Spectacular Athletic Events as Training in Emotional Totalitarianism

In U.S. mass enthusiasm for spectacular athletic events is commercially rooted and advertized. As a result people’s emotions have become standardized and impersonalized – sport fans psychologically reflect one another and group around the star-athletes as their idolized fetishes. Competitive principle of victory-defeat engraves itself in their perception of the world.

While commercially oriented (mass) art represents professional sports in admiring and winking manner and with propagandist agitation, there is a small but a stubborn tradition among serious artists to criticize sport sensationalism as a degraded cultural obsession, a morbid psychological fixation and intellectual regression.

Artists so different in cultural tradition, world views and style as Kazimir Malevich, Marino Marini and Max Beckmann emphasize not only the dehumanizing aspect of professional athleticism but the fact that orientation on glorious physicality has a retarding effect on the human psychological development.

George Grosz in this Dadaist/Surrealist painting shows the intellectual and even physical crippledness of the sportsmen. He depicts athleticism as a physical and mental defect.

Psychological Impersonalization of the Professional Athletes
The athlete (whose head is another variant of the playing balls and hitting bags) is shown as pathetically faceless, with mechanized, standardized and a robotic body. According to the painting – the more a body is trained and developed for athletic functions and operations the less tactile and sensitive – the less human it becomes. To successfully operate with the training ball and the punching bags (kick bag and speed bag), for example, you don’t even need to have wrists, hands and fingers. Career Sport makes an invalid out of you, with screw instead of shoulder, with cut off hands, with body parts as if mechanically assembled. One of the effects of commercialized sports, according to Grosz, is psychological de-sexualization – the functionalism of tireless athletic achievements competes with the natural bodily needs. Criticism of sport in thinking art becomes a criticism of instrumental reason as a cultural code of totalitarian life that puts human beings under the dominance of iron principles of power, wealth and conquest.