Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Making Cynics at the Monster Truck Rally

I recently took my young son to his (and my) first “Monster Truck Rally.” After the nice guy next to us gave us some ear plugs we had a good enough time to more or less justify the twenty dollar admission fee. The event certainly charts new territory in the land of Simpleminded, for it makes the roller derby look like a performance of Ibsen by comparison. Still, Simpleminded isn’t a bad place to visit on occasion, or shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, the organizers of the “Monster Truck Rally” apparently feel that having huge, noisy souped-up trucks running over old cars and guys zipping around obstacles on a dirt track in little RVs isn’t enough to fill two highly-padded hours, so they made it a series of competitions…fake competitions, like pro wrestling and the old Wacky Racers cartoon show.

Does everyone in the arena realize the contests are fake? That’s a mystery, but it certainly seems like they don’t. They cheered the obviously choreographed fistfight that broke out between two of the RV racers like it was the second Frazier-Ali fight, and shouted obscenities and epithets at the combatant from the “Dallas” team that was supposedly challenging the “hometown” Washington D.C. team. Of course, the team designations were just one of the lies we were told during the show: the “Washington” team becomes the “New York” hometown team when the Monster Truck Rally moves its grinding gears to Madison Square Garden, and “Dallas” undoubtedly becomes “Boston,” since the organizers seem to be up on their city rivalries. One would assume nobody who hasn’t suffered traumatic brain injuries really thinks that Washington maintains a professional RV racing squad that only gets two nights of work a year, but the crowd seemed willing to go with the fantasy. They also accepted the mysterious scoring that came from invisible judges, who magically communicated to the MC that when “the Green Demon” rolled over four cars it scored a 79, but when “Superman” rolled over the same four cars, it was an 84. Nobody seemed bothered that all of the competitions got more competitive and violent with each succeeding round, or that two competitors were always “tied” before the deciding and final round. It got so predictable that I couldn’t resist telling my son what was going to happen. It didn’t seem to spoil his enjoyment any.

The question that keeps nagging at me is why. Why fake it, why lie so obviously and pointlessly? Can’t a Monster Truck Rally succeed by just being what it is, a couple hours of impressive and nicely painted vehicles splitting eardrums while they crush old cars?

The problem with unnecessary and half-hearted fakery is that it sends a message that lying is no big deal. “Sure, this is a crock! What difference does it make?” It strongly suggests that lying is simply a natural part of entertainment, competition and life; after all, if something as totally silly and meaningless as a Monster Truck Rally is worth lying about, surely some NBA games must be fixed too. And the World Series. And the Super Bowl.

And Presidential elections.

During the quiz show scandal in the 1950s, when popular TV shows like “The $64,000 Question” were shown to be fixed, many took the position that all the fuss was about nothing. “What harm is done?” they asked. “This is entertainment! What’s wrong with making the shows more entertaining by controlling the results?” That attitude survives in many corners of our society, and the public can be forgiven if it isn’t certain exactly where those corners are. I have friends who assume that the Oscars are fixed. Others think that the reality shows, like “Survivor” and “American Idol” are rigged. And who knows? They might be. I never suspected that the Monster Truck Rally would be fake.

Faced with evidence of casual, routine fakery in some of our competitions and entertainment, it is hardly a big jump for some to be cynical of all results in our society: court rulings…promotions…college admissions…the awarding of contracts…polls…awards…elections. The blogs tell us that many citizens, some of them intelligent, sane and well informed, have made that jump. After watching the Monster Truck Rally, I finally am beginning to understand how they got that way.

One of last year’s Scoreboard targets, the purveyor of a nationally publicized hoax, recently wrote to me to argue that his relatively harmless deception may have had good effects, because it taught children that they shouldn’t believe what they read and hear. That’s the worst effect of his hoax, not the best. Children and adults need to believe that there is such a thing as trust and that it isn’t only for suckers. A healthy society is one where truth is the rule, not the exception. The attitude, so prominently on display in the Monster Truck Rally, that lying is of no great consequence, just a tool of business and commerce like any other, creates cynics. It also encourages an atmosphere of public discourse dominated by suspicion, paranoia, and conspiracy theories. That’s an awfully big price to pay for a little suspense in a Monster Truck Rally. Too big.

Even with ear plugs.

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