Viewers vs. Doers: The Rise of Spectatoritis

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 28, 2011 · 135 comments

in A Man's Life

The college football season starts this weekend, and I won’t lie—I’m pretty excited. My beloved Sooners are ranked number one in preseason polls, and I quite enjoy settling on the couch on a cozy fall day to watch them play (when they win at least!).

But every once in awhile, say when the announcer shares the game’s attendance numbers, I get a small niggling feeling of discomfort. 80,000 people gathered to watch 22 men run around, throw a ball, and smash into each other. The appeal is not difficult to see—there’s something truly compelling about watching the most talented athletes in the world perform. But when you take a step back, it’s really quite odd, isn’t it? Two groups of men–the doers and the viewers—and one group is far, far larger than the other.

The Rise of Spectatoritis

Here and there appears the aggravated case, completely infected, the fan who is nothing but a fan—a flabby creature, symbolic of the multitude, a parasite upon the play of others, the least athletic of all men, never playing himself at anything, a spectacle hunter, not a sportsman. –Richard Henry Edwards, 1915

During these odd moments I often think of an old book Kate picked up a few years ago at a used bookstore. Written in 1938 by Jay B. Nash, it’s entitled Spectatoritis. During the first half of the 20th century, leisure time had steadily increased, and Nash argued that because Americans had never before been confronted with such large swaths of it, the country had not developed a “philosophy of leisure.” Without this philosophy, people were falling victim to what he dubbed “spectatoritis:”

The machine age has, of course, already supplied an unexampled wealth of leisure and what happens? The average man who has time on his hands turns out to be a spectator, a watcher of somebody else, merely because that is the easiest thing. He becomes a victim of spectatoritis—a blanket description to cover all kinds of passive amusement, an entering into the handiest activity merely to escape boredom. Instead of expressing, he is willing to sit back and have his leisure time pursuits slapped on to him like mustard plasters—external, temporary, and, in the end, “dust in the mouth.”

Nash presciently predicted that the plague of spectatoritis would only increase:

Man can sleep too much. Granted freedom, many men go to sleep—”physically and mentally,” organically and cortically. Not having the drive for creative arts they turn to pre-digested pastimes, prepared in little packages at a dollar per. This has literally thrown us into the gladiatorial stage of Rome in which the number of participants becomes fewer and the size of the grandstands, larger. Spectatoritis has become almost synonymous with Americanism and the end is not yet. The stages will get small and the rows of seats will mount higher.”

One can easily see how the specter of spectatoritis has indeed seeped into all areas of our lives. Not only in the obvious things in which passive involvement has always been the norm–90 million Americans watched the 2011 Superbowl; 100,000 people watched U2 in concert in October—but in areas which were formerly forums of active participation. For example, in visiting a couple of “megachurches,” awhile back, I was surprised at how much the service (actually, they called it an “experience”—“service” sounds too boring and stodgy) resembled any other form of entertainment—people listened to the music, watched a video and powerpoint presentation, sat through a short message from the pastor, and left 60 minutes later. There were no requirements for participation or service of any kind. It was interesting to see that worship had become yet another thing to be passively consumed, as opposed to actively created.

A current trend in the building of new middle and upper class suburban homes is to include a “theater room,” a windowless room complete with large, movie theater-like chairs, a speaker system, and a big screen television. This is another one of those things that seems odd when you take a step back…a whole room in the house dedicated just to watching stuff. We’ve gone from having parlors for making conversation, to rumpus or recreation rooms for playing games, to rooms in which people sit silently side-by-side in the dark.

More than anything, the internet has contributed to the spread of spectatoritis. Online interactions are particularly insidious because they provide people with the feeling that they are actively participating in something, while in reality it is just another form of passive amusement.  The main form of “activity” in modern life is the expression of personal preference. Liking or disliking. While formerly you could only be a fan of sports teams, you can now become a “fan” of Dominos Pizza, presidential candidates, even “sleeping.” I find it amusing that some websites have buttons in the response section of articles that allow people to upvote or downvote readers’ comments. So if you’re too lazy to write your own stuff, and it’s too much of a burden to even generate your own comment, you can still “participate” by showing your allegiance to someone else’s idea. But giving things thumbs up or thumbs down is not real participation. Why? Because such participation is “external, temporary, dust in the mouth.” Because it doesn’t involve any risk, any putting of your own skin in the game. Because it doesn’t change anything in you or in the world.

You Can’t Become a Man from the Sidelines

The personal interest in athletics has been largely superseded by an interest in spectacular games, which unfortunately tend to divide the Nation into two groups: the few overworked champions in the arena, and the great crowd, content to do nothing but sit on the benches and look on, while indulging their tastes for tobacco and alcohol.

It is this last that is turning so many thoughtful ones against baseball, football,etc. This, it will be seen, is a reproduction of the condition that ended in the fall of Rome. In her days of growth every man was a soldier; in the end a few great gladiators were in the arena, to be watched and applauded by the millions who personally knew nothing at all of fighting or heroism.

Degeneracy is the word.

To combat the system that has turned such a large proportion of our robust, manly, self-reliant boyhood into a lot of flat-chested cigarette-smokers, with shaky nerves and doubtful vitality, I began the Woodcraft movement in America.” –Ernest Thompson Seton, creator of Woodcraft Indians, and a founder of Boy Scouts of America

Of course there’s nothing wrong with taking in a spectacle or two. As I said the beginning, I love to watch football, and I enjoy attending a minor league baseball game, movie, or concert from time to time. I do not currently have the privilege of enjoying the smug pleasure of telling people that I do not have a tv, and I enjoy catching a few shows each week. I like surfing the internet and sharing things on Facebook.

There are men who feel that the entire problem with males today is that they’re too obsessed with college and professional sports. But that’s as wrong-headed as thinking that indulging in a straight diet of passive entertainment carries no ill-effects whatsoever. Rather than suffering from spectatoritis, these men are inflicted by high-horse-itis.

No, a problem only arises when instead of being a supplement to your life—an occasional relaxing indulgence–passive amusements become a substitution, a way to feel better about something you personally lack.

Recently, William Deresiewicz wrote “An Empty Regard,” a searing op-ed piece for The New York Times in which he questioned our current unthinking idolization of the military. This near canonization of the troops began during the Iraq War with the well-intentioned purpose of not repeating the mistakes of Vietnam, in which opposition to the war translated into animosity to those serving in it.

Deresiewicz  is not against supporting the troops per se—rather he argues that we use them as our “national football team,” as a reassuring symbol that the characteristics of traditional manhood are still alive and well. “The soldier is the way we want to see ourselves: stoic, powerful, focused, devoted,” Deresiewicz writes. But it’s a safe symbol—a team we can cheer for from the couch without having to step into the arena ourselves:

 The greater the sacrifice that has fallen on one small group of people, the members of the military and their families, the more we have gone from supporting our troops to putting them on a pedestal. In the Second World War, everybody fought. Soldiers were not remote figures to most of us; they were us. Now, instead of sharing the burden, we sentimentalize it. It’s a lot easier to idealize the people who are fighting than it is to send your kid to join them. This is also a form of service, I suppose: lip service…

The political scientist Jonathan Weiler sees the cult of the uniform as a kind of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators. What we really need, in other words, is a swift kick in the pants.

