There Is Still Crowd Noise

Absolute silence is disquieting. Perfect stillness and complete quiet are antithetical to the understanding of life on Earth, as life is and demands motion and sound is motion but differently, same as heat or light. Things move, always and forever, because stagnation is death. The absolute absence of movement feels like it would stop time itself. Pushback against change may well have a root in that abstract feeling, the hope that if things stop moving, one can live forever in the moment they choose. When an entity has a vested interest in the way things are, silence is beneficial to them because less motion is less opportunity for something to become different, less ways for the status quo to upend itself.

Making noise and disrupting that silence is not somehow the best thing we can do at all times, however. Change is not inherently good or evil or production or anything at all, it’s just another process that can be utilized and influenced in ways both predictable and profoundly wild and untameable. The questions of good, bad, evil, just, neutral, these are judgement calls we make for ourselves as we see the process function. The actions are created by actors, silence and noise in space and we can see where the actor wants change to go by seeing where it makes noise to move and creates silence to rest.

The last, I don’t know, six years have been an exercise in noisemaking to push the world around in various directions, towards populist nationalism or social justice work and expansion and away from all these things at the same time because the goals are not to do good or evil but to be the result, the winner, the praised and honored and sanctified. The process gave us Trump, who made it all significantly worse and most recently culminated in the storming of the US Capitol by people who, if not brainwashed, have at least been so severely disconnected from the practical realities of the world that they truly believed there could be no consequence except Winning. Everywhere, people say events like this are not only not over but are going to get worse, which is true because that’s the world that has either been spoken into existence or listened to in the name of not risking more change. There is now, hopefully not too late, some noise being made from the status quo because it is too late for them not to change. They forgot they were stuck here too.

Of course, there are cultural spheres who have joined the chorus, and it’s as unsurprising as ever to find that the larger spaces in sports media are content to say nothing and continue to behave as though their corner of the universe is not and cannot be affected. ESPN seems to believe that they either don’t need to address the world or that their system can’t be broken by it; the leagues in general seem to agree. The larger breaks in society don’t matter because sport thinks it’s too far removed or somehow immune, that the power structures that have been built are now immutable and unchanging. It’s possible that they’re right about that, even now — moneyed and established and dripping with cultural capital, the institutions have built a great deal of power for themselves. The use of that power, to the institutions in sports, is simply to maintain themselves.

So, the silence is in many ways a survival tactic. This particular cultural space makes no noise of its own, instead being filled by the sound of the world and to make sure that ecosystem can thrive, suggest that their space is very important, but not so important that people looking for good and evil in the world need concern themselves with it. Never be a target, be on every side, survive to be powerful in whatever comes next. Sport remains silent so it can be unchanged, so that the noise echoes around in it and whatever the most dominant chorus is can feel like they own it, because in a sense they do. Creating that sense of communal ownership is how the institution survives, how it gets paid, how it waits out the world, because the people who ultimately believe that it belongs to them thus also feel they deserve to have it, and will do things to keep it to their own detriment.

Perhaps this all results in making the cultural spheres of sports the most trustworthy, if it’s true they’ll just perpetually act in self-interest and securing their own survival in the larger world, whether that world is the same as it is now, or run by a fascist death cult that worships an overcooked yam that used to be on TV, or if somehow something actually changes for the better. You can, after all, trust evil people to be evil, and the institutions of sport will never do anything to betray you, because they want to remain stagnant, and will therefore always be silent.

Just trying to be coherent. Cohost of the podcast All Sports Are Bad.