Monday, September 28, 2015

Back to the pajama party

Some time ago, I expressed my frustration with the current state of sports commentary—by and large—noting that many studio shows were little more than extended pajama parties. What I mean by the pajama party comparison is that the "broadcasters" in these studio shows are more concerned with playing around, doing each others' hair and nails, and exchanging gossip than they are with actually doing anything that might possibly—however unlikely—be termed "journalism."

I watched a few minutes of the Fox NFL Sunday crowd do it's afternoon wrap-up—just to get some scores and highlights—and as Terry Bradshaw rolled through the scores, he made no fewer than five mistakes, laughing at each one in turn. And as bad as this crowd is, they're not the worst. In my opinion, that honor goes to TNT's Inside the NBA team. But even they are hardly running away with the honor; pretty much all of the studio shows for sports on U.S. television suffer this same short-coming.

And it's not limited to television in the least. In fact, my use of the term "pajama party" to characterize this stuff comes from radio. Years ago, the late, great Jim Mandich—former Miami Dolphin and a staple of the South Florida sports scene—used the term on his radio show in reference to the radio show of another sports journalist in South Florida. That particular journalist currently has his own show on ESPN radio and it's still just a pajama party. In fact, it's such a pajama party that listening to it on the radio was deemed insufficient by the geniuses in charge and consequently, it became a TV show as well, wherein the lucky viewer is able to watch the pajama party actually take place.

But I don't mean to pick on South Florida (though I do mean to pick on ESPN). These dimwitted kinds of shows are on the radio all over the country. And it's a mystery to me when and why they became the standard format for sports talk on the radio, To be sure, the pajama party format has existed outside of sports talk for some time. The Glenn Beck Show is a perfect example of this. Listeners get to hear Beck and his studio co-hosts babble incoherently for hours, tell un-funny jokes, and giggle incessantly at their own cleverness.

But I digress. I was ranting about the sports side of these things. The pseudo-news-and-analysis shows have enough problems...

Getting back to television, as I noted in my previous piece, all of this seems to stem from the idea that name recognition trumps ability. Terry Bradshaw and Charles Barkley just weren't journalists of any sort when they were hired into these roles. And they still aren't. They were and are big-name former sports stars.

From left: Howie Long, Terry Bradshaw, Charles Barkley, Jimmie Johnson, Kenny Smith, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit

Now I don't mean to be overly critical here. For all I know, this pajama party atmosphere is something that the people in charge want; the people on these shows are being told to act the way that they act because it's good for ratings. And given the near-idiocy that is prevalent on SportsCenter these days, I guess that's not surprising.

Still, I find it both aggravating and depressing, this steady erosion of a serious approach to vocations in favor of extended bouts of navel-gazing. Because that's really what is going on here. It's the spectacle that is important, not the actual content. And in that regard, the whole thing strikes me as symptomatic of a decaying culture. Of course I realize that sports is not actually life or death stuff; ultimately it's just entertainment.

Nonetheless, there is an underlying seriousness to competition as a matter of course. Competition is a fundamental aspect of existence, it always has been and always will be. Man competes for everything and such competition is necessarily the source of both conflict and enrichment. Sports, wherein people gain enjoyment from both playing and watching competitive activities, is itself made possible by such serious, real-world competition. It exists as a thing because of increased standards of living and increased leisure time. Its history extends as far back as the history of civilization.

But there's nothing particularly sacred about sports, it is just a thing. Still, this is true of other "things," be those things entertainment-related, economic, or even political. As I watch the growth of sports-related pajama parties, I can't help but see parallels on other "serious" news  shows, from panels of know-nothings that populate cable news, to questionable experts and financial reporters on market-oriented shows. Is the pajama party train on its way there, as well? How long until it takes over nightly news, where already the job of weatherman seems to depend largely on cup size?

Fundamentally, it's a growing lack or seriousness, of professionalism, in favor of being the center of attention that I see, that has taken over the world of sports journalism and is steadily growing in scope everywhere else. It is—philosophically speaking—and abandonment of stoic principles in favor of hedonism. And if we have learned anything from history, it is that such is the harbinger of collapse.

So, thanks sports guys for all you do...

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