And this is the real danger of spectatoritis run amok—it allows us to experience vicariously the virtues of others, without having to cultivate them ourselves.

We can see this phenomena in the popularity of certain television shows as well. Deadliest Catch. Ax Men. Ice Road Truckers. These programs showcase blue collar men working with their hands, getting dirty, and risking their lives to support their families. The white collar man, himself a stranger to manual labor, gets a vicarious dose of blue collar manhood by watching these shows, all from the comfort of his recliner.

But these vicarious experiences are fleeting. They conjure up feelings of manliness for an hour or two, but seep away, leaving the spectator entirely unchanged. And the world utterly the same.

Discussing a manly “philosophy of leisure” really deserves its own post, but for now, a simple recommendation is this: every man should have at least one thing in his life in which he has some skin in the game, in which he is actually in the arena, and not watching from the stands. One thing in which he is a doer, and not just a viewer.


{ 135 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jay DiNitto August 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

One of the main reasons I don’t like competitive sports, besides not growing up with a sports-insane father.

Also, it’s interesting to note the usage of “we” when speaking about favorite sports teams. It’s a strange form of one-sided collectivism. No, “we” didn’t win anything — trained athletes that are paid more than your life and who probably do not care that much about you as a person won the game. You sat on the couch and ate pizza.

2 Kyle P. August 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

This is absolutely one of the biggest things that contributes to prolonged male adolescence. As an RA at my college, I deal with guys that expect other men to step up and never look within themselves to be a leader. It seems to me that not many men are self-starters anymore. When they see a problem or have a question, they rarely take initiative and find the answer themselves. Independent learners are hard to come by these days.

3 mike crosby August 28, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Wonderful post.

I remember as a kid starting to watch the news. As I look back, my own life was filled with so many exciting endeavors, that I created my own news. How odd that I watch the news that I learn about someone else.

And not only is sports a spectator sport, but it’s become nothing more than a boring soap opera. Tiger Woods’ ex caddie said this. Tiger than said that. We live our lives through these other people and don’t live our own life.

My wife will come home after work and watch her soap operas that she TIVOs. Then, after watching, she’ll blog about them. It would be nice to walk around the block with her at least one time in our lives.

4 Adrien August 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Once again masterly written! It shakes the leaves on my tree (as the switches of manliness did because since then I work out half an hour every day). It makes me think of the great article you posted about havinbg a PDA (I began trying to get better and more organised). I read David Allen “Getting Things Done” and I must say: once you have a clear view of the flow of all your commitments and task in waiting, projects and so on, you definitely become more a “doer” than a “viewer”. As David Allen said (I won’t quote him because I read him in French) sometimes all your unfullfilled commitments, left strand are taunting you. It feels good trying to overcome the bump and be facing the wind. A lifetime is not enough if you try to become the best man you can or to reach self-realization (cf. Maslow and the great article you wrote about vocations) and we have still less time to sit on a couch and be a viewer before all.

5 Patrick August 28, 2011 at 2:47 pm

I hate to point this out, but…
there’s even a Facebook “like” button for this article.
While I’m going to share it on FB, wouldn’t it be hypocritical of me to Like it?

6 W. Mark Whitlock August 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Great article!

Reminds me of one of my favorite Theodore Roosevelt quotes:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

7 Ryan G. August 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm

This article encapsulates my thoughts perfectly. In my Bible study, the leader decided that the men should have a chance to get together and be men. He calls it Man Night. And the first few times we did it, it was that – we talked deeply and explored what it meant to be men of the faith. We listened to music to see what themes we could pick out from it, things like that.

Lately, though, it’s just been them getting together and watching ‘Manly’ movies like Ong Bak 3 and Demolition Man. Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself, but I’m getting the vibe that this is going to become a habit, and it drives me crazy. Especially in light of the fact that the women use that night to study Scripture and figure out how to be better women too.

I’m like, “Really, guys? Really?” It’s becoming less about iron sharpening iron and more about spectator-dom.

Anyway. Like I said. Nice article.

8 Brett McKay August 28, 2011 at 2:52 pm


Not at all. As I tried to argue in the article, there is nothing wrong with having some passive amusements in life. They just can’t be a substitution for active things. If all you ever do is like things on Facebook, that is bad. If you like something on Facebook and then go make a canoe paddle, that’s good. It’s all about balance.

9 Doug August 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Well I guess this is a good article, but I have to admit I stopped reading after the sooners comment…. Gig ‘em!

10 Nathan August 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

Fantastic article. I have little to add, but to ponder: isn’t this the same sort of thing that we see in “Reality TV”, so that we can vicariously live our own lives safely in front of the television, while still feeling as though we’re involved in “reality”?

11 Eaglewatch August 28, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I often find that “Spectatoritis” is a necessary condition to function within extended social groups. Those with whom I work, when not discussing work, invariably focus on sports. They find it necessary to keep up-to-date on everything from football and baseball to college sports. They memorize stats and study the trivia, yet it’s obvious that most of them are not even very interested in most sports.

12 Michael H August 28, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Perfectly placed “kick in the pants.” I can’t tell you how much I’ve taken from this website and found an applicable place in my life. It’s so gratifying to see other men in our society sharing the same ideas and values as I feel.

Thanks again, McKays!

13 Troy P August 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Another great post and a reminder to get out there and do something.

I agree with Kyle that it is too easy to wait and hope others step up so we can live vicariously through them. Step out and do what needs to be done.

Ryan – I’ve been there too. And while I enjoy a night of chillin’ to watch something with others guys I’d like to do something instead. Let’s have guys get together and “make our own event”. I’ve done the Incline (2,000 ft of elevation in 2 miles) with a friend from work – awesome guy-time.

14 Patrick August 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm

Great article — I’m in the process of debating whether or not to renew my MLB season tickets for next year, and I think a lot of the points in your post are at the core of my internal debate.

I’m going to be spending some time re-reading this and figuring out an action plan.

15 Philip August 28, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Another great post and it fits the “Create more than you consume” ethos of the site. Men should create their own entertainment,

One thing I’ve always wondered about it the value of fantasy leagues. They do create a social level to the sport, at the same time I’ve seen people who pour more energy and passion into their league than their job or home life.

16 Mr Writing III August 28, 2011 at 6:27 pm

I’m a sports fan but I find I can feel guilty that I wasted a beautiful Sunday afternoon watching grown men in tight pants run around. I’ve found that turning the game on the radio while I’m working out in the yard or garage helps satisfy the sports fan yet taking care of some work.

Radio overall is much more conducive to having a life while still partaking in a bit of spectatorits.

Great article – another reason why I love this blog!

17 Sam August 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Thanks for the great article. I’m guilty of spectatorits and have found it results in short term excitement but in the long run it leaves me feeling “void”, like I’m missing something. Putting everything into creating something or playing a sport on the other hand leaves me actually energised.

