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Why are sports such a high priority?

While walking in downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada yesterday, I noticed quite a few people wearing Vancouver Canucks jerseys and cars bearing Canucks flags. (Those small flags that flap above a car’s side window remind me not of sports celebration but of funeral motorcades.) Such are the signs of local sports fan fervor, since the Canucks last night were playing their season opener in the Stanley Cup playoffs  in Vancouver’s General Motors Place.  (They beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in overtime.)


Although I admit to enjoying playoff games and have watched many a hockey game in my life, especially as a teenager growing up in Toronto, I still ask: Why can’t people get equally excited about other things that truly matter and affect lives more directly, whether it’s a humanitarian issue or a political decision like the HST (harmonized sales tax)? Sports games produce frothing direct-response from fans while many serious local and global issues and events barely garner awareness. I’ve always found this contradiction bizarre.


The  rapt attention of fans watching a sporting event is what prompted Keith Johnstone, co-founder and former artistic director of Loose Moose Theatre in Calgary, Alta., to create the concept of “theatresports.” He wanted to make people as excited about improvisational theatre as they were about supporting their favourite sports team. Hence, he created a competitive framework with actors and teams vying against each other in various fun categories doing spontaneous theatre.


The result is that Johnstone helped to create a massive audience for this free-flow acting medium, which has spawned successful troupes from the Vancouver TheatreSports League to the British television show Whose Line is It Anyway?. The latter program inspired a  dumbed-down version in the U.S. with the same name, hosted by Drew Carey. (I much preferred the original British show, which used more literary and cultural references.) For anyone with an interest in improvisational theatre, I highly recommend Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre.

Here in British Columbia, the federal and provincial governments have decimated funding to arts groups and yet had no difficulty providing millions to the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. During the Olympic protest at Vancouver’s Art Gallery (see my post under 2010 Winter Olympics), one guy held a placard that aptly read: “With glowing hearts we kill the arts.” Why do athletes, rather than artists, garner such esteem ?


I don’t think it’s a contradiction to enjoy both sports and the arts, but professional athletes and sports attract far too much money and attention relative to other human activities.  By comparison, everyday artists and their creative endeavors deserve far more respect and remuneration for their efforts. I wish that we had an entrenched patron-of-the-arts system and widespread guilds for individuals like those that existed in medieval times.


I also wish that many people cared as fervently about sociocultural, political, and humanitarian issues as they do about sports. Where are our priorities?

April 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm
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