Thursday, January 17, 2013

History's Lesson From TV and Sports

Do you like watching old TV sitcoms?

Actually, instead of "old," television stations these days call them "classic" sitcoms, and I suppose there is a difference.  Just because a TV show is old, that doesn't make it a classic.  Some old shows should never have been aired to begin with, let alone today.

Others, however, have stood the test of time, and are about as funny today as they were when they originally appeared in our culture's consciousness.  Granted, sometimes the humor today comes from how dated some of the storylines are, compared with today's lifestyles and current events.  Seeing people use rotary phones attached to cords of tight spirals, for example, likely baffles today's iPhone generation.

I've noticed from these shows, however, that the more some things may change, the more they stay the same.  Even back in the 1970's, people were complaining about do-nothing politicians and America's horrible economy.  In the 1960's and 1950's it was high food prices.  In the 1980's, it was how violent our cities were, and the lack of jobs.

History sure has a way of repeating itself, doesn't it?  Some people say that history proves human existence is little more than cycles of booms and busts.  Moral standards, political objectives, and even economies rotate through periods of progress and regression.  Politics seems to be about the only thing that never changes - it's always a negative factor on society.

Rabbit Ears and Cathode Ray Tubes

I was reminded of what classic TV sitcoms are teaching me as I had lunch today with a good friend of mine, J.C. Derrick, who works for World magazine.  He told me that last week, after the Baseball Writers Association of America refused to vote several players known to have used steroids into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he wrote an editorial for World's website in which he expressed disappointment in the writers' action.  In other words, he thought those 'roid boys should have been voted in.

I didn't read his article last week, but I read it today, after I got back from lunch with him, and he'd explained his position a bit more.

At first, I was surprised at my friend's take on what struck me as stunning news - J.C. disagreed with the writers, and thought these juiced-up players deserved to be in the Hall?  Wouldn't overlooking all of those violations be the same as endorsing them?

Not necessarily, J.C. explained to me.  While several readers of his article tried to take him to task for apparently being ambivalent about performance enhancing drugs, J.C. took me through a quick history of the game - and a list of other successfully-inducted Hall of Fame players about whom many of us today have forgotten.

Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb, for example, were each sleazy womanizers.  Not exactly against the rules in baseball, of course, but if we're talking about players our youth could emulate, philandering isn't hardly a wholesome trait.

Then there was Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax, both of whom took primitive versions of what today we'd call performance enhancing drugs, as did Mickey Mantle.  My friend rattled off the names of other Hall of Famers who doctored balls and did other unethical stuff, but since I'm not a baseball historian, I didn't get those.  But I didn't need to - he'd made his point.

Many baseball fans who've cheered that their sport's most notorious steroid users were not voted into the Hall don't know their sport's history.  Like many of us have done in many areas of our modern society, we've allowed ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security and estimation of how real our reality is.  Unfortunately, reality can be quite different than what we think it is.  Particularly the reality that we think tells us everything in our fuzzy past constitutes the golden years, while today, everything's going to Hell in a handbasket.  Or vice versa.

Sometimes things were worse than they are today, and sometimes, things are just as bad now as they were then.  Fortunately, some things are better today.  For example, rates of crime and violence in many major American cities actually peaked years ago.  But despite all our frustration about taxes, did you know federal income taxes peaked at a staggering 94% in 1944 and 1945?  A lot of us call our current batch of elected representatives in Washington the "do-nothing Congress," but did you know we're just recycling a term President Harry Truman coined back in 1948 for the 80th Congress?

Buddy and Sally, Ted and Georgette, Oscar and Felix

Turns out, history isn't the irrelevant abstraction many Americans consider it to be.  At the very least, it contains patterns of human experience that can help us gain a more accurate perspective on what's happening to us and around us today.

It's been said that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it.  Perhaps it's also true that those who don't study history have a harder time understanding why things are the way they are today.  And maybe, if today's not better than how things used to be, that things still aren't as bad now as they've been before.

Maybe such knowledge provides small comfort, considering we're the ones living with our present reality, and responsible for interacting with it for our benefit.  And the benefit of future generations as well.

Which likely means we should try to treat history less like the academic stepchild we often treat it as, and more like a chart of clues to help keep future generations from suffering through the same things we are today.

Otherwise, our future generations may look at the way we've fumbled around at what becomes their history as less sitcom and more blooper reel.

By the way:  As reported on Drudge Report, the Vatican has announced a morality campaign for international sports with hopes of recruiting Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin to "to help put healthy values back into sport."  Actually, it sounds like the Vatican wants to reduce the influence capitalism has in sports, which frankly, is probably as unrealistic as making the industry morally "healthy."  Sports may not have been as lucrative a business "back "in the day," but when have any of them been as pure as the Vatican apparently assumes them to have been?  Consider this:  after he talked about baseball, my friend J.C. told me that football used to be a far more bloodier - and lethal - sport than it is today.

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