I take movies seriously — just ask me about my Chewbacca costume. That’s why I spent a lot of time pondering ideas presented in 1975’s Rollerball after I watched it yesterday.
It wasn’t the Kubrick-esque cinematography or the Huxley’s Brave New World-like themes that kept me thinking.
Instead it was the underlying notion that North America — if not the world — craves violent, bloody, even deadly sports.
In the movie, Jonathan E., played by James Caan, is the star of a brutal sport that is a mix of roller derby, motocross and hockey — it’s what American Gladiator might have been had Ghengis Kahn had been the president of NBC.
It’s bloody, it’s deadly and, of course, the crowds love it.
And why shouldn’t they?
It has all the elements of a violent spectacle that the masses yearn for — plus the bonus of motorized vehicles!
Really, who can blame them?
Violence is everywhere in the media because we want it that way.
These days a movie is hardly considered an action film if any less than 90 per cent of it doesn’t involve explosions, gunfire and people being horribly mutilated by samurai swords — don’t get me started on videogames.
And this has often been true of most sports to some degree; boxing, fencing and dozens of other sports all evolved out of human combat.
Put simply, violence is entertaining.
Know anyone who turns off the hockey game when the mitts come off? Before a NASCAR race, ever heard someone express a concern there might be a crash?
Then there’s the Ultimate Fighting Challenge (UFC), the basic premise of which is two guys do anything within their capabilities to beat the living snot out of each other.
It’s the closest a hugely popular sport has come to the gnarly scenes found in a coliseum in ancient Rome. Or Rollerball.
As World Series viewership continues to drop each year, UFC’s continues to grow — at a rapid pace.
But I’ll be the first to say that the presence of violence in an event doesn’t disqualify it from being a sport.
After all, countless more lives are lost in the boxing ring than in the UFC octagon each year.
Nevertheless, there’s something disturbing about the acceptable level of violence in UFC.
Sure, I’ve found myself watching bits of it in taverns from time to time.
Of course, I also turn to check out car wrecks I drive by and have also watched numerous episodes of Dharma and Greg. Both very disturbing, I know.
People are drawn to sports because it is intrinsically satisfying to watch someone you like win and/or watch someone you dislike lose. (Boxing was in its heyday when it had the much-loved Mohammad Ali and continued to be widely popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s because of the often-despised lunatic Mike Tyson. These days, with few to love or hate in the sport, the majority of people can’t even name the current heavyweight champ.)
And what better way to relish a victory than seeing the defeated with swollen eyes, a bloody nose and babbling incoherently to his trainer about wanting a puppy for his birthday, all the while calling him mom?
Do not lose hope; this rant does have a purpose.
I simply want to say that UFC sits at the very apex of where sports can go before we are no better than the Romans feeding Christians to the lions.
Mark my words: moving further down this ominous path will almost certainly involve death — and will probably be broadcast on Pay Per View for $45.
I love sports. And I love movies.
I even like Rollerball — as fantasy.
But I’m careful not to lose grasp of what’s right and compromise my morals.
So, when such spectacle moves into the realm of reality TV, I start to question the society I live in.
Perhaps we all should.
P.S. I hope Mike Tyson attempts another terribly pathetic comeback.