18 Joe K August 28, 2011 at 7:42 pm

Following up on Jay DiNitto’s comment, I think it’s also interesting to note that people have a tendency to use “we” when their team wins and “they” when their team loses.

Another terrific article, Brett and Kate. Thank you.

19 zeus August 28, 2011 at 7:52 pm

One thing to remember is that it’s just a sport that’s meant to entertain us. Many guys will fight with someone if their team loses and the other person likes the opposing winning team.
It’s okay to support a team but like many others said, you’re not part of the team and it’s not healthy to act like you’re a part of the team by using statements such as “WE”.
Plus many women are turned off by such extreme behavior especially if a guy is beating someone else up over it.
This is one of the very things we address on my site, proper behavior among others.

20 Steve August 28, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Great article! First one I have been compelled to comment on; as opposed to just hit the “like” button in my mind.

I love how you are tackling the issue of the TV watching, internet surfing, boy-man.
The average man now has more leisure time than ever before. So the question is, what do we do with all of this time? Sure I play sports, workout and go out with friends (which I would consider “doer” activities), but what else is out there that you guys find is more “doer” than “watcher.” I especially have this problem during the week when I know I need to wake up early in the morning but still have a few hours till sleep. So the obvious activity is to watch TV.

So I guess my question is what types of things do you guys do that you would consider “doer” activities?

21 Daren Redekopp August 28, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Amen. Any true depth in my own life has been dug by my own hands. Cormac McCarthy writes about this idea in “All the Pretty Horses.” Check it out:

“They listened with great attention as John Grady answered their questions and they nodded solemnly and they were careful of their demeanor that they not be thought to have opinions on what they heard for like most me skilled at their work they were scornful of any least suggestion of knowing anything not learned at first hand.”

22 Brian August 28, 2011 at 8:46 pm


23 Drda August 28, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I’ve always disliked the men who just sit and watch, and later comment on how “we” won. I hate the thought of them believing they had a part in the athletes performance just because they yelled at their tiny screen.

At first, I’ve had a hard time finding my flaw here, but I’ve found myself skipping out helping people on more than one occasion. (being self-criticizing helps one’s growth)

I just stood there not helping that person, because I’ve never seen anyone in my life help a stranger. A while ago, when I found AoM, a couple of switches changed inside me, and now you’ll find me helping strangers, being a better person, and being a man as much as I can be. Everyone should spring to help a fellow human being.

This particular article nudged me to make a comment here, my very first one on this fine web site. Thanks for everything.

24 Adrian August 28, 2011 at 9:05 pm

Something I’m all too aware of on those evenings when I sit and read through endless newsfeeds, twitter updates and “interesting” blogs rather than write code or do other work. Watching is easier than doing, it can sneak up and suck you in.

It also strikes a chord with those endless “like this page to get XYZ to do ABC” petitions on facebook. Do people really believe that clicking a button will suddenly make something major happen? “Click here to plant 1000 trees.” Um, no. Go pick up a spade, go outside, buy some trees and plant the damn things yourself.

25 Vincent August 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm

This is a great article. I was wondering when this subject would be tackled. Today’s media world is so specialized and therefore can be self-indulgent that people get lost in relatively shallow hobbies in the grand scheme of things and neglect relationships and anything that requires the challenging spontaneity of real life.

Also, this idea that trivia knowledge= intelligence as opposed to original creative output leads people to fill up their brain with a lot of crap. The liberal arts have failed when people know Shakespeare’s middle name, but they don’t understand a syllogism.

Facebook exists to promote consumerism. People spend more time monotonously listing their hobbies than actually enjoying them. People like the image it gives.

Occasionally I worry that this site can contribute to that with all its random yet awesome articles, but I do feel like this is a site geared towards genuinely increasing people’s quality of life and not just getting a million hits.

26 Shawn August 28, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Great article, the best I’ve seen in a while.

27 Andrew August 28, 2011 at 9:46 pm

I think this is a symptom than a cause of the whole “prolonged adolescence” problem. I think a bigger problem with the whole “spectoritis” details is how we have gotten to this point in a two-pronged manner: parents coddle their children too much when they need to be active, and then society allow them to live vicariously through televised sports events whether it be reality shows, college or professional sports, or even other events they may see in person and then not allow them to fully aspire to it when they are young or encourage others to find healthier alternatives when they are adults and know that such events may not be fully able to be realized by then.

Boys need to be encouraged to find out their own strengths and weaknesses for themselves and men need to be able to find another outlet for watching the world go by.

28 Eric August 28, 2011 at 10:06 pm

Brilliant article. I’m excited for this “philosophy of leisure” post. Perhaps it could feature Lin Yutang?

29 Handler August 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm

This article has managed to explain my own thoughts to myself.

A group of guys I know are ardent football fans, and while I used to hang out with them I somehow got into being a fan of one particular team as well. Watching, talking about it, playing it, it seemed as though we were living our fantasies through players who earn hundreds of thousands of pounds a week.

Rivalry between fans of opposing teams was fierce, and talk could go on and on about about our teams. New signings, departures, injuries, peak in form, conflicts between players and managers, the list goes on. Buying of jerseys, and where I live, you have to pay a substantial amount every month to watch football on cable TV.

Then one day, I realised that all this meant close to nothing. What has the happenstance of all these got to do with us, spectators? Do these multi-million dollar players really give a rat’s ass about how some fans would die to have a photograph taken with them? When they go on tours around the world, do you think it is really about spreading the love of the sport, or more to establish a fan base for monetary profits?

In the end, it can never be bad to have some sort of inspiration for your passion but always live your dreams, yourself.

30 Robert August 28, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Brett and Kate – Thank you for this website.

There is rarely enough positive feedback on the internet. I enjoyed this article as I have many, many others here, and feel that they have had a great influence in my life.

My girlfriend has even come to enjoy this website for the same reason I believe many others do.

The Art of Manliness gets down to the root of being a good man – and that is first being a good person.

Please keep up the good work!

31 Joe August 28, 2011 at 11:58 pm

There are lessons to be learned here that go beyond watching sports vs. participating in them. In addition to doing less and viewing more, we’re also thinking less and losing our abilities for critical thought and problem solving.

Instead of figuring out how to solve the simplest problem, we have to buy a book to have some expert tell us how to do it, whether we’re fixing a leaky faucet or fixing a relationship. Instead of being involved in our communities, we would rather complain about problems and rely on someone else to solve them. Not that every problem can be solved by one individual, but it seems like we’ve abdicated most of the responsibilities of citizenship to other parties.

Granted, part of the problem is the insistence on other parties (government, schools, business, etc.) that they can do a better job of fixing problems than we can– while skewing the playing field in the process to ensure they’re right. So when we become more dependent and less self-reliant, what’s left for us to do but sit around waiting to be entertained?

32 David August 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

Very good article. Thank you.

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks now, and more before that.

Two of my friends were killed in the helicopter crash in Afghanistan recently, and they were the ultimate doers, along with everyone else on board.

Service, sacrifice, and shared purpose make the doer. And it doesn’t have to be in the military. It can be everyday. It can be volunteering. It can be donating. It can be doing something that scares you.

