Politicizing Play

I’ve made a point to note it; every morning I wake up, complete my routine and open up social media to see another statue of a decrepit, murderous, warlord fall. There is something very satisfying about the dull sound of bronze hitting concrete. Statues erected within the last half century of fascist leaders who’ve wiped out generations of the global South. For why? Perhaps because we’ve never escaped fascism. Perhaps because it has become more palatable, easier to ignore. It dons a white collar rather than military regalia, traded in its musketeers and machetes for drones and life imprisonment. 

Unrest has always been present on our social media timelines. I remember following the Jasