Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Cards Everywhere...

August 3, 2004

Some infinitesimal component of my anxiety-laden persona was optimistic enough, at this millennium's onset, to anticipate the advance of human society to the point of doing away with fads, lemmingish trends, and mindless clones. When we review fads, they are always evaluated in a context that their very existence and emergence were idiotic, and an amusing symptom of the ills of society's innate zeal for following group thinking. Depending on which anthropologist you ask (and I always flog them with questions over at the local Subway) many will claim that humans are pack animals, tending toward huddling in herds, as you might find with skateboard guys, cigar store regulars, and those weird knife guys. And what's with those knife guys? Always excited to show off the new knife. "Can't wait to get home and start cuttin' stuff". I'm sure they have the ladies breaking down their door with that impressive pastime.

Now this televised card game fad is really beginning to wear thin on my fledgling Jenga game of tolerance. The World Series of Poker, ok, it was around and it probably had the most impact. It had been televised in fits and starts for a while, when it happily filled the role of the less active, less healthy, stinkier brother of televised bowling. Certainly poker itself enjoys wide recognition and familiarity in the United States, and it makes sense why televising such a motionless game might gather popularity amongst the right demographic. Lazy people who want to sit with a 30 pack of beer and watch TV all weekend, can finally bask in a sympathetic trance of arbitrarily engendered superiority. Sure, watching great, conditioned athletes run around might give a lazy viewer a sense of inferiority, but when watching a poker tournament, these players are just sitting like big fat Wes at home! Plus big fat Wes knows what cards the other players are holding, so he can shake his head with a deity's resolve and know that poor bastard is about to lose his wonderful stack of chips. The stoic, passive nature of the game, combined with the omniscient vantage of seeing everyone's cards, gives Joe six-pack a nice ego boost while literally doing nothing - the perfect weekend!
Anyway, this "cardmania" is drying out; now we've got celebrity versions of every flavor of card game imaginable, all of which are televised. It's not ridiculous to anticipate televised Craps, Roulette, Bridge, and during the swan song's chorus of this shallow trend, celebrity coin flipping. "Ron Palillo calls tails -- it's a head! Daniel J. Travanti wins!" Since television executives, along with music executives, are likely the least imaginative people on the planet, I know this monochromatic ride will not end anytime soon. There are far too many variants, channels, and gullible viewers to stomp this cockroach into the linoleum floor of cancellation.

Many of the televised card tournaments show up on ESPN, and if my acronymic gland still adequately pumps out acronymic fluid, then my recollection is that the second letter in the ESPN acronym still stands for "sports". Well, maybe the sagacious brainiacs that run this fine network might be already considering renaming the channel to "Entertainment Stuff Programming Network". Poker doesn't qualify as a "sport" in the classic sense of the term, unless they would like to retroactively embrace the athleticism involved in chip tossing and performing those neat hand exercises the players display when shuffling two or three chips within one hand. Sure, the stubborn pundits might respond that a sport also exercises the mind, but by that sneaky definition, we'd have to consider just about every thought-based activity as a sport, such as memorizing, erotic fantasies, and figuring out a tip at a restaurant. Can't wait for these exciting events to pour through my Sylvania! The precedent has already been vomited forth when ESPN began televising those physically grueling spelling bees. As I, with a smirk and a gasp, watched the spelling action unfold during this year's bee, I realized this might be the only time that a fat Pakistani 11-year-old might be on ESPN. For all I know, he might be a heck of a curler or cricket player, but those obscure sports are forever destined for one of the small time Fox Sports channels that dot the digital cable guide's horizon.
Spelling bees are inherently fun to glance at for a few minutes, in hopes of seeing a pathetic kid screw up or faint (as with this year). Heck, fainting is action, it's exciting, and requires brief medical attention. People enjoyed the opportunity to see Mike Tyson be knocked out by an eager Buster Douglas, and we similarly want to see little Abdul Nafharidad get physically knocked out by the word that means "a flat Sumarian biscuit". So what if it took 5000 years for those Sumarians to get even. Long ago, I'm sure a visionary king said "someday we'll crush them all with the spelling of our flavorless biscuits".
Long after the Martians take over our planet and exterminate us all, we'll exact our revenge when they all cower to properly spell "separate". Banzai!
It's only a matter of time before the television executives take further steps to add appeal and excitement to these televised card games and spelling bees. Violence and drama will invariably poke their way into the proceedings:

"John has a flush draw! He's going all in. Oh NO! A BEAR! Where did this big hungry BEAR come from? Oh the humanity."


"E-N-A-..." Wait! It's TV's Potsie - Anson Williams! With a gun!I suppose there's little to resolve in this embarrassing trend toward televising bland, passive activities and billing them under a sports moniker. People are becoming lazier and lazier as time passes, and the promise of showing inactivity seems to pacify the minds of the couch potato masses. It's a sad reflection on society when our populace, who was once too lazy to participate in athletic activities, is now too lazy to watch them as well. So turn off that wide screen TV and throw a frisbee or something.

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