Do it.

33 Clay August 29, 2011 at 12:05 am

Well done Brett, another interesting post. I’m quite anticipating an article about “active” leisures after this one. I myself didn’t grew up having a very active leisure, not that I’m working I try to find ways to get some active hobbies in as much as I can. I think one trick is to learn as you enjoy watching a game. When I tried out boxing and learned some of the basics, I learned to appreciate how fighters would throw and dodge punches, heck the mere fact that they can last for 12 rounds makes me appreciate the training these guys go through. After a good fight of Boxing or MMA, it just gets me pumped up for a boxing session and maybe adopt some techniques of the greatest fighters I know.

34 Kyle F. August 29, 2011 at 12:11 am

Dead on, Team McKay.

There’s nothing wrong with being a sports fan in moderation–but I’ve gone to some professional games where the fans look like they’ve never seen the inside of gym. Cheering on athletes to push themselves harder when you are yourself a lard ass makes for a disgrace of manhood.

35 Johnny C August 29, 2011 at 12:27 am

Every time someone criticizes me for whatever I do–whether it is martial arts, parkour, writing, cooking, or whatever interest I have–my main response is “Let’s see you do it”. 99.99% of the time, the couch critics and Internet tough guys have no authority or experience to judge.

Expanding on that, it’s good to not let people define you. If I let people tell me I’m not good at this or that and shouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t ever do anything with my life. So I’ve made it my goal to be the best I can be and do the best I will: whether I’m the best at my craft or I’m the worst, I’ve already won because I’ve actually done something. That itself is the reward for being a doer: that we do things instead of talking.

36 tulsalum August 29, 2011 at 12:37 am

When I was at the University of Tulsa (GOLDEN….HURRICANE!!!!) my dad would call me to congratulate me when our football team would win a game. I would always say to him why are you congratulating me, I didn’t play…

37 Johnny August 29, 2011 at 1:01 am

This is an great article.

I think that one thing about “Spectatoritis” is that it’s so easy to find other people to join you in watching something, but it’s hard to find people that are afraid of sucking and of not being a specialist. I think this is just another example of people becoming more “specialized” and less “Renaissance Men”. (Not that there were many dudes playing pick-up basketball games back then)

Why look like a fat, outta shape dork when you can spend your time shouting with a bunch of other guys in a bar, vicariously living through other people’s accomplishments, and impressing everyone with your sports trivia knowledge?

38 Matt August 29, 2011 at 2:06 am

The opposite can be said too for this issue. Sometimes watching someone do something on television, spurs the viewer on to improve his/her own life. If you ever seen the show, “Last One Standing,” it was a mildly popular, one season broadcast on the Discover Channel in which 6 contestants competed in tribal games around the globe. After watching that, I got my ass up off the couch and started running. It was a real motivator.

39 Mantuitive August 29, 2011 at 2:21 am

It’s interesting that one of the Nash quotes alludes to the gladiatorial spectacles of Rome because so often when I think of the U.S. today I am struck by the parallels to decline of the Roman empire. “Spectoritis” (or perhaps as a broader reading of the term, passivity) is a major contributing factor to a serious lack of ingenuity going on this country. I badly want to believe our best days our ahead of us but reading an article like this sobers me a bit. In any case a good read, Brett.

40 J. Polman August 29, 2011 at 7:09 am

Thanks so much for a great and thought-provoking article. As a worship leader to various congregations over the years, I have seen the problem of “spectatoritis” in the life of the church. There is only One Spectator in our worship and He looks within every heart, not just those on the stage.

That being said, in other areas of my own life I can identify where this has crept into my routines. Thanks for shedding some light on my own “spectatoritis.”

41 Rahul August 29, 2011 at 7:14 am

My thoughts exactly!!!! Just this Saturday, I had friends over to my house and they were ribbing me about not having TV. Anyways, I really think you have been very balanced in your critique of this culture. Yes, diversion, entertainment and leisure are necessary but they should never be a substitution for the real stuff of our lives…. In my case, the same applies probably to the time I spend on the net but to a way lesser degree that TV which I think is way more passive.

@JayDiNitto- I couldn’t agree more. The ‘we won’ line always gets my goat. Particularly in India where we have a lot of people who say they are crazy about sports…ie: they sit on their asses and watch cricket.

@Mr. Writing- I am with you on the radio. A few good songs in the morning after I work out and as I am getting ready for office is all I need to give me a high that usually lasts till about lunch. . .

42 Jonathan August 29, 2011 at 7:33 am

@David: Doer activities are usually those where you do the things you’re interested in. If you’re a football fan, join an amateur football league. If you like antiques, take up restoring them as a hobby. As a personal example, I love reading stories, so I’ve taken up writing short stories as a hobby. I architecture and woodworking, so I’m teaching myself carpentry.

43 Josh Knowles August 29, 2011 at 7:44 am

Thanks for this article.

I particularly appreciated the comments on how this sickness has crept into worship gatherings. We even talk about creating a “sense of community” or “making people feel involved” now. Why not have actual community or let people actually be involved?

That said, I also appreciated the bit about “high horse-itis”. It doesn’t really help much, and no one can seem to agree on exactly what and how much to abstain from. I think that, like many things (except for crystal meth and marital infidelity), moderation is key here.

I liked Mr Writing’s comments about listening to a game on the radio. I often do that as well. That lets me get other things done around the house and still hear how the game is going. And, I find the commentators on the radio are often better than the guys on TV because they actually have to explain how the play develops and they tell you stats and so on.

Thanks again.

44 JonathanL August 29, 2011 at 8:27 am

I enjoy sports but often find myself conflicted with them. I’ve broken myself from saying “we” because I know I’m just a fan and not an active participant in the success of my favorite teams. I would rather know my role and enjoy the game than delude myself into thinking that I’m somehow part of something I’m not.

Didn’t make last night’s baseball game any more tolerable, though.

In some ways, I think fantasy football is a perfect example of spectatoritis. Recently, there was an injury to a star player, and many expressed dismay, greatly upsetting the player, who has his livelihood at stake every time he takes the field. I enjoy fantasy football, but in an insular fashion. I don’t want the announcers to bring it up. I don’t want players to engage in it. Athletes should play sports, announcers should describe the game, and no one should bring up a sport that is the height of vicarious living.

Some of the things people like to refer to as “manly” hold no interest for me. Fishing, hunting, camping, none of that stuff is for me. But as I’ve said before here, I am a father, and this is my great activity. My son is young enough still to want to sit right next to me on the couch, to go outside every time I go outside, to water the tree we planted (after all, Lowe’s gave them out for free this year), to go out to the park and fly a kite.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fake worlds created for entertainment and our own delusions. It’s important to remember that we must carve out our own lives, that as meaningless as they are, they are the only ones we are guaranteed to have.

A good article.

45 Darren Bush August 29, 2011 at 9:46 am

I live in Wisconsin and I don’t know anything about the Packers. This makes me a bit of a pariah.

