On some frequency in St. Louis, sports-talk radio takes on pro football and other opiates of the masses

Good afternoon, sports fans. Today we have a first-time guest for sports-talk radio, here to shed a little perspective on this Ram-inated town we live in. We want to give a big St. Louis welcome to Noam Chomsky, who is -- wait a minute while I look here -- a world-famous linguist and social critic from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I think that's in Boston. Hey, too bad about those Patriots this year, Chomsky, but let's face it, now that you've dumped Pete Carroll, I think you're on the right track. Hey, can I call you Chomsky, right? I'm not sure I'm saying "Noam' right.

Noam: Either name is fine. Glad to be here.

How 'bout them Rams, Noam?

Noam: Well, before we get into that, I'd just like to say that when I'm driving, I sometimes turn on the radio, and I find, very often, that what I'm listening to is a discussion of sports. People call in and have long and intricate discussions, and it's plain that quite a high degree of thought and analysis is going into that. People know a tremendous amount. They know all sorts of complicated details and enter into far-reaching discussions about whether the coach made the right decision yesterday and so on. These are ordinary people, not professionals, who are applying their intelligence and analytical skills in these areas and accumulating quite a lot of knowledge and, for all I know, understanding. On the other hand, when I hear people talk about, say, international affairs or domestic problems, it's at a level of superficiality that's beyond belief....

Whoa, whoa, Noam, you're off on a tangent there. Let's take a caller. T-Bone from St. Peters, you're on with Noam Chomsky.

T-Bone: Let's talk about how many big plays the Rams have made this season. This year the Rams had 57 passing plays of 20 yards or more, so 20 percent of their total plays had accounted for 43 percent of their total offense. And look at Ricky Proehl. He's got 33 receptions this year, and 24 of them were for first downs and 14 of those were on third downs. Can you believe that?

Noam: This is what I'm talking about. Listen to the level of detail, the analysis. Now I don't think that international or domestic affairs are much more complicated. And what passes for serious intellectual discussion on these matters does not reflect any deeper level of understanding or knowledge. But, sir -- Mr. T-Bone, was it? Have you ever heard of East Timor?

T-Bone: Did you say Dorothy Lamour? Wasn't she in those "Road" pictures with Hope and Crosby?

Hey, hey, never mind -- we're off topic. Next caller: It's Jeff from Arnold.

Jeff from Arnold: Now that the Rams are in the NFC title game, who do you think they might face in the Super Bowl?

Well, I hope it's the Tennessee Titans, who used to be the Houston Oilers. My hunch is if those two teams meet, the Rams' owner, Georgia Frontiere, may run off and marry Tennessee's owner, Bud Adams. He's Georgia's kind of man -- he's older than she is, he owns a football team and he has a pulse. They may get married, adopt Al Davis and start a new league. Next up is Mark from Ballwin.

Mark from Ballwin: Hey, I was wondering -- it's so great what the Rams and Kurt Warner have done this year. Do you think they'll make a movie out of it?

Yeah, it'd be a takeoff on Damn Yankees -- they could call it Damn Rams. Only in this one, Kurt Warner sells his soul to Jesus for a starting gig and a shot at the Super Bowl. Ben Affleck could play Warner.

Mark: Who'd play Orlando Pace?

He'd have to play himself, that or they'd have to get two guys in a Rams uniform. For a sanitized PG-13 version, that bust with the prostitute would be left out. Hey, Noam, you still with us?

Noam: Yes, I was just thinking this concentration on such topics as sports makes a certain degree of sense. The way the system is set up, there is virtually nothing people can do anyway, without a degree of organization that's far beyond anything that exists now, to influence the real world. They might as well live in a fantasy world, and that's in fact what they do. I'm sure they are using what I call their Cartesian common sense and intellectual skills, but in an area which has no meaning, as a displacement from the serious problems one cannot influence and affect because the power happens to lie elsewhere.

