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An Oregon Cultural Infantilism

A disease is haunting Oregon — the disease of cultural infantilism.A disease is haunting Oregon — the disease of cultural infantilism. All the powers of old Oregon's intellect and reason have entered into a holy alliance to defeat this disease. They have utterly failed.

The disease is exhibited by adults in connection with the fortunes of the University of Oregon and Oregon State University big-time athletic programs, namely football. And infantilism it is, naked, bawling, obnoxious, and crushingly boring to witness. I would ignore its irritating presence if I could but I cannot because it constantly invades my cultural space. It is no joke when I say that I pine for Oregon circa 1983 and the Civil War football game score of 0-0, when no one talked about college sports and most men didn't carry the 50 extra pounds they do now.

At its most primitive level, the infantilism manifests itself in the green and gold and black and orange flags decorating the tricked-out strollers — I mean, trucks and SUVs — of infants on their way to the playpens formerly known as Autzen and Parker Stadiums. What they have been corporately renamed these days, I have no idea.

The next place to see the infantilism in action is at any garden variety meeting of more than five adults. In the past months I have attended several of them and had to endure one banal comment after another from speaker after speaker about his or her Beaver or Duck affiliation or the fact that another speaker was a Husky or Cougar or whatever. Hey, I don't give shit! I never did. I never will.

Oregonians, can we talk about something else? Like how the state's salmon hatchery program perpetrates a massive ecological fraud? Like how rock-and-roll died? Like how a man who never voted wants to become Oregon's governor? Like how the school district I teach in is cutting 12 days from the school year because the state can't provide enough funding?

Hey, what about the weather?Hey, what about the weather? Or even our respective sex lives, assuming of course, that the middle-aged adults (i.e., men) who normally talk about college football all the time have one left to discuss anymore.

Undoubtedly, the greatest manifestation of this infantilism comes in the form of the various conspiracy theories propounded by UO and OSU fanatics (many of them with advanced degrees) describing how the other university is favored by the local and/or Eastern media. It's so obvious! Can't you see? The officials are in on it too! I hear these delusions all the time in the various taverns, sports bars, and faculty meetings where I do most of my writing and depressing cultural observation.

And then, of course, there exists the specter of Phil Knight, whose huge donations to the Ducks elevate the Beavers into a state of conspiratorial fever on a level with those who just know the moonwalk was staged in a Hollywood studio and President Obama observes Ramadan. The Ducks have their own special paranoid fantasies too, but nothing comes close to what Knight does to OSU folks. They need a Twin Towers-inside job of their own.

Do not assume my irritation with the infantilism means I disdain sports and the important lessons playing them imparts. I love participatory sports and especially loved playing and coaching adolescent football. There is nothing quite like, as I experienced in my youth, getting knocked out returning a punt, separating another player's shoulder, or winning or losing 50-0 to teach something worthwhile. But big time athletic programs don't teach spectators anything. The last time they did, Bear Bryant had to integrate his all white cracker Alabama football team and Woody Hayes lost his mind on the Ohio State sideline during the Gator Bowl and punched an opposing team's player.

I have no problem with college students going nuts at the tailgaters, in the stands and dorms. Swallow Everclear Jell-O shots and make merry, I say, and learn the good undergraduate lessons of trying to get laid and how to recover from a pulverizing hangover. But if you are an adult, can you at least scale back the immaturity over the Ducks and Beavers? There are kids around, you know, who might get the wrong idea that all your attention actually means something important.

÷ ÷ ÷

Matt Love is the author/editor of 10 books about Oregon. He lives in South Beach and teaches creative writing and journalism at Newport High School. His latest book is Of Walking in Rain.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Gimme Refuge: The Education of a...
    Used Trade Paper $9.50
  2. Super Sunday in Newport: Notes from...
    Used Trade Paper $10.50
  3. Of Walking in Rain
    New Trade Paper $20.00

Matt Love is the author of Of Walking in Rain

8 Responses to "An Oregon Cultural Infantilism"

    monkeywomantoo September 15th, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    i didn't think there was anything more vomitous than listening to fat middle aged
    suv driving white guys blather on about college football until you introduced
    the possibility of hearing about their sex (or lack) lives. oh my god.

    lizt September 15th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    I'm with you, monkeywomantoo! That made me laugh...and then fall uneasily silent as I tried to think of something else. As for the whole infantile analogy--it's a perfect description of how I view these folks. Luckily, they don't cross my path very often. :)

