Violence in Politics / Suppression of Journalism / Fantasy in Sports

It’s the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks today and my students came up with an understated cover to mark the occasion:

On the 11th anniversary of an act that robbed thousands of their lives, I’m left looking back a violent act that took “only” one last week. While the States was focused on the Democratic Party’s conventions last week, back on the homeland front, all eyes were on Quebec’s provincial election. I figured this would lead to a reflection on the state of the sovereignty movement, but then tragedy reared its ugly head.

Richard Henry Bain is in custody after the murder of a stage technician during Premier-Designate Pauline Marois’ victory speech. It was an eerie callback to Quebec’s troubled political past (one blogger notes Bain’s odd aged resemblance to Denis Lortie).

Yet the profile of Bain remains surprisingly vague at this moment. His associates don’t drop any hints from his past behaviour that would indicate that he would have been politically motivated in any way. Still, all of the news reports are quoting Bain as shouting “Les anglais se réveillent! (The English are waking up!)” as he was dragged away. Sounds like you can’t get any more politically motivated than that. Which presents a frightening rhetorical conundrum in a situation that didn’t seem to be possessing one.

Despite the election of the separatist Bloc Quebecois to a mintority government, support for separatism nor any particular stances related to English-French tensions ranked particularly high on the voter priority scale. Instead, the BQ victory was largely attributed to a combination of fatigue (Jean Charest’s Liberals having been in office roughly a decade) combined with severe dissatisfaction with Charest’s handling of scandal and the economy. Related to my world, Charest’s hard-nosed approach in response to student protests of the Liberals’ plan to raise tuition won him few friends and the presence of red squares the night of the election indicates that this wasn’t forgotten at the ballot box.

Yet there we were the night after the election, circling around sovreignty issue again, but more specifically, the violence that a stark few seems compelled to commit in the name of it (regardless of the side the take). Cheryl R. Jorgensen-Earp wrote about the interesting challenge citizens face in terms of disassociating themselves from violence in the name of a movement for which they profess suppport (In the Wake of Violence: Image and Social Reform). She identifies three themes in such people’s responses:

1) Divesting one self of the “violent militants” that support a cause, often citing defeasiblity (one of Benoit’s oft-cited apologia strategies). Basically “This person ain’t one of us and there’s no way we could have controlled this person.”
2) Debates on the merits of violence to achieve a sociopolitical end.
3) A reaffirmation to one’s original beliefs and a strong statement that no violent act can erase that.

Following that second theme is what interests me. If debates on sovreignty or language issues suddenly open up again, it’s going to be hard to ignore a terrible violent act’s role in the middle of that. On the other hand, if the voters continue their focus on economy and government ethics, there will be something almost oddly refreshing about it, not because of my feelings for or against in those debates. But rather, if the voters stick to that for now, it will be their way of saying “we’re not letting deathly violence dictate or prioritize what policy we care about.” That’s how it should be.

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It’s somewhat enlightening and also sometimes frightening to compare situations stateside and overseas, especially so in the past few weeks. While there have been interesting developments here in Atlanta, a former colleague of mine underwent something far more exhausting miles and miles away.

I recently spoke in a municipal court here in Atlanta regarding a former Signal reporter, Judy Kim, who was arrested along with two other student reporters in November 2011 for “obstructing traffic.” Kim’s legal representative called myself, Kennesaw State advisor Ed Bonza, and Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank Lomonte to the stand to vouch for the different legal rights accorded professional and student media…..which is to say “there are no legal rights accorded to ‘professional’ media that are not accorded to student media.” It remains to be seen whether the charges will be dropped or if the city will ignore the arguments Bonza & I put forth when the whole incident broke out in the first place. In the meantime, I’ve also been sledding uphill as an advisor to expand The Signal’s outreach in the downtown area. I’m happy to report that some progress is being made, but it won’t be overnight.

Well, distribution problems are petty by comparison, Kim and her peers’ arrests certainly were not and are not. Many miles away, Matt Duffy’s recent ordeal gives me pause for thought. Duffy is a fellow GSU doctorate and sat on the Committee on Student Communication with me years ago. He taught several students that came through the Student Media doors (and recommended some very good ones). He knows his stuff. And maybe that’s why he found himself in the center of the mess that he did.

Duffy’s research interests include journalism laws in the Middle East, which made his appointment as a Journalism professor at Zayed University a perfect fit. Then the very factors which are the focus of his research kicked in. Duffy and his wife were dismissed from the university, and Dubai, with no explanation other than the orders came from “outside the organization (university).”

He hasn’t been shy about outlining the many things he’s done that he feels likely contributed to his ousting. Unfortunately, this is a standard practice, especially in light of the Arab uprisings, in that part of the world.

I applaud Duffy’s various initiatives in Dubai, especially starting a SPJ chapter. Journalists cover events of interest, they don’t ignore them. This is the ipso facto of what it means to be a journalist. It seems ridiculous that something that should appear benign doesn’t in the eyes of a country’s law.

Yet that’s the same way I felt when my student was arrested for taking pictures at an event of public interest. Sometimes it takes a macro example of journalistic suppression to remind me of why the micro examples mean so much.

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On the (much) lighter side, is there anything more addictive to a sports fan than the experience of fantasy football? After winning my league in 2010, I sank like a stone in 2011 and picked up right where I left off losing my first game last night. I’ll probably be lucky to win 3-4 games but still I find it an incredibly fascinating and engaging form of fandom, even if my brother disagrees.

You see, my brother is one of those sports fans who sees fantasy sports as violating the sacrosanct relationship between fan and team. “Why would I join a league where I have to follow ten different teams for one score and where I might have to cheer against my favourite team because the other guys have one of my running backs?” If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard this logic a thousand times. Or maybe you’ve heard this argument: “it forces you to cheer for a quarterback to keep throwing the ball even though his team has the lead and they should run it. All because you’re selfishly cheering for your fantasy team!”

The sports fans reasons to embrace or deride the fantasy experience says a lot about what the values we celebrate by being sports fans. Jesse James Draper argues for the community values enacted by fantasy sports. He argues that, for example, when a team like the Dallas Cowboys win a big home game, the real winner in terms of power and capital is Jerry Jones: he overcharges for admission, food, parking…well, everything. The win will fuel the fans to come back and give him more of that capital and none of those fans will ever share in that very real wealth.

However winning one’s fantasy league typically involves much smaller stakes (though some people are known to invest hundreds and a few even thousands into it). I’m not going to suddenly move into a different tax bracket and social class by winning my fantasy league. If anything, by participating in it, I’ve identified the social class with which I want to identify.

This pro-community interpretation is ironic as that’s the exact opposite to what my brother and his like argue. They would tell fantasy sports is all individual and against team. However, what sports teams accomplish, unless you’re related to someone on the field, is imaginary culture. I’m not a part of that team. I’m not really a “part” of my fantasy team either, but I at least played a role in the team’s selection. In that sense, there is both more of the self AND the community engaged in fantasy sports, even though there is certainly no doubt that the NFL and other organizations are monetizing it more to their benefit by the year.

Of course, this could all stem from me watching the Cincinnati Bengals for over 20 years. Let’s imagine that didn’t happen.

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