Saturday, August 15, 2009

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29: Grade D

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29 (2008)
Various players who were on the teams; Director Kevin Rafferty

Unless you are an American football nut, you can skip this documentary about a college football game that happened forty years ago. The game is shown play-by-play, in unrestored television footage with washed out color, grainy images, and with the original announcer. Between plays, there are contemporary interviews with bloated old guys who were on the teams in 1968. They recall every play, every move, every nuance, like golfers after the round telling with deep emotion how their birdie putt lipped out on number eleven.

The documentary is competently made, but I am at a loss to understand why anyone would care about a forty year old college game. Was it a good game? Sure. Yale was ahead by ten points at the half but Harvard turned it around to tie the game. But again, so what?

I wonder what such contests would be like if there were no onlookers. The reminiscing old players talked repeatedly about the euphoria of being cheered. They say it was life-changing. How that could be, I cannot imagine. The game is a socially manufactured situation, entirely arbitrary, with nothing of consequence at stake. Certainly athletic contests measure a person’s skill and character in ways that go back thousands of years, and are worthy for that. But the game itself is not the point, the performance is. That is not how Earthlings see it, apparently.

The crowd’s excitement is just as mysterious. Noam Chomsky once remarked in an autobiographical comment: “I was watching the game when I suddenly wondered, why do I care if my team wins?” Exactly.

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