Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Ultimates

Titus Andronicus Forever - Titus Andronicus (mp3)
Hawthorne - Scout (mp3)

Last August, I wrote the following:
I was going to write about my love of Ninja Warrior marathons when I’m hung over from Brewfest, about how the Japanese culture glorifies strength not as some beefcakey statement, but as one part of many valued physical qualities including endurance and balance. I was going to say I love that game show because it’s a very Eastern notion of competition where all competitors are against the obstacle course rather than one another. Only in Japan could a game show end several seasons without a winner, with the winner being the obstacle course itself, because no one could manage to conquer it.
I spend a long weekend once every year totally immersed in Ninja Warrior (and Women of Ninja Warrior) on G4. I OD on it, and then I avoid it for as long as I possibly can. This past weekend, I OD'd on the next-closest thing I've seen to it: the Reebok CrossFit Games.

These shows are for people like me, who get our exercise by watching studly ripped exer-freaks brutally punish their bodies for minimal fiscal reward and TV exposure on a non-major network.

On Monday night, NBC debuted American Ninja Warrior. There has been an American version on G4 for a few years, but the purpose of those was to send America's best to Japan to compete with the original challenge.

This year's version is American-made, cradle to grave. And you know it from the get-go.

In the original Japanese version, the course is set up in four stages. Only a handful of the 40 starting competitors ever make it past Stage 1. On more than a few seasons, no one makes it past Stage 2. If you don't finish the stage, you don't move on. Simple as that.

I don't know how long a "season" of Ninja Warrior is. Neither do the Japanese. The players and the course determine a season's length.

Naturally, that shit won't fly in America. We gotta have a fixed length. We gotta have a predictable schedule.

Even more hilarious, in America, we grade on a curve, even in our damn game shows. We are such weak sauce.

In American Ninja Warrior, the top 15 advance to the next stage. No matter what. So long as the 15th dude beats the 16th dude in time and distance on the course, he advances. Seriously, is there anything more depressingly American than this?

But I will still watch. Because these competitors are studs.

The CrossFit Games can get away with this because they score their game like NASCAR. A series of heats everyone runs, with finish times earning a "place" and a prescribed number of points. Winner of the overall games is the person who accumulates the highest number of best finishes.

Watching these competitions only serves to remind me why I'm so tired of the more popular sports. The NFL looks to concuss, to play dirty, to 'roid up. College sports increasingly look to squeeze everything they can out of players -- er, "student-athletes" -- for a cheap tuition and for maximum profit. College basketball increasingly feels sleazy, perhaps because I never can get past John Calipari's oily hair and Don Corleone-esque aura. Every year I try and remember which season of The Sopranos he guest-starred. I'm sorely tired of the phrase "one and done."

In soccer it's excessive flopping. In the NBA it's excessive whining. In the NHL it's an excessively meaningless regular season.

CrossFit and Ninja Warrior competitors are conditioned in the most impressive, most adaptable, most valuable way possible. It's not about throwing an oblong ball or launching oneself into others with the pseudo-security of protective armor. It's about pure fitness, a careful combination of strength, balance, agility and guts.

What's the final monetary prize for these competitions? Get this: No one cares.

While Lebron and Mickelson and Aaron Rodgers rake in ungodly dollars, these true athletes are merely finding an entertaining outlet for what was already a lifestyle choice. Their bodies were chiseled, from day one, for deeper (arguably more frightening) reasons than fame or fortune.

When my conservative friends and family debate me on matters of economics, and they insist that someone has to have a chance to make shit-tons of money for the effort and mission to be worthwhile, I laugh at them. This fairy tale that people won't work hard unless they can be rewarded with power or money is patently untrue. It's the lie that rich people tell you to justify their multi-million-dollar bonuses.

Tell that to Julie Foucher*, who's a med student in Michigan and one helluva blogger. Tell that to Levi Meeuwenburg, who was happy just getting a free plane ride with room and board to Japan. Tell them they're in it for the millions. To their face. I dare you.

* -- Yes, it's true, I'm sort of in love. Even if she could crush bones in my body merely by looking at me.  And yes, I complimented her blog mostly because I'm just trying to kiss her granite-hard butt.


Daisy said...

Maybe Julie will read this blog and return your feelings of admiration. Maybe Mia Hamm will read it too and get violently jealous. Maybe they will publicly compete for you. Now hat would be good TV.

DMF said...

You do realize that CrossFit athletes like Julie Foucher make money off endorsement deals don't you?

Your utopian ideal that people don't want to get a pay day for their hard work is more than a bit naive.

Billy said...

@DMF - Respectfully, and because I know more than just a few fitness freaks and CrossFit disciples, I can promise you that Julie Foucher did not wake up in college and decide that her path to endorsement deals and crazy wealth rested in working out.

She became an obsessed workout freak first, and the endorsement deals were a convenient reward for her top-notch level of performance. Same with IronMan celebrities and most non-traditional superstars. You think Shaun White started snowboarding because he thought it would make him a superstar? (Well, I guess you probably do.)

My "utopian ideal" is actually the reality for millions of people who choose paths that don't include the words "investment banker." Many amazing humans graduate college without "Becoming a Millionaire" at the top of their list of goals. Many amazing humans actually strive for other things. Believe it or not.

DMF said...

The first time a kid picks up a baseball they don't assume they will end up in the Majors. However, if they are willing to work hard and excel at baseball they will want the big payday. The first time a kid picks up a basketball they don't assume they will end up in the NBA. However, if they are willing to work hard and excel at basketball they will want the big payday. Just like the first time Julie Foucher did a CrossFit workout she didn't assume Reebok would throw a bunch of money at her. However, she was willing to work hard at and excelled, and starting negotiating for endorsements.

However, the reality is when people work hard and excel they want to be rewarded for it. That's why Foucher takes that money from Reebok and wears their gear, it's why Josh Bridges takes the money from Rogue and tweets about their products.

Your "conservative friends and family" most likely understand this reality much better than you do.

Anonymous said...

The reality is that when people work hard and excel, being rewarded for it is a natural result. The reward will be in various ways including, in most cases, a monetary reward. That's a good thing. Why shouldn't they accept money from endorsement deals? The issue is in their why. Why do they do what they do? Is their intention & motive JUST for the money? Or is their "why" for the love of the game or sport or competition or perhaps to make a difference by inspiring others to also pursue fitness & health goals? DMF seems to be implying that it's always just for the money. In some cases, that may be true. That's a sad reality, but it's not a universal truth.