I have never been a fan of spectator sports. They are amusement, not recreation. We often use amusement, entertainment and recreation interchangeably. Not true. Re-creation…to recreate yourself, to allow yourself to rejuvenate (literally “to make young again”) after the affects of a pretty intense world.

To be crude but exact: Sex:Porn::Doing:Watching.

46 Jeff August 29, 2011 at 9:53 am

Wonderful article, Brett. Having just re-read Amusing Ourselves to Death by Niel Postman, this adds a new dimension to his thoughts. It’s often true that we, as a culture, are no longer participatory – we’re content to sit and watch. I have friends here at Virginia Tech who, on game weekend, will get up early to watch the pregame show, then go to the football game, come back for the post-game show, watch another game on television, and then watch 3 more on Sunday. Drives me nuts! I notice, in myself as well, that vibrancy in living is severely diminished by extended times of passive consumption and spectating. We need to live, not live vicariously! Thanks for the thoughts!

47 Luis August 29, 2011 at 10:02 am

Thanks for the article as always. I think video games can also be included (to some extent) into the spectatortis trend.

Thanks again!

48 Ian August 29, 2011 at 10:23 am

Once again, a nice breath of fresh air. I can rarely get into being a fan of a team or even an individual athlete, and it always amazed me how many guys seem to assume they are cool by association with people they’re unlikely to ever meet. Then again, I get loyal to fictional characters, so there goes my high horse.

49 Carlo d. August 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

I GO TO RUTGERS. Brett, you are so right. My University spent the most money on our football program than any other this year. We haven’t even played well! More money is going to our stadium and coaches’ ($4mil) salaries than towards research and teachers! Priorities here are out of whack. Great post, Brett. I appreciate the military references most especially.

50 Claude August 29, 2011 at 10:58 am

Very interesting. I bet this could be expanded into alot of other psych and soc issues. Good stuff.

It took me way too long to grow out of this. In college i watched so much college and pro sports I was like a walking encyclopedia of worthless sports info. Once I started my family, i wittled it down to just watching the Green Bay Packers. I missed the other sports for years. I dont anymore. ANd dont regret missing a Packer game now and then. At the same time, im going thru a period where i feel like I haven’t LIVED. Im craving adventure. This article hit home. Thanks.

51 Nick August 29, 2011 at 11:23 am

Hah…”you can now become a “fan” of Dominos Pizza”…this really puts it all into perspective

This is really the same subject as creating vs consuming, and how to balance the two when the amount of info to consume, and the ease and immediacy of consumption are so difficult to ignore.

I find it extremely difficult to not become a professional hobbyist or appreciator with so much access to amazing things. It is frightening how much time can be spent on input versus output, if you don’t stop yourself…and the worst part is the empty feeling you are left with when you realize you haven’t accomplished anything. I wonder how many people realize that they haven’t actually accomplished any output?

52 Mike Muson August 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

A very well written article! The world and men in particular have become too passive in life. Owning your actions, taking risks, and experience success as well as set-backs first hand are all a part of being an empowered man. I hope this article inspires men across the globe to jump in to life!

53 David August 29, 2011 at 12:14 pm

Very interesting article. I can say I almost never watch any sports on TV or go to games (I caught part of the last Superbowl I think) – just not interested and besides, it seems I’m busy doing something else. I know guys that plan their whole week-end and practically their life around sports, as if it was an obsession. If that’s what someone else enjoys, great, to each his own. I guess for some, it’s the “manly” thing to do. But I have often wondered, where do some guys find the time to sit in front of a TV all week-end long (even on a beautiful day) or spend a crazy amount of cash on attending a professional sporting event. There is so much of the world to see, so much to do and experience, why sit and watch someone else pursue their goals and dreams?

54 Andrew#2 August 29, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Excellent work Brett.

55 Steve C August 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

It is just for this reason that I took up autocrossing. I wanted to know if I could translate those video game racing skills into a reasonable approximation of a race car driver. I’m only in the middle ranks of the local championship, but, dangit, I’m there. I’m happy to say that I’m in the driver’s seat, not the couch seat.

56 Scott S August 29, 2011 at 12:57 pm

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune, and idleness, its opposite, never brought a man to the goal of any of his best wishes.” -Miguel de Cervantes

57 Tim August 29, 2011 at 1:18 pm

This has been a blessing and curse in my life: I served in combat in the military, but am out now, having completed my service. And I am left nearly every day to struggle with what can I DO, when so many civilians around me are doing nothing. Playing video games and watching football every weekend is not a far cry from how I would describe hell.

I found this quote haunting: “Soldiers and cops and firefighters, he argues, embody a notion of public service to which the rest of us are now no more than spectators. What we really need, in other words, is a swift kick in the pants.”

Public service is, in my opinion, the finest form of doing. And the opportunities are innumerable, regardless of your chosen profession. Become a volunteer firefighter, join Search & Rescue, fly with Civil Air Patrol, or become active with one of the thousands of non-profits working to change lives in your community, state, country, and world. Or even join the National Guard.

All of these choices require personal and family sacrifice at some level, but the rewards far outweigh them.

58 Jack R August 29, 2011 at 1:45 pm

Excellent, thought-provoking post. This post is certainly in the Top 10 All-Time Best AoM Posts.

59 Russ August 29, 2011 at 1:56 pm

I think some people are focusing too much on sports here (note that I simply said, “some”). Like others have said, we need to look at the overall theme here. Sure, you can beome obsessed with a passive activity such as watching sports, but there are other such activities which prevent a person from becoming a doer as well. Exercise is obviously a proactive activity, but too much of it can have a negative effect on yourself and your family. The key is moderation in everything. Some commenters are using this article as a springboard for criticizing being a fan, when it’s not what the intention of the article was.

I love two professional sports teams, and yes, I have been guilty of saying “We” look great this game or “We” looked terrible today. But who cares? I enjoy watching these games and maybe doing a bit of reading every day or two about my teams. But I never let it interfere with my life’s other passions or responsibilities. And I especially realize that these athletes don’t give a hoot about me, and that’s why I don’t go overboard in my fandom. What I don’t understand is how fans spend hundreds/thousands of dollars per year to attend professional sporting events in person. It boggles my mind.

60 Sean August 29, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Great post!

It inspired me to get off my can and leave a comment for once.

61 Tom August 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Brett, looks like this article has really struck home for a lot of guys (it certainly has for me). I hope y’all will follow up with more on this topic.

62 Randy August 29, 2011 at 2:14 pm

“every man should have at least one thing in his life in which he has some skin in the game, in which he is actually in the arena, and not watching from the stands. One thing in which he is a doer, and not just a viewer.”

I am a highly active person who agrees with a doer attitude at almost all times. However, just to be devil’s advocate, isn’t that one thing in a man’s life his career? Does that not fulfill this philosphy? What if a man wants to participate in mostly passive activities outside of work? Just some thoughts.

63 Todd August 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Nicely said!

64 mattoomba August 29, 2011 at 3:00 pm

I’m sorry, but you lost all credibility when you referred to your “beloved Sooners.”

Of course, I’m kidding. Kind of. Hook ‘em.

