I have a handful of pop culture blindspots: theatre, comic books, video games, and sports.
Ah, SPORTS! I mean, listen: I can rattle off the names of every player on the 1997 University of Arizona Wildcat Championship team (and what NBA team they ended up on), I can recognize and tell you what a “balk” is in baseball, and I can pretend to watch the World Cup every four years with the rest of America (and maybe even actually enjoy it).
But that’s about the long and short of it. I don’t do SPORTS! I don’t watch SPORTS! I just don’t SPORTS! I really want to though. I like the idea of being pop-culturally well-rounded; I am always trying to diversify my pop culture portfolio and palette. Not to mention that my FOMO when people on Twitter are feverishly doling out hot takes on the latest SPORTS! thing is pretty outrageous.
So, in the spirit of that age-old aphorism “fake it til you make it,” I decided to watch ESPN for one randomly selected hour every day for a week (Monday to a Monday). While I watched, I took notes both on content and commercials. And I learned a lot (not least of which being that the longer I take notes, the more hood my vernacular gets). What follows are some of my conclusions and impressions from my week-long foray into SPORTS!
Monday, June 22, 3-4 PM: SportsCenter
Immediately, I feel like I have gone into a black and red time machine and been spit out the other side in 1986 because these people are talking about Pete Motherfucking Rose. I know who you are, Pete Rose. You gambled on some baseball games LITERALLY BEFORE I WAS EVEN BORN. Why is this the top story of the day? Oh, right. Because it’s summer and apparently SPORTS! is pretty dead during the summer (this will, miserably for me, become a running theme of my experiment). I didn’t know when I was going to turn the TV on that it would be SportsCenter, but I figure this is a good enough entrée into the world as any. I see a lot of white anchors on a very clean and futuristic looking set (bonus points for the lead anchor being female, albeit blonde and statuesque).
I see almost nobody of color except for when they satellite into some other TV show set/parallel universe where two rotund black men are surrounded by kitsch and ribbons and trophies and straight up reclining in their Aerons (my notes: “oh look two black people talking about Tiger Woods lol”). I feel like I am watching Fox News. I scrawl things down like “DAT INTERVIEW TIME DELAY THO” and “SUP KEITH [OLBERMANN] IN A CHECKERBOARD PLAID SUIT” and “OMG THERE’S A 7’1” LATVIAN.” I learn that the Women’s World Cup is being hosted in Ottawa and then immediately snort because, ha, the Men’s World Cup is being held in QATAR. #ThanksSeppBlatter
Tuesday, June 23, 4:41-5:41 PM: SportsCenter/College Baseball (kill me now)
I think that covers it for that day.
Wednesday, June 24, 8:15-9:15 PM: College World Series, Vanderbilt vs. University of Virginia
I remember this day as the day my TV’s program guide betrayed me. It said SportsCenter was on but really it was just MORE COLLEGE BASEBALL. This is something I had gathered about ESPN before: you can’t ever really trust the program guide because SPORTS! take time and will not be bound by the traditional programming guidelines of television networks. I dislike this. I prefer my machines and my activities to be predictable and reliable. ESPN is not that. During the biblical monotony that is college baseball, I find myself actually pining for SportsCenter. When it finally does come on, they mention Kevin Love, a name I actually recognize because he was a very tall white fellow who played for UCLA and beat the Wildcats. I never forget someone on the opposing team who beat us.1 J.J. Redick from Duke? I see you. God Shammgod from Providence? I see you, too (even though you didn’t beat us but damn, that name though).
Thursday, June 25, 5:22-6:22 PM: NBA Draft
Okay, now this, THIS is something I can get into. I like lotteries! And I like that Adam Silver dude! He seems way better than Donald Sterling. I watch some Wildcats get drafted in the first round and become very excited. I see the aforementioned 7’1” Latvian get drafted and, beyond being delighted by his actual existence in the world, I get super puffed up and proud that I recognize him.
I actually write: “YOOOOO I recognized the 7’1” Latvian I AM A GOD.” I recognize Frank Kaminsky, another guy that’s beaten the Wildcats, and I write: “Hi, Frank Kaminsky. Fuck you. You are a large white goober.” I start to see a glimmer of what following SPORTS! has to offer: that the idea of seeing athletes orbit around their respective sports universes, shifting in and out of teams and power rankings, can feel both familiar and thrilling at the same time. You can track someone’s progress from high school to college, college to the pros, the pros to the underwear commercials. There is a personal sense of satisfaction in recognizing athletes and then referring back to where you last heard of or saw them. Following SPORTS! is, just like SPORTS!, a game.
Friday-Monday, June 26-June 29:
I literally cannot. I just cannot bring myself to sit down and persecute myself like this. I read a book or two and catch up on Penny Dreadful and Deutschland 83. SPORTS! are hard for me, y’all.
Tuesday, June 30, 4-5 PM: MLB Baseball, Cubs vs. Mets
I make one last rally in my experiment, because I feel like five days is enough of a sample size, even if it’s not the seven days I had originally promised myself. This is my guttural rasp right before I give out for good and shuffle off this sportal coil. I watch an entire hour of this game and neither team even comes close to scoring; I’m pretty sure baseball is the only sport in which that can actually happen. My dad taught me all about “the beautiful game” and revolved most of his lessons growing up on baseball metaphors but—I’m sorry, Dad—this is the world’s most uneventful sport (right after golf, which is not a sport but a GAME). In my lowest moment, I actually decide I would rather be watching football.
Overall Commercial Tally, Broken Down by Hannah’s Totally Legitimate and Very Scientific Category System:
- Tools/Paint/Home Improvement: 5
- Alcohol: 9
- Razors: 3
- Cars: 17
- Fast Food: 17
- Video games (which were all first-person shooter) and movie previews (which were all action and/or had a male lead): 15
- Sports programming or games: 4
- Medication for Erectile Dysfunction: 5
- Credit/Insurance: 10
- Gadgets: 4
I think that, overall, I never really made it past the “faking it” portion of my experiment into the “making it.” I earnestly tried to expose myself to this world that I don’t know that much about. Maybe my sample size was too small and/or unrepresentative, maybe I watched at the wrong hours of the day, maybe it helps to watch with a SPORTS! enthusiast. But this whole experience did reinforce something I’ve known for a while: that knowing what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do like.
Me? I don’t like SPORTS!, and I have the experiential data to back up my pop culture blindspot now. At least I tried, right? And now I know there’s a 7’1” Latvian gazelling around in the world. His name is Kristaps Porzingis, and the Knicks selected him fourth in the draft.