There’s an absurd character in The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry who reveals more about our capacity for self-delusion than we might want to admit. He’s called the King and when it comes to desire, he is as deluded about his own power as we are about ours. The King’s delusion is this: he believes that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars are the result of his commands. That’s right – the sun rises and sets because the King commands it to be so. Our delusion is nearly identical: we believe that we are the source of our desires, that they arise and fall at our command. Because of our shared delusions, we and the King are quite out of touch with reality. Remarkably, the cure for us is also the same – spending some quality time with the Little Prince.
First, without referees (judges, umpires, arbiters, monitors), much of life would be a chaotic ordeal dominated by cheats, bullies, and dirty players. That’s why dictators refuse to allow election monitors, corrupt politicians defame the media who report their corruption, and bankers lobby incessantly against regulators.
Second, even with referees, action moves too fast for certainty. In baseball, even the most skilled umpires miss calls at first and enforce idiosyncratic strike zones.
Third, even-handed justice requires trust in the referee and a belief that missed calls tend to even out over time. If the referee is a cheat — as happens frequently when regulators get paid off by the regulated — trust in the game vanishes, and no one feels safe.
Most Americans don’t think God or the devil will be picking the NFL playoff winners this weekend or any other sports champions.
But some will pray nonetheless, and a few will “religiously” perform little game-day rituals just in case.
A survey by Public Religion Research Institute, released Thursday, probes the crossover between team spirit and spirituality.
Most Americans (60 percent) call themselves fans of a particular team. Among this group, several will do a little dance or say a little prayer to help the team along:
- 21 percent (including one in four football fans) will wear special clothes or do special rituals. Donning a team jersey leads the way (66 percent). But some admit they get a little funky with their underwear. One fan wears dirty undershorts on top of his jeans. (No word if these are boxers or briefs.)
- 25 percent (including 31 percent of football fans) have sometimes felt their team has been cursed. (No word on how many are Red Sox fans.)
- 26 percent (including one in three football fans) say they pray to God to help their team. White evangelicals are most likely to lean on the Lord on this: 38 percent will pray, more than any other religious group.
- Football fans are also more likely than other fans to admit praying for their team (33 percent to 21 percent), performing pre-game or game-time rituals (25 percent to 18 percent), or to believe that their team has been cursed (31 percent to 18 percent).
Super Bowl halftime shows often burn more vivid images into the American conscience than the most-watched football game of the year, and can claim millions more viewers.
They can also ignite controversy, as Janet Jackson did with her halftime “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004. Last year, performing with Madonna, British-born hip-hop star M.I.A. gave the finger to 114 million people.
Outraged by the raunchy behavior, or simply to capture some of the Super Bowl’s supersized audience, some religious programmers are now producing halftime shows of their own.
One of my favorite views of Charm City right now is entering into the downtown area from the 395 off-ramp. Our city is painted with Ravens spirit — purple lights dancing on skyscrapers, "Go Ravens!" posters taped to city windows, and my favorite: the billboard that simply said "WOW" after the Ravens' win Sunday over the Patriots. In fact, as I sit down to write this at the Towson Public Library, a woman just pointed out that the bookshelf next to me contains an entire collection of books with purple covers, complete with a border of purple stars cut out of construction paper.
Purple has become a unifying topic, bringing complete strangers together in conversation. All week at work, I've asked patients, "Did you see the game?" or I'd see someone wearing a purple scarf and fist bump in the air an amiable, "Go Ravens!" I think this is one of the beautiful things about sports: its ability to bring people together irrespective of socioeconomic status, race or political beliefs.
But I can't help but notice something else about all this celebration — something that disturbs me.
Ferris Bueller's Super Bowl ad compared side by side with the movie, North Korea goes polka via Norway with A-Ha's "Take on Me,"Jimmy Kimmel encourages viewers to pull more pranks, timelapse photography from Yosemite National Park, guess who said it: Dwight Schrute or Newt Gingrich? And an in-depth Interview Magazine chat with Grammy nominated Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. See this and more in today's links.
Improv Everywhere celebrates its tenth anniversary by remixing and remastering some of its best sketches. The highlights from Puppy Bowl VIII are in (look out for the MVP)! Bon Iver puts on an incredible SNL performance. Bill Maher's "Irritable Bowl Syndrome." Mad Men's promo posters have been tampered with! OK GO's latest music video from the inside of a car. A new look at Downton Abbey and more!
Super Bowl inforgraph, and a collection of notable commercials from years past. Take a look at radio Tanzania, and see a baby with some serious ping pong potential. And finally, take a look at some good music that released this week.
I know why those polar bears you're seeing everywhere look so pensive. They're thinking not just about coke (a byproduct of coal used in industry), but more generally about the massive use of dirty coal — used to make nearly half of all U.S. electricity (while renewable sources account for only about a tenth).
They're thinking about how the U.S. and the rest of the world's decades of reckless fossil fuel use keep ratcheting up greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, causing Arctic ice to melt even faster than expected, and threatening them and all their polar bear friends. They'd like a cold one, all right — a cold Arctic, the way their home should be.
Groundhog's Day 101, five-year-old on advertising logos, more on the Puppy Bowl, and dogs delivering receipts to customers at a veterinary clinic. Plus several posts on books, including Jonathan Franzen's thoughts on eBooks, and a look at 2012 Oscar nominee The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmorin. Click to see more.