65 Allan August 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm

This article came at a very opportune time.

Well I believe I do a majority amount of “doing” in my endeavours outside of work and family (motorcycles, firearms, photography, and diving) with a busy work schedule and a above average amount of social commitments this summer most of my other interests have gone by the wayside. Frustrated by this I have somehow found myself just posting on internet forums more than spending the little free time that I have pursuing my interests. I feel that if I cant do it at the level I’m used to, why bother at all.

The time spend on the internet should be spent either doing the smaller things I can to enjoy my personal interests or taking care of work and family issues to make a whole day I can spend doing other things.

66 Stephen August 29, 2011 at 4:10 pm

Get off the couch, learn to shoot learn about our heritage as a country. It is a great weekend, and no matter how good you think you are at hitting a target you can always get better.

67 Mike D August 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm


68 mattoomba August 29, 2011 at 5:47 pm

I whole-heartedly agree that “voyeurism” is yet another malady that afflicts men today. (My distaste of the Sooner part at the beginning of the article aside!) I have often thought that men who can recite the career history (and even off-field activities) of professional athletes, well they’re no different than women who follow the lives, loves, and antics of the actors and actresses of Hollywood. This sort of vicarious living and vicarious passion for living is decidedly unmasculine.

The “Man in the Arena” quote is of course very appropriate here.

69 Brucifer August 29, 2011 at 5:56 pm

I cannot for the life of me, understand legions of ‘men’ who spend endless hours following and lionizing insipid sport “heroes” who are grossly overpaid, often dumb -as-rocks and too often, morally deficient. Too many men of my acquaintance, can recite arcane sports scores and averages ad nausea, but then would be hard pressed to tell who their elected representatives are and what legislation is pressing. Bah! What is this “WE” won stuff, anyway? YOU didn’t do squat but sit on the sidelines or in front of your danged TV and yell.

It gets even worse with the younger generation, preferring hours upon hours of “warrior adventures” sitting at a game console. This, instead of actually going out and learning how to use a *real* sword or a *real* firearm. Again, bah!

Well, no matter, you couch potatoes. Like the man sez, “The future belongs to those of us still willing to get our hands dirty.”

70 Joe Shehan August 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm

Very astute! My grandfather had a word for what you are advocating, he called it “being a Man of Action”. He was such a man, and he raised me to be the same. I play amateur baseball, fix my own cars, work on my house and the houses of my family, fish and from time to time play semipro football. Not wanting to leave the hard work of protecting this country to my friends and family, I am currently working on getting into shape so that I can join the US Navy, and use my M.A. in Diplomacy to protect my country.

71 Colton Wilson August 29, 2011 at 6:43 pm

From “The Strenuous LIfe” by Theodore Roosevelt

If you are rich and are worth your salt, you will teach your sons that though they may have leisure, it is not to be spent in idleness; for wisely used leisure merely means that those who possess it, being free from the necessity of working for their livelihood, are all the more bound to carry on some kind of non-remunerative work in science, in letters, in art, in exploration, in historical research—work of the type we most need in this country, the successful carrying out of which reflects most honor upon the nation. We do not admire the man of timid peace. We admire the man who embodies victorious effort; the man who never wrongs his neighbor, who is prompt to help a friend, but who has those virile qualities necessary to win in the stern strife of actual life. It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. In this life we get nothing save by effort. Freedom from effort in the present merely means that there has been stored up effort in the past. A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright, and the man still does actual work, though of a different kind, whether as a writer or a general, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor as a period, not of preparation, but of mere enjoyment, even though perhaps not of vicious enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer of the earth’s surface, and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.

72 Steve Jones August 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm

Excellent perspective that can be applied to sports, “reality” TV, and so many other day-to-day activities. Don’t watch travel programs, book a flight. Don’t listen to the old guy in the bar talk about his hunting or fishing adventures, go make your own. Don’t waste your life reading gossip columns about celebrities that you don’t personally know and whose lives have no impact on yours. Rule of thumb, if you weren’t invited to the wedding, the divorce doesn’t impact your life. If you think first-person shooter games make you a soldier, put down the controller and enlist in the military; it’s not a game. To end this barely connected diatribe, the following British comedy sketch may elicit a chuckle or two.

73 Jeff August 29, 2011 at 6:53 pm

This was a great article. I have been feeling this way for a good while now but haven’t been able to express it. This is probably because I, unknowingly, was floating down “Stream Spectatoritis” beside all of those that I looked down upon for being lazy (aka I never tried to verbalize it). While I have done better since joining the military (“sentimentalizing” is a great way to drescribe America’s restrained feeling’s) but still lack in some aspects. With that said……..I will go learn to play that harmonica that I have been listening to at concerts! Thank you AoM for addressing a grand epidemic in today’s world.

74 James August 29, 2011 at 7:19 pm

I rarely comment, but really enjoyed the “spirit” of this article. That being said, I love the Autumn season and really look forward to watching, and attending a handful of select football games. Having played beyond the average fan-typical “high-school level” for a few years; it takes me back to a time when I enjoyed participating in a sport that I loved. Those who know me would tell you that I am most certainly a “doer” of the highest order. My professional career involves high level finance, and provides me with the opportunity to serve my community periodically as an EMT, and Firefighter. It has been more than 10 years since having thrown on my pads, but for those few moments in the Fall; in a way–I’m back, and don’t mind doing it as just a “fan”… for now.

75 Ryan August 29, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Don’t want to spam, but I’m starting up a twitter account just for kicks and giggles. Thought some of the guys here might be interested in following it.!/POMCWG

Problems of a Middle Class White Guy


76 Casey August 29, 2011 at 8:11 pm

You can argue that going to a sporting event is a proactive endeavor. For insance, it involves socializing, having good times, and making memories with friends and family, being part of a living, breathing group all cheering on the same team, and enjoying the outdoors. It’s really not fair to say that fans are indulging their taste for tobacco and alcohol. Some are, most aren’t.

77 Hal August 29, 2011 at 8:31 pm

After having played ice hockey (competitively) for a decade or so, I can’t watch it on TV any more. I go watch a Mavericks game once or twice a year with the wife, just for something fun to do. I, too, am amused by fans who say “WE” won. If you ain’t on the ice, you haven’t won crap (unless your seat got picked for a free pizza or something). At OCS in Quantico, the instructors refer to the “spectators” in various PT venues as “jock straps”. They’re athletic supporters.

I also can’t watch hunting shows. They all seem to focus on the trophy aspect of bigger = better, and some of the methods are questionable. The only “spectatoritis” I can handle when it comes to hunting is when all of us meet back up at our trucks to eat sandwiches and tell our respective stories.

Having said all that, a lot can be said for kicking back in a recliner and watching a game AFTER spending a day doing things like landscaping, pouring concrete, etc. If you’ve earned it, I feel a little spectatoritis can be allowed.

78 Randall August 29, 2011 at 10:41 pm

A little of me died when I saw that you were a sooner fan, as I am a very big fan of the longhorns. XD Great post anyway.

