Twenty years ago, an episode of the science-fiction TV show, Sliders, turned the place of sports in our culture on its head.
“Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today – but the core of science fiction, its essence, the concept around which it revolves, has become crucial to our salvation if we are to be saved at all.“
– Isaac Asimov
The ascendant place of sports in our society and culture raises a difficult ethical question:
Do we revel in the good, marvel at the athletic feats of the human body and mind, and embrace the deep connections among ourselves as fans, as community? Or do we dismiss it as bread and circus, an opiate of the masses, a waste of money and resources, a symbol of all that is wrong with our infotainment rudderless culture, that worships and elevates the unworthy, while ignoring those that cannot throw a football 50 yards on the fly or run a 4.4 40 yard dash?
Is it a binary choice at all? Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Perhaps it is both a wave and a particle. Perhaps it depends on the context?
Our sports stars are often glorified, and idolized. Men – and boys – are treated as privileged, as heroic – not because of the content of their character or intellect or contribution to society, but because they can run fast or jump high.
But our idols are not role models. And having lifted them up as such, we then stand aghast at their bad behaviors.
A 1995 episode from a sci-fi television conceived of an alternate society, an alternate world, where what we love and admire is turned on its head.
Gone is the adulation of the Kardashians. Gone is the deification of football players, basketball players, baseball players, soccer players. Rather, society’s role models and heroes (and advertising shills) are intellectuals and scientists!
That television show was Sliders, a science fiction and fantasy television series created by Robert K. Weiss and Tracy Tormé that was broadcast for five seasons between 1995 and 2000.
The premise of the series was to tell the stories of a group of travelers who used a wormhole to “slide” between different versions of Earth that exist in parallel universes, hoping always to return to the original Earth, Earth Prime.
This is an Earth where the intellectual achievements of scientists and great thinkers are granted the same adulation reserved for movie stars and professional athletes on Earth Prime . . . The divergence point of this world happened at an indiscernible time in the past and deeply affected the way society views intelligence and scientists. Men and women of the mind are respected like heroes and scientists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking aren’t just well known, their part of major advertising campaigns including slogans like “Einstein wore Khakis” and Nikke shoe’s “Just think it.“
Little boys dream of one day being in the academic decathlon, the San Francisco Central Library is extending its hours by popular demand, and musical groups like MC Poindexter and the Study Crew release raps about going to the library. The world’s most popular pastime is a sport called Mindgame which combines the square grid of “Othello” with scientific questions to score points. The game has made world famous celebrities out of scientists like Stephen Hawking, Carl Sagan, and California University’s Quinn Mallory.
Science fiction can really make you think. Especially when they involved alternative historical “realities.”
So what do we make of things back here on Earth Prime?
Surely, scientists like Hawking and Neil DeGrasse Tyson are “stars,” in the Hollywood sense. Have you seen the new movie about Hawking’s life, The Theory of Everything? Did you see DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey series, (correctly) billed as “must see TV.”
This is true.
And yet we live at a time where our Congress has just put the issue of whether global warming exists to a vote, and passed legislation that prevents scientists from advising the EPA on their own work!
In the list of most searched terms of Google for 2014, “World Cup” was #2. The comedian and entertainer, Robin Williams, was #1. “Flappy Bird” was #5, and “Frozen” came in at #9, hanging on – just not letting go – to that top ten spot.
The photo that “broke the Internet” last year was this one:
In a few weeks, we will all be tuning in to The Super Bowl.
The featured 2015 halftime performer will be the singer, Katy Perry.
The ratings for that, I’m quite confident, are going to blow away those of Cosmos.
So, no. If a culture that exalts intellectualism and contribution to society is the ideal we are striving for, Earth Prime isn’t quite there yet.
The question is, where exactly is it that we want to be?
Photo Credits: YouTube/screen caps (Sliders: Eggheads, Sliders, Cosmos); Instagram (Kardashian)
Editors Note: GMP Reader and Contributor, Siobhan Patricia Lynch, challenged me to write a sports-related post about the show Sliders. I said that I would, if she helped Good Men Project Sports to get to 1000 likes on its new Facebook Page (See below!!). She did. And I did. (See above!!)