Fantasy world? Hey, you talkin' fantasy football? What, you made some bum picks in your rotisserie league, Noam? The skill positions are key. Like if you picked Dan Marino this season, you were screwed and tattooed. Let's see -- think we got Scott on a car phone. How's traffic?

Scott on a car phone: Fine, but some bozo priest in a Lexus just cut me off. Hey, I'm listening to your station, and all I hear are ads for divorce lawyers, hair growth, weight loss and debt management. Are your programs geared to bankrupt bald-headed fat men who just got dumped by their wives?

Ever look in the mirror Scott? Next caller is....

Noam: Now wait a minute. Scott may be onto something. The gas-station attendant who wants to use his mind isn't going to waste his time on international affairs, because that's useless; he can't do anything about it anyhow, and he might learn unpleasant things and even get into trouble. So he might as well do it where it's fun and not threatening -- professional football or something like that. But the skills are being used and the understanding is there and the intelligence is there. One of the functions that things like professional sports play in our society and others is to offer an area to deflect people's attention from things that matter, so that the people in power can do what matters without public interference.

Hey, Chomsky, this sounds like that "religion as the opiate of the masses' tripe that the Marx Brothers put out. Well, let me tell you -- if the Rams are the opiate of this town, baby, find a vein and shoot me up. The Super Bowl is just a shot away. Gimme the Rams, baby. C'mon, Chomsky, what's with you? You never snapped on a chinstrap, not even in high school?

Noam: I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high-school team wins the football game? I mean, I don't know anybody on the team, you know? I mean, they have nothing to do with me. I mean, why am I cheering for my team? It doesn't mean anything -- it doesn't make any sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements -- in fact, it's training in irrational jingoism. That's also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that's why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers to pay for them and so on.

Hey, Noam, it sounds like you went to Columbine High. Were you one of the Trench Coat Mafia? You hated the jocks, right? Let's take a caller.

Caller: Let's get back to Jesus. I think Bernie had it in his column a few weeks ago, and don't you love that Saturday column, the "Bernie Bits"? Uh, it was about how the pope was in the Dome and Billy Graham was in the Dome and, like, God must be on the Rams' side, doncha think?

Let's just put it this way: If JC comes back one more time and lands in Vegas, he's betting the Rams to cover the spread -- you can take that all the way to the Vatican or North Carolina or wherever Billy Graham hangs out. Noam, we're running outta time. Got any last thoughts?

Noam: Does the U.S. system work? Yeah, it works in some ways. Take, say, the last 10 years. One percent of the population is making out like bandits. The top 10 percent of the population is doing pretty well. The next 10 percent actually lost net worth, and you go down below and it gets still worse. I mean, it's such a rich country that even relatively poor people are still more or less getting by. It's not like Haiti. On the other hand, it's an economic catastrophe. The typical family in the United States is working, latest estimates are, about 15 weeks a year more than they did 20 years ago -- just to keep stagnating, or even declining, incomes. That's a success in the richest, most privileged country in the world? But it works -- I mean, you and I are sitting here and we're not starving, so something's working. It's a little unfair in my case because I'm up in that top few percent who, like I said, are making out like bandits. But most people aren't. So it's a mixed success.

Making out like bandits -- hey, making out like Georgia Frontiere, John Shaw, Dick Vermeil and Trent Green. Warner's the only working-class hero here -- three years ago stocking shelves for $5.50 an hour, then a measly 60 G's a year in arena football, now a $500,000 bonus. Who'da thunk it?

Noam: One more thing about the real mass media -- the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Sixpack, that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people's brains ... to divert them. To get them to watch the National Football League ... or look at astrology. Or get involved in fundamentalist stuff or something or other. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think.

Oh, lighten up, Chomsky -- it's only a game, fer chrissakes. Hey, we're out of time. No more callers, please, we have our winner -- it's the Rams, baby. Take that, Paul Tagliaboo-hoo-hoo. Who ya like in the Super Bowl, Noam?

Noam: Rams. Too many weapons. It's just Cartesian common sense.

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