Saturday, May 17, 2008

Beating Golf Clubs Into Swords

President Bush chooses war over golf.

In a recent interview with Politico, President Bush admitted that he had given up golf in deference the families who have lost a loved one in Iraq.

"I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf," he said. "I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal."

Bush's remarks, which have received widespread condemnation, are more apt than he realizes. The game of golf itself is a metaphor for constructive human activity and recapitulates the human experience of our historical transformation from hunter-gatherers to cultivators. Golf as a metaphor stands in opposition to the realities of war, which is the ultimate destructive human activity.

For those who are not addicted to the playing or to the viewing of grown men chasing a tiny ball across an enormous lawn, the appeal of golf may be hard to understand. However, if we look at golf in terms of its media ecology, its attraction can be better understood.

The playing of golf is a linear, one-at-a-time activity that was well suited to the biases of the print era in which it was created. It is not an accident that golf was first conceived in Scotland and became popular just as the printing press was converting the Anglo-Saxon manuscript culture into a print culture. With its one thing at a time play and its linear progression, golf reflects the one at a time linear experience of reading. Golf stands out against all other sports in that the goal is to minimize scoring, not maximize it. In a similar fashion, reading text minimizes the context of language, removing the normal cues of intonation, inflection and volume.

The environment in which the golf game takes place is a vast cultivated pasture. A skillful golfer avoids the "rough" and progresses from the fairway to the manicured green. As the golfer "reads" the lie of the land, he recapitulates the human experience of the hunter-gatherer morphing into the cultivator. The golfer chases the ball through the groomed undergrowth until he finally deposits it in the hole. Then it's on to the next hole and the next hunt.

Viewing golf on TV is a completely different experience. Modern televised golf coverage suffers from ADD. Gone is the linear progression of the game. Many cameras provide many points of view that reflect the biases of television rather than those of print. The commentary and viewpoint continuously jump from hole to hole in a non-linear fashion, focusing on the highlights of the game, while eliminating the tedium of the hunt. The medium of television transforms golf from the linear one-at-a-time play of an individual into the simultaneous interplay of all the golfers. Golf viewers have already internalized the process of the play and are experiencing the essence of the game as presented on TV, that is, as myth.

That President Bush would think it appropriate to give up golf in a time of war indicates that he has abandoned the constructive capabilities of society in favor of the destructive ones. Critics complain that claiming to give up a game as a sacrifice in time of war trivializes the nature of combat and demeans the true sacrifices of our soldiers and their families. What they miss is Bush's true message: He is a War President, not a Peace President.


Artie said...

"The game of golf itself is a metaphor for constructive human activity..."

That is sure to induce uncontrollable laughter in millions of 'golf widows' around the world. Granted, Bush has an uncanny talent for gaffes and malaprops, but even he wouldn't dream of describing golf as constructive.

Only the idle rich can afford to play golf to begin with. I know, I used to be one of them. Giving up golf is the moral equivalent of giving up imported beer.

No, this was just Bush being Bush; a self-centered moral midget in a rare unscripted moment.

Robert K. Blechman said...

Thanks for your comment.

By "constructive human activity" I meant that golf as ritual contains the narrative of human advancement from the hunter/gatherer stage to the cultivator stage. As a metaphor of human progress golf stands in opposition to war which is the ultimate form of human regression.

My probe has nothing to do with the attitudes of golf widows, God bless 'em, nor does the fact that it is a rich man's game figure into it.

I do agree that Bush doesn't realize any of this himself. However, when one of the leader of the free world's statements or actions resonate, as this one has, it is because it taps into something signficant in our culture.

Artie said...

By "constructive human activity" I meant that golf as ritual contains the narrative of human advancement from the hunter/gatherer stage to the cultivator stage.

I sorry, but I just don't see that. Golf, like any number of leisure activities, certainly has beneficial recreational effects, but I don't see how it differs in principle from games that primitive cultures used to play.

The "cultivator" part is particularly troubling. By this you mean organized agricultural activity? I can't imagine farmers of any era toiling over crops all day in hopes they might one day walk around on the weekend whacking a little ball with special clubs.

Again, I find it hard to attribute anything to Bush's gaffe other than a brief bout of rhetorical flatulence.

Anyway, I understand he's already recovered from that twinge of conscience and is back out on the links. Maybe he's cultivating a new occupation now that his days as prevaricator-in-chief are drawing to a close.