    Valarie September 16th, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I've always loved your writing, Matt, and I've always looked forward to your pieces on the Powell's blog and in the Oregonian, but if I wanted this kind of maliciousness, I'd read the comments on OregonLive. I get it - you don't care about college football, and you've probably had decades of pent-up anger about this you needed to get off your chest. But whether you approve of it or not, watching sports, including the Ducks and Beavers, is meaningful for millions of people. You can be as condescending as you want about that meaning, but one of its end results is that it brings people together. Sure, there's animosity between rivals, and that can make fans behave ridiculously. But I can't begin to tell you how many times talking sports has brought me into lengthy, engaging conversations with strangers, coworkers, and family members who I may otherwise have little in common with - frequently when they're rooting for the rival team.

    To me, watching sports reaps some of the same benefits as watching an arts performance. It's an escape from the real world that brings people together to watch amazing feats, commisserate over the uninspiring, and above all, share joy and disappointment and excitement and hope.

    I was living in New York when the Yankees won the World Series in 1996. After they won, fans poured out into the streets of one of the rudest and most abrasive of American cities to hug and high five and dance with total strangers. You can sneer at that and say it was manufactured, a meaningless and pointless exercise, but for those of us that were there, it was pure, collective joy - an incredibly rare feeling in a difficult, nuanced world where the issues we face do not come with final outs or finish lines, and where victory can rarely, truly be declared.

    monkeywomantoo September 16th, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    valerie, you missed the point entirely. real adult men should be concerned more with a broad range of issues and events locally, nationally and globally than they are with football but this does not seem to be the case in some places. by the way, art is not escapism. art edifies and nourishes. there is no comparison.

    Valarie September 16th, 2010 at 8:33 pm

    I didn't miss the point at all. I can't think of any football fan I know who values football more than, say, the impact of the decaying school system on their kids' lives. Do they enjoy talking football more than the school system? Of course. The school system, or healthcare, or any other similar issue, directly affects their lives. It's hard to turn on the TV, go on the web or read the paper without confronting those issues and reacting to, if not participating in, the dialogue. These issues are ongoing, complicated and unavoidable. In comparison, sports offer something much simpler to engage with that can give you a break from all of those problems while simultaneously uniting you with other people.

    And how is art not escapism? I was just watching Hamlet on TCM a few minutes ago. How is that not escapism when I avoid my present reality to thrust my consciousness into an imaginative world? And why is it only edifying and nourishing to watch, say, Baryshnikov move on a stage, but watching Brandon Roy seemingly magically dodge a bunch of defenders to leap up and gracefully arc a 3-point shot in the hoop something that 'real adult men' shouldn't concern themselves with? Who gets to be the arbiter in such matters?

    As a more peripheral point, I'd also like to mention that the assumption that only adult men watch football doesn't hold water. I can think of at least 10 women I know, just off the top of my head, who love football as much (if not more, in a couple cases) than their partners. I think it would be a lot more constructive to this discussion if we talked about real people rather than one-dimensional stereotypes.

    lizt September 17th, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    valarie, you seem waaaay too excited about a delightful little blog. Perhaps you should attend a sporting event to redirect your thoughts.

    Shannon September 17th, 2010 at 2:52 pm

    Well, Matt Love did write a Trailblazers retrospection, so I can only imagine he is thrilled to concern himself with Brandon Roy's three pointers.

    And just as his football rant struck a sensitive chord in your heart, Valarie, so too does your opinion that "art" is nothing more than watching "Hamlet" on cable :)

    matt Love September 17th, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    I think posters should know that I put out a book about the glorious 1976-77 Portland Trail Blazers NBA championship team and what they meant to Portland and Oregon. That feeling will never be equaled in the history of Oregon whether the Ducks or Beavers win an NCAA title. I get what sports mean to people. I played and coached them. They have wonderful values to teach. As I wrote in the blog, big time Oregon collegiate sports teach nothing of value. This was not some sort of rant. It's what I observe from people all around me, who talk about nothing else. It's not escapism. It's just boring. And I am tired of hearing it.

    Ohh, and "decades of pent up anger" about this subject. That is joke. I could care less. Mick Taylor leaving the Stones, yes, but no anger about this Val.

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