On Tuesday, Andrew Edgar presented us with the following question: would you rather be a beautiful loser, or an ugly winner? In terms of the 2010 World Cup Final, Spain, or Holland?
He also presented us with a great deal more food for thought, revealing the many complexities of the role of sport in human societies, with the aesthetic dimension being only the first of those he addressed. When we think about why sport matters (or doesn’t matter) to us, it’s often difficult to avoid using aesthetic concepts. Apart from categories of beauty and ugliness, ideas we use in other domains to talk about the characteristics of narratives (drama, tragedy, even comedy) are all in common usage.
Perhaps, then, the key relationship sport bears to other domains of human experience is one of expressiveness. Sport borrows activities which originate elsewhere, transforms them into rituals governed by codified rules, and seems perhaps to distil something essential, fascinating, from them, in which aspects of what it means to be human – and what it means to excel in being human – are presented to us for reflection and enjoyment. Typically, when we consider why a sport matters, the answer given will be different depending on whether the participant’s or the spectator’s experience is the subject of interest: immersion in the “flow” of an activity, as one Cafe participant pointed out, is vital to the experience of many sports. But for a spectator, what is often important are isolated moments of heightened drama, beauty, tragedy, or even violence.
Beyond the purely aesthetic, we need then to consider the extent to which sport sets up spaces where moral exceptions can be played out. Bullfighting, boxing: sports of this kind allow transgression of the binding rules of the social order to take place (albeit under certain other formalised constraints). If competition is essential to sport, then perhaps competition itself should best be considered a kind of enactment or transformation of of violence and aggression. Again, here we encounter the expressiveness of sport, the way it takes phenomena found elsewhere in human experience, isolating and distilling from them a pure form which is then served up to spectators for contemplation and enjoyment. Perhaps, then, the Holland-Spain match, the game of beautiful losers and ugly winners, is fascinating because it exemplifies a clash of aesthetic and moral categories in which we see a more universal significance.
You can listen to Dr Edgar’s talk from Tuesday by clicking on the arrow below.
Alternatively, you can go to a download page by clicking here.