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Sports, art and propaganda



The numbers are in and last weekend's Superbowl pulled in record viewership — 120.8 million people tuned in for the dramatic fourth quarter (Katy Perry's figure, dancing sharks and lip-synching only nabbed 118.5 million, but that is still the best ever). I'm not sure whether that is worldwide or just the U.S. but either way, it's a crapload of eyeballs glued to a screen for the better part of a Sunday.

With those kinds of numbers, and the way seemingly clear-cut scandals like spousal abuse, dog-fighting, cheating, and uh, murder get swept under the NFL rug there are a few questions that need to be asked: Is the NFL bigger than U.S. politics and therefore above the law? And, have organized sports become a form of mind control that prevents positive thinking and action in an utterly broken system of wealth distribution and social relationships?

Heavy questions (and bear in mind I am just the movie guy) but here goes: No. 1 — Yes, without a doubt. No. 2 — This is trickier. I've been using this column to extol the value of shared human experiences for years — watching films in a movie theatre is a richer experience than watching them alone. And watching a dramatic sporting event with thousands of likeminded fans all riding the same waves of emotion is among the most powerful shared experiences of all.

However, the argument can be made that the kind of widespread sports fanaticism that will suck 120 million people into a football game actually creates an artificial sense of group identity, preventing people from more valuable and meaningful human interactions. How many of us will watch three three-hour Canucks games a week but haven't done a single hour of volunteer work in the past year? How long would it take to finish an online schooling course if you studied every time "the game" came on? How much time and passion do we spend focused on sports, and the litany of statistics and trivial facts that accompany them, that could be spent looking over things like the latest government omnibus bill equating environmentalists to Jihadist terrorists, or making it Ok for the government to hack your computer whenever they want?

On the other hand, sports are fun to play and kids are too damn sedentary these days anyhow. Without their pro-athlete role models (and the ridiculously improbable dream of making the big leagues) our children might never leave the house at all. And so the best answer is probably "everything in moderation," but as Western civilization circles the toilet bowl these kinds of questions are worth asking, even if the same arguments can probably be made against movies as well — is watching genetically engineered dinosaurs eat each other in the upcoming Jurassic World really all that much more enlightening than watching the Seahawks shit the bed? Probably not.

Speaking of art and propaganda, with just over two weeks until the 87th Academy Awards, Clint Eastwood's American Sniper is a frontrunner for Best Picture yet more than a few critics are calling the film racist war propaganda that glamorizes a military life, revises history, and unfairly portrays all Iraqis as "despicably evil savages."

It's not the first time a controversially racist war film captured the attention (and dollars) of a nation. In 1915 D.W. Griffith's 190-minute silent civil war epic Birth of a Nation, it quickly became the highest-grossing motion picture ever and is still heralded as a groundbreaking advancement of the art form. Only problem, it was more than a little racist to African Americans and glorified the Ku Klux Klan as heroes.

Birth of a Nation was a well-crafted work of art, as is Eastwood's American Sniper and yet the underlying messages of both films create negativity and conflict. Al Jazeera has already quoted numerous U.S. Twitter posts claiming the movie inspires them to go shoot some "f**ckin Arabs."

Obviously there are ignorant apples in every bunch and weren't we all rallying behind Charlie Hebdo and the rights to free speech just a couple weeks ago? What's a person to do if art can be evil, team sports are keeping the peasants at bay and the technology designed to connect people is actually pushing us farther into our insulated clans? Shut off the TV, put down the phone, push aside the newspaper and go for a bike ride/ski/walk in the woods. There are good ideas and bad ideas, terrible art and amazing people. It's a crazy world and we're all struggling to keep our heads above water, but the more time you spend in the mountains the better off you'll be.

Also, The Spongebob Squarepants movie opens this week at the Village 8. That might help too.