Monday, March 1, 2010

Sports, Culture and the Intellectual Left

I have frequently been struck by how profoundly elitist so many progressives can be, given that elitism is, at its core, antithetical to our political creed. This can be particularly true of a particular "vanguard of the working class" type of left-wing purist - whose family hasn't usually been working class (in any meaningful sense) for a generation or more. In another context, I once referred to those who are happy to stand in solidarity with the working class - just so long as they don't have to stand anywhere near the working class.

One of the policy areas where this intellectual arrogance comes through is in the tendency of some on the left to set sport funding and culture funding against each other - with cultural funding deemed a social good while sport funding is written off as "bread and circus" spending.

I posted the following as a comment to a Facebook note by a friend of mine. I must emphasize that his criticism of the Own the Podium programme was about its fiscal effectiveness - which is an entirely different kettle of fish. I don't class him among the "vanguard of the working class" elitists by any stretch of the imagination. It was just that his note sparked my reflection.

Apart from a couple of sports which have broad commercial appeal (hockey, football, baseball and [outwith North America] soccer), the development of elite competitors requires a combination of broad corporate sponsorship and direct government subsidy.

In this respect, elite sports are rather like the arts.

I find it interesting that, in general, the intellectual left support substantial funding to the arts while being highly sceptical - if not downright hostile - towards similar funding to elite sport.

It strikes me that this reflects an odd class-based bias. The intellectual left, broadly speaking, do not come from the working class - at least, not recently. Their sensibilities are largely middle class and even bourgeois. Thus, even if they can't stand opera or ballet, these are deemed more worthy objects of government largesse than the sweaty and workmanlike physicality of sport. By contrast, the broad mass of working class folk would rather watch Sidney Crosbey than Swan Lake and would prefer Toews and Iginla to Tristan und Isolde.

Personally, I'm a big fan of massive subsidies to both sports and culture, both for the representative importance and for the aspirational influence. To the degree that the intellectual left elevates culture while denigrating sport, we play into the hands of those right wing demagogues who recast progressives as the elite who hold back the "ordinary" folk of the working class.

And now, to demonstrate how sports and culture can interact for the positive improvement of both, here are some Canadian Morris Dancers performing to that Canadian classic, The Hockey Song by Stompin' Tom Connors.


Ann said...

I think they will all be in the penalty box for high sticking. Do you think it is more those who were chosen last for teams getting revenge rather than really a class thing? I love baseball, and the hockey was great at the olympics (not just a brawl but actual playing) and now a curling fan. I once wanted to be a professional football (american) player but did not grow up to be one LOL

Anonymous said...

"the representational function"?
What's that?
And where is this money going to come from?

Malcolm+ said...

How complicated is it, really, Anonyme?

The athletes represent us and we vicariously share in their victories and defeats. And in this capacity, they are able to inspire.

And public money, at the end of the day, comes from one place.