There’s this big momentary kerfuffle going on about NHL hockey, about how some guy crunched some other guy into the boards and landed him up with a concussion. Apparently it was a “legal” move, the bodychecker wasn’t punishable and the bodycheckee isn’t seriously hurt. It made a great big thud and the crowd went wild. (I actually think the reason this “news” is getting so much air is because it is providing an entertaining respite from the tedious possibility of nuclear disaster in Japan).
Now, the REALLY big non-news is, Air Canada – a major sponsor of NHL hockey – has threatened to pull out of sponsorship if they don’t, um…do something about violence in NHL hockey.
To be clear, it’s not like I give a rat’s ass about hockey. What interests me is the elephant in the room, and the elephant is this: lots of people LIKE violent hockey games; that is why they watch Hockey Night in Canada. I am not judging them for that predilection – it is human nature to be absorbed by diplays of brute physical strength, and to be morbidly facinated by pain. It is often hard to take our eyes off a gory car crash. When I was a kid I loved those tales-from-the-crypt comic books, the ones with lots of dismemberment and popping eyeballs. I’ll venture that it is primal. Something in us is entranced by the visceral, and we will pay good money to see blood, from the Roman Colloseum to the corporate suites of Rogers Stadium. I’m sure modern psychology has much to say about why this is, and I haven’t thought about it very much – I guess probably at its core it is catharsis â€“ a displaced sense of revenge and release. I don’t know, human nature is complicated, and I’m typing off the top of my head. All I know is, a skillful goal in a hockey game will get the crowd cheering, but a fullon brawl will make them scream and howl for more.
This is why, when there is blood on the ice, the TV cameras home in like vultures. I remember seeing a hockey game once, where the hungry camera zoomed in tight on some poor shmoe, down on his knees on the ice, scraping blood into a dustpan. No doubt whatever product was advertised on the boards behind him was fully legible. And nothing will keep TV viewers glued to the screen, right through the commercials, like the possibility of nasty revenge in the next play.
So anyway, now there is this momentary media kerfuffle, and people are calling in to the radio stations and writing to the papers. The people calling in to comment are the people who won’t go to NHL hockey games, who have stopped taking their kids, etc. etc. The people we aren’t calling in (cuz it’s a little hard to say it on national radio) are the many thousands who love the NHL because of the fights.Â They don’t watch international hockey – they are bored by nonviolent games. In fact, although the morally outraged are vocal, there are many more viewers who would switch channels if the TV CAMERAS TURNED AWAY FROM THE CARNAGE. Which they won’t, because, such a large majority of viewers love it – at least, enough of them do to keep the ratings high. And in case anyone hasn’t noticed, TV is a medium in its death throes, and the fight for TV ad revenues is more cut-throat than any on-ice battle could ever be. I am revolted by the complicity of the media, in pretending that they don’t ceaselessly feed our fascination with violence while hypocritically feigning disgust.
The obvious way to quash NHL violence immediately would be to simply refuse to televise it. But the broadcasters will never do that, because violent play is the NHL brand, and it is their bread-and-butter. And thus the coaches and managers will never nstruct the players to act civilly, because to do so would be, figuratively, to cut their own throats.
I say this, knowing full well that “the media” as an entity does not exist. We are the media, and the media is us.
And now Air Canada has stepped into the fray, with a master stroke of marketing genius. They have righteously announced that they demand action to curb hockey injuries. Knowing of course, that if there is a public uproar against blatant head-smashing, they as sponsors might take small share of the flack – but, by proactively leading the charge, they will have successfully garnered millions of dollars worth of free advertising, even on Canada’s “advertising-free” public broadcasters. You can practically hear the back-slapping in the corporate boardroom. And god knows, with fuel prices soaring and commercial airlines teetering on the edge of fossil-fuel oblivion, airlines are scrambling for any competitive advantage they can grab. The fact that global corporations – especially fossil-fuel-industry slaves like airlines – fall all over themselves to capitalize on samsara should come as no surprise.
So why exactly do I care about this? Because, as much as I was drawn to comic books as a kid, I am fascinated by these grotesque and elaborate displays of willful denial of human nature â€“ which is not evil, but simply complex and paradoxical. We are funny monkeys indeed.