaneously normalizing aberrant and abhorrent behaviours. In such an environment of appealing to base elements within us, rather than boxing being relegated to the dust bin of history, it has been replaced by a meaner, more vicious blood-sport in Mixed Martial Arts ‘cage-fights.’ So much for human advancement.
I have to include myself as once having been responsive to “America’s Funniest Home Videos” and the like. But I stopped watching such shows because the producers failed to distinguish between cute/awkward humour and injury-as-humour. I find nothing genuinely funny about a face-plant on asphalt or any kind of injury, despite its curious appeal to the lizard-brain. It’s not that I am somehow above that essential part of my being, but I do try to recognize it for what it is.
So here I am, in my last trimester of life, baffled and bewildered by the course of human development. Are we capable of any kind of positive evolution? I haven’t lost all hope for humanity. There are glints of reflected light in the sand of humanity. I can only hope that in time, caring may replace uncaring, that reflective thought may vanquish yahoo-bullying, that exposing poor thinking may overcome nodding acquiescence.
Evolution or devolution? No sage am I. I can only see the flipping coin arcing and tumbling in the air.