Re: Conserving Civilization – The Coliseum
Like Justin, I read Michael Knox Beran’s piece about the loss of the marketplace (the agora) with interest. Beran contrasted the emptying agora (the town square or marketplace) with the filling up of castles both old and new built. Beran points to an upper class culture striven for by the modern day aristocrats (czars and the like) and the wannabe’s (academia and the professional class) who look to migrate to wealthy burbs and McMansions while leaving behind the village or town squares.
A rapid growth in population and a vast expansion of commerce overwhelmed the old centers. At the same time the rise of the nationstate and its metropolitan elites made the provincial agoras seem, well, provincial. The provinces, Tocqueville wrote, “had come under the thrall of the metropolis, which attracted to itself all that was most vital in the nation.” The traditional patrons of agora culture, the merchant princes who were once proud of their market squares, abandoned them to ape the gentry. The man of business found it infra dig to live near his shop; he built himself a mansion in a fashionable aristocratic district. New technology further diminished the appeal of the old forums as people turned to radio, cinema, and television for amusement.
Even so, the civic focal point might have survived if people had cared about it. But the rationale was forgotten. During the last few centuries the traditional artistry of the marketplace has come to seem merely quaint and even irrational. Modern planners who studied the old market squares failed to see, beneath a surface of heterogeneous activity, the unity of a civic whole.
As Justin highlighted, Beran has some ideas–some hope–that conservatives can build back up our traditional culture–western civ and the like–by independently funding cultural arts and bringing them back to the modern day agora. We can try, but while the agoras may have emptied, the denizen’s of both village and castle continue to go to the coliseum.
The ancient coliseum’s were built for spectacles that could entertain the masses. Often playing to the lowest common denominator, the entertainment kept the rabble happy and, hopefully, made them forget their lot in life. While today’s sport culture in America serves the same purpose (I’m a proud member of the rabble, by the way), if less violently (well, except maybe with MMA), there is also more going on than “here we are now, entertain us” or the simple sating of the basic human need to belong to something bigger, like The Team.
If you’ve ever tailgated at a professional or college football game, you know that the conversation is quite broader than simply going over the impending game. While the purpose of the coliseum and the games played within may be the same as ever–people go to games to forget about life’s problems for a while–they also collect people together to socialize and gossip and talk about their lives and the world. This temporary community is an offshoot of a shared sense of team, but it lingers past the day’s game and is not confined to time spent in the coliseum. It expands into lives outside of the coliseum and encompass the apparently peripheral. The recent retirement speech made by Detroit Tigers’ broadcaster Ernie Harwell provides a glimpse into a common ethos and respect for tradition that is fostered in the bleachers.
It’s a wonderful night for me. I really feel lucky to be here, and I want to thank you for that warm welcome. I want to express my deep appreciation to Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers for that video salute and also for the many great things they’ve done for me and my family throughout my career here with the Tigers.
In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey, and the blessed part of that journey is that it’s going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all, no question about that.
And I certainly want to thank you from the depth of my heart for your devotion, your support, your loyalty and your love. Thank you very much, and God bless you.
Fans of the Tigers were emotionally attached to Harwell. His voice recalled times of youth and tradition and auld lang syne. There was a bond between the Tigers and their fandom, what some would call the “Tiger Community.” Such nostalgia is a valuable aspect of tradition. It reminds us of how things were, the good times and, perhaps, provides a gateway into deeper reflection of why the “good old days” were.
This can also be scaled down from the coliseum to the local sports field. In many ways, while mimicing the games played in the coliseum, youth sports bring us much closer to the agora . Parents and volunteers must get together, navigate egos and differing opinions and run the operation so that kids can learn life lessons that competition can provide. Along the way, tasks are completed, obstacles overcome and the shared sense of community is deepened. The sport may be what brings people together, but it serves as an entry point into all manner of topics that are discussed at meetings and at the fields. In fact, often times, the game on the field is really only background noise to the talk on the sidelines!
Most importantly, sports gather together people from all walks of life, from everywhere on the social and economic ladder. But youth or higher-level sports aren’t the only vehicle for the establishment of civic spirit. There are all sorts of activities that help build community in the same way, from the Boy Scouts to the Buckeye Brook Coalition. They just aren’t all centralized in the same physical marketplace idealized by Beran.
Yet, the function or spirit that comes out of the coliseum isn’t the same as that of the agora. It’s certain that the coliseum of today–that American sports culture–doesn’t exactly approach the artistic culture for which Beran pines (does “Let’s Get it Started” qualify as high art?). The physical spaces of today’s sports culture simply can’t accomodate–or probably won’t welcome–Beran’s agora ideal. We aren’t going to be seeing half-time concertos or the 6th Inning Operatic Moment any time soon. Maybe it isn’t the kind of civilization Beran would like to conserve. But don’t let the face paint and team jersey’s fool you. Right now, many of the people for whom Beran is looking are in stadiums and on playing fields, cheering on their teams and talking about everything under the sun.