79 John M August 29, 2011 at 10:49 pm

This has irked me for a long time, and apparently pop culture has been stuck on it since long before I was created. An -itis, in medical language, refers to an inflammation of some kind. Think about raw, red sores on spectators, senior high school students (senioritis), you get the picture, and it is not pretty. A better term would be Spectatorophathy or Senioropathy, -pathy being the medical terminology for disease or suffering.

Also, to Ryan: There is a media outlet of complaints of white people you may want to check out, called “white whine” The idea being that all people get angry at not being able to enjoy the things they are accustomed to, and some white people are accustomed to some very nice things.

80 Stephen August 29, 2011 at 11:03 pm

A very interesting, thoughtful and timely post for me. I have a ton of work to do on my thesis but I hit a bit of a wall and found myself playing computer games yesterday instead of working on it. Although I enjoy it, when you close the screen and come back to the real world, not only is there a sense of guilt of not working on what I should, but also emptiness in that absolutely nothing is achieved except wasted hours. Time to go back to the books. Cheers.

81 Robert August 29, 2011 at 11:30 pm

This was a great article. Goes along nicely with my convictions about how sports Gods are created, and how we don’t remember how important it is to accually do things.

As I remember, many men needed inspiration to go to war, work in dangerous professions, and basically man up for a living. Sports figures took on amazing odds and put their physique on the line, and inspired us with thier determination and guts to keep going, in a sport we were aware of how much they put out. All it took was trying to do what they did, measured against a well known field, to see that they had done more than the other, or us, if we ever braved the same challange.

It was a simple way, simpler than maybe mens daily jobs, to measure another mans strength in comparison, and seek what it might have taken, to excell. We wanted and needed to excell. we wanted to be strong. I am not saying being a pro athelete is easy. What I am saying is it could be measured easier than most. You can get two construction workers together and they understand what they are talking about, but you could get one construction worker and a doctor together, and they would understand what happened on the sports field. In the end they made the obvious judgement that some excelled, and could learn why.

Of course this was competition on an even playing field. An attempt at pitting ourselves against the other, with full knowledge that it would be our perserverance, determination, and self control that would be sharpened. Like climbing the mountain, because “It was there”. A challange to the inner man, for himself, and for the ones he loved, to give them provision and strength.

What has happened in the sports arena, is that it has been reduced to a well paying Job, and such moral integrity has gone out the window with many. Big business, steroids, drugs and gambling, has reduced it to money, and that was not what is was supposed to be about was it? Remember when Baseball was played by sportsman? Remember when they made little money, and just loved the challange of the game? I remember hearing stories of cheaters being permenantly kicked out, instead of being fined. It seems money has become the name of the game.

But beyond that, the spectatoritis has missed the point for us, that we too can commit to our own personal physical challanges. I must admit, that when watching an episode of the true story, taken from the TV show, “I should be dead”, a tear came to my eye. A man who lost his legs and was fitted with artificial ones, climbed mount everest, on a set of springs essentially. That was moving, and none of us has any excuse. Was I crying because I myself appreciated his bravery and determination, or was I just jealous? A little of both.

The man in a wheelchair who goes out and does not admit defeat, has allready won more than one multimillion sports star who has no reason gets into drugs and cheating, but he is unsung.

But there is the point, spectators are not doers most of the time, and the truth is, (quoting from “The Edge”), “What one man can do another can do”. Interesting that Hopkins plays a millionaire, and that he states that the others saved his life, while was the solid character in them all, and tried to preserve thiers.

We all have it in us, but we must challange ourselves. The high school coachs know this, that we have to keep challanging ourselves, in every area of life, to truly build our character. The games, are just for preparation in lifes challanges, that are not just games, sometimes they’re life and death.

So why do we spectate, but not participate, in our own challanges? It must be because we have lost some nessesary discipline, to our own selves be true, and we are soft.

Yes I can see it could become like the author said how Rome fell. We are talkers and spectators, and not doers. One can only hope that we will take ahold of ourselves, and challange ourselves, to prove to ourselves, that we can overcome even ourselves.

“Be prepared” I allways loved that Boy scout motto

82 Austin August 29, 2011 at 11:31 pm

I used to say that someday when I had kids I’d have them play at least one sport and one instrument. Now I realize that when you ask a man what he wants for his kids, you’re really asking what he wants for himself. I recently joined a mens’ baseball team after a 7 year hiatus from playing and it’s been great so far. I’d like to pick up my guitar more and resume piano lessons as well. It seems we all need to have hobbies and pursuits beyond work to keep us going.

83 Robert August 29, 2011 at 11:46 pm

@Joe Shehan

You go Joe, thank you.

84 brayton August 30, 2011 at 12:19 am

Incredible post. I work a lot with teenagers in my church and from my generation to theirs its only getting worse. I felt the lack “adventure” from my Dad and his generation and have decided to stop the plague before it goes to my son. The church is all about this sadly, and Christ was completely against it. The main call of Christ is to “come and die” for the gospel and for others. Lay your life down and take up the cross. It’s living and dying for something greater than yourself. That’s why every disciple except 1 was martyred for the their faith. Father’s teach your sons the things you wished your dad would have taught you. Thanks for the post and keeping me focused!

85 L Neal August 30, 2011 at 9:29 am

“You can argue that going to a sporting event is a proactive endeavor.”
   /proʊˈæktɪv/ Spelled[proh-ak-tiv]
serving to prepare for, intervene in, or control an expected occurrence or situation, especially a negative or difficult one; anticipatory: proactive measures against crime.

proactive (prəʊˈæktɪv)
— adj
1. tending to initiate change rather than reacting to events.

Neither definition fits being a spectator at any event. If you’re not a participant in some way that allows you direct influence on the action and entails some personal risks you are not being proactive. Sporting events, video games, television, and films all excel at giving the appearance and some of the sensation of being proactive while feeding the partaker a tailored or vicarious experience that is not. That’s what they’re for, to draw in and hold the attention of the spectators and make them feel like they’re part of the action in order to get them to spend their money to attend and buy needed items at the event and related items later. There’s nothing wrong with going to a game with friends or playing a video game, but don’t confuse entertainment with actually doing something.

86 JonathanL August 30, 2011 at 1:08 pm

Anyone who wants an interesting take on the importance placed on games and those who play them may find value in the latest Radiolab podcast. Economist and Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner does provide a short blast of what makes sports so fun to follow.

87 Timothy August 30, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Great post Brett, and very timely in that I just returned from a motorcycle trip that saw me skirting the edge of Hurricane Irene as I returned from my annual professional society conference in Philadelphia.

Last year’s conference trip took me across the prairies and mountains, again on two wheels, to the west coast and back. Few things put you in the action better than saddling up and riding across the continent, dealing with all that the elements can throw at you, not to mention the beauty of the landscape and the pride of a successful journey.

88 Bryan August 30, 2011 at 6:20 pm

This has probably been said already, but I couldn’t help chuckle a couple times while reading this post, as the little list of buttons followed my slow scrolling down the page. And again at the bottom, I saw “390 people like this. Be the first of your friends.” Irony.

