‘In the nineteenth century, American college students began playing a brutal game that contributed some element of meaning to their lives that their classes didn’t. Its popularity spread rapidly, so fascinating to audiences that one mediated representation after another extended its reach still further. Over time, football’s essential structure proved fundamentally ideal for both narrative drama and commercial exploitation.
The appeal of the game enabled it to survive early challenges that strove sincerely to banish it from civilized society. Reformers saw in the game a serious undermining of Americans’ physical, intellectual, and moral well being. But rule changes and its phenomenal popularity and commercial viability allowed it to flourish.
Frank Merriwell and the model of football player as honorable hero that he inspired also helped. But eventually, the darker side of the game gave rise to another model that championed the player as hedonist. In fiction and in fact, Billy Clyde Puckett would prove so primally connected to football’s soul it became evident that it could not live without him.
Yet resonating in the ongoing demonstration of the game’s age-old inability to resolve that conundrum, we can find the central assertion of postmodernist theory – that we are better off seeking a multiplicity of narratives than pretending grand resolutions are possible in the first place.
So maybe that is the ultimate lesson here. We may want grand answers. But we probably won’t get them, particularly when it comes to our most prominent cultural institutions – like commercial football.
But what football will do – indeed already is doing – is spawn the endless narratives that we may need even more. And quite possibly, that is why the game exists and endures and means so much to so many Americans anyway. ‘
How Postmodernism Explains Football and Football Explains Postmodernism © Robert L. Kerr 2015