Monday, April 27, 2009

Balls Out

As a kid, I loved dodgeball, even though I got drilled on a regular basis. Not that I didn't mete out my share of punishment, but that was rare, especially if those who bullied me were on the other team. Nail one in the head and a wedgie awaited me in the locker room. Still, I liked dodging the ball. I was pretty good at it. When I did get hit, I tended to dramatize it Peckinpah-style, throwing myself into the wall as if hit by a barrage of M-60 fire.

I saw on HBO's "Real Sports" that dodgeball is being eliminated from gym classes across the country. Apparently, this has been going on for nearly a decade. My son has played dodgeball over the past few years at school, so I didn't know this was a problem. But I'm not surprised. More and more educators are ensuring that students touch each other less and less, and this retreat from contact has led to new forms of official play, like "shadow tag," where you step on another kid's shadow instead of tapping him or her with your hand.

Naturally, this sends reactionaries into predictable hysterics, bemoaning the "wussification of America," as manly Matt Labash put it in the Weekly Standard. "Real Sports'" Bernard Goldberg, who featured Labash in his report, needed little convincing, but then Goldberg has long been a leading whiny rightie, warning of nefarious liberal plots and leftist conspiracies. Goldberg has also attacked members of his own tribe, calling them "wimps" for not being as right wing as he would like. Throw in "pussy" and "sissy" and you get the general Goldberg complaint. It's all about manhood, strength, a will to power.

This is old news. Reactionaries have long fretted over the supposed emasculation of American men, worried that a generation of coddled kids will not obediently march to whatever slaughter their elders have endorsed. Norman Podhoretz added queer-baiting to this shtick in the late-70s, convinced that the gay rights movement undermined the national resolve to invade or bomb the lesser breeds, that opposition to the Vietnam War was the beginning of an unstoppable slide into feminization and pacifism. You hear the same bitching today, mostly from neocons, who seem to seriously believe that America is turning away from its duty to massacre Muslims, or anyone who dares resist our noble efforts. It all boils down to the master/slave narrative; who's the top, and who's the bottom. Sex and violence merge in many a reactionary mind. Hey, someone's keeping the leather mask industry afloat.

Most right wingers I've known who share Goldberg's outlook were not fine physical specimens. In fact, they looked like the kids who were targeted by jocks in dodgeball. But instead of calling for the game's abolition, they champion the concept of humiliation, insisting that being picked on makes for stronger nationalist stock, which is sorely needed in this dark socialist era. Again, there's a psycho-sexual-dom-submissive vibe that's evident, though how deeply it runs I've no real clue. I can only go with my personal exposure to these guys.

Yet despite all this, I tend to agree with the pro-dodgeball view, though I'm not interested in humiliating weaker kids so they'll grow up eager to serve the empire. I simply think that dodgeball is fun, and that kids should experience winning and losing games. Some kind of tough hide should be developed, not in preparation to fight or support imperial wars, but to deal with the assholes and hustlers who run America, and their apologists like Bernard Goldberg. Watch your crotch, Bernie.