Really though, this was a very well-written and thoughtful post, which addressed some things that got me thinking. I plan on picking up the book “Spectatoritis” and adding it to my reading list as well.

89 Scout August 30, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Huzzah ! Another AoM entry that hits the nail through the board and into the ground !

I have for a long time felt (and sometimes expressed) these same exact sentiments about all of these topics – pro and college sports, the misguided “support ther troops” movement, so-called Reality TV , tons of cop shows, – all of them indicative of a society of men who live through other’s efforts and not their own.

The Seton quote is one of my favorites of his many wise writings. Baden Powell had similar comments.

Another symptom of this disease is the phenomenon of all sorts of “grown-ups” wearing oversized sports jerseys to sit and watch a game on ‘the tube’. It gets quite silly in terms of the money and fanatacism associated with these sports jerseys – complete with someones else’s name on the back. I love to play with these people’s minds when I find a suitable target and say stuff like ” Wow, are you friends with “Player X” How did you get his jersey?” oooh? People I work with actually wear their oversized $100 football jerseys to the office during the playoffs – Even though so many people do it , and I know I am ounumbered… All I think is “LOSER” or “SHEEP” when I see people like this..

I often get accused of not liking sports but the fact is that I stopped playing baseball and football in 9th grade because the insanely “organized” aspect of it was just too much. I, at that time chose individual sports like cycling, competetive shooting and various outdoor pursuits as my way of keeping physically and mentally in shape. The individual sports were not so tainted (at least not back then).

Another thing that you don’t see anymore..Real people playing college sports – That could be a whole other article.. Now a days college sports are like little pro training camps. Back in the day, men who were at college to study and learn ALSO happened to play football and other sports for their school. Now you can be sure that the people who play those sports are there primarily if not solely to play a sport to entertain the masses and make the college a lot of $$$.

Another excellent article sir !

90 George August 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm

L Neal, I think you dissected the language of that post waaaaaay too much. I understand what the poster was saying, sporting events are social events. Take it easy.

91 Scott August 30, 2011 at 8:48 pm

“Be a doer not a viewer.” I dig this. But I’m also a drinker, and enjoy doing it with friends in the social arena of live sporting events.

The whole support the troops thing is out of hand as well. Cool bumper sticker, when’s the last time you donated to the Wounded Warrior Project? Shoulda spent that sticker money on a pack off ass wipes and sent it to a grunt instead. Also, feel free to support future troops by raising intelligent and physically sound children that will be an asset to their particular units instead of a disgusting liability.

92 Ari August 30, 2011 at 9:20 pm

This is a great article, it explained a phenomenon that I have felt unhappy about for a long time but have not been able to articulate very well.

I’m also very happy with how AoM posts engage with ideas over a broad period of time, I am so often frustrated with blogs that focus on new developments/research/ideas exclusively, without sites like this, ideas like “Spectatoritis” could be consigned to history.

There is a very interesting development in the UK at them moment which is a reaction to the large Premier League clubs treatment of the fans. Many fans of the large clubs feel as if they have been left out of club decisions – meaning that some clubs are taken over by bids financed by debt – and are also denied an exciting spectator experience by overly prescriptive nanny-ish league rules that limit the historically fun and rowdy communal experience of watching football. As a response fans have taken over or founded their own teams and are now having a very enjoyable time in the lower leagues. They are still spectators, but much more active participants than you would think.

This video features 2 such clubs FC United (formed by disaffected fans of Manchester United) and Chester FC (a club that was bought by fans when then the previous owner went bankrupt)

93 Daniel J Foley Jr August 30, 2011 at 9:54 pm

While our society shifts from a more passive life to a more active participation in life, it is more important than ever for those “gladiators” to stay strong, healthy and committed. There will come a time when the spectator realizes he/she has given his manhood/womanhood away. The gladiators must set the example of exuberant life – and be glad to do it.

Thanks for keeping the flame lit Art of Manliness!

94 Grant August 31, 2011 at 12:11 am

Brett, this article is awesome. Thank you for writing it.

@Darren Bush – your last comment, Sex:Porn::Doing:Watching was exactly what I was thinking about the whole time I was reading this. A few years ago I was talking with a friend about this very topic and he told that that was the downfall of a couple of the ancient empires: increased voyeurism and not enough participation (whether that be in sex, or anything else). Interesting…

95 Marco August 31, 2011 at 7:59 am

I’ve been known to be wrong but heard a stat on TED stating the average male watches 50 porn videos a week..spectatoritis or what??

96 Josh August 31, 2011 at 9:01 am

This is a great article. Very well articulated and I thank you. Perhaps this is why I have never had the ability to know all the stats about athletes in sports. I could never grip how some people just know everything; where who went to college, how many TDs or RBIs they have etc. I just don’t have the room in my noggin for that stuff. I’d rather be archery hunting or fishing or hiking. The whole-est I have ever felt is when I am surrounded by nature in the back country.

I do love professional sports and I do watch my Flyers and Phillies…and sometimes the Eagles. But I do use it to supplement my life and only that.

97 Lee Coursey August 31, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Thank you for writing this. Sometimes I feel so alone in the world but this blog, this post, and the comments here remind me that I am not.

I guess I suffer from High-Horseedness, but I have been of the opinion that this spectator craziness of sports is a MAJOR problem. Personally I was once chastised openly and for over an hour because I got a college mascot wrong in a discussion at work. I get tired of grown men being able to literally recite entire sports teams by name and position but getting “bored” when you try to talk about the politcal impact of some piece of legislation or the problems facing the modern church.

I watch TV – probably way too much of it – but I also read and volunteer. I also get frustrated at what I have not yet accomplished at age 32 because I was reading or watching TV.

Now that we’ve had a discussion on the problem (the pandemic), when do we talk about solutions and how do we get buy-in from the masses? How do you get them to give up the panacea of distractions?

98 Allan White August 31, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Great post, I relate completely. I’m a designer by training, which puts me, well, in an office with no windows, away from the fresh air. I’ve turned down some higher-paying job offers of late so I can keep working at my non-profit, the mission and activity of which has a deep sense of purpose and adventure. We were doing an event in Burundi, East Africa, so I volunteered to be the photographer (my wife & I have a photo business on the side). See the photos here:

Love to hear what you think.

I never feel quite so alive as when I’m in Africa (my 3rd time). Travel – the adventure and education that comes from it – is a family value in my house.

We need some risks to be truly alive. Physical, mental, spiritual – to not risk or strive is to be dead, pure & simple.

99 Allan White August 31, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Note to AoM: I’ve tried to post a few comments that had HTML; it’s clear that’s disallowed (understandable with all the link-bait out there). Consider posting a note above the comment field describing what tags are allowed. Thanks AoM!

100 Ben August 31, 2011 at 5:40 pm

Great Article! I especially appreciated the thoughts by Jonathan Weiler. As a Police Officer in New Jersey, where we have become the enemy-du-jour for the public and public enemy number one in the politicians eyes, it is nice to see someone remind many of the sheep of society why MOST of us took this profession in the first place, and why we are so proud of our chosen path. Thank you.

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