If you've been watching ESPN recently, you've undoubtedly seen the promos for its Monday Night Football program running ad nauseam. The premise, as it has been since the campaign began last year, is that MNF is a bastion of happiness in an otherwise bleak and dreary existence. After all, the weekend is over, we've forced ourselves to drag foot over foot to the office to begin another week, and the only thing we have to look forward to is that distant Friday, a mirage on the horizon. Enter MNF, which attempts to turn this archetype on its head by asking "Is it Monday yet?" With its fireworks display of sports entertainment, MNF gives us a glowing reprieve from the drudgery that otherwise pervades our daily lives. Yes, today was bad, but at least there's football tonight! MNF defines itself, essentially, as the antidote for the unhappy.
Astute readers (read: bookwormish, pretentious readers) will perhaps have seen a parallel here. In his prophetic novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes a society satiated by soma, a drug designed to provide an escape from the rigors and frustrations of everyday life. In the book, the World State government uses soma as a means of controlling the populace through pleasure. You ingest a gram, and "instead of feeling miserable, you'd be jolly. So jolly." This euphoria is the most effective means of control, more effective than totalitarianism because, as Huxley later wrote, those who oppose tyranny universally "[fail] to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions." In the words of Neil Postman, media-critic extraordinaire, comparing Brave New World to George Orwell's 1984:
Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
OK, so maybe the U.S. government isn't pumping sports into our systems as an intentional "opiate of the masses" (conspiracy theorists, feel free to light up the comments below), but is the comparison an unfair one? A recent Conference Board survey found that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs, the lowest level recorded in the survey's 22-year history. Only 51% of Americans find their jobs interesting. But the never-ending carousel of pro sports gives us a never-ending soma to throw back. MNF is only the most obvious, and the grandest spectacle, of the drug. The MLB, NFL and NBA seasons overlap, providing a year-round blanket for our next fix. Fantasy leagues, gridiron challenges, streaks for the cash, pick 'ems, drafts, teasers, trumped-up controversies (see Haynesworth, Albert), the list goes on, all adding up to one big distraction. It gives us something to talk about at our coffee machines, something to monitor while avoiding work, something to take us into the "infinitely friendly world of soma holiday." Indeed, one wonders, if these distractions were removed, would most men have anything to talk about, or would we be forced to communicate with one another via a series of grunts and gesticulations like our pre-human ancestors? And what would we have to otherwise occupy our idle time? Current events? Politics? Writing, exercising, loving, living life? Questioning whether the daily malaise that now apparently defines us is our true calling, or our greatest potential? Perhaps. But wait, hold off for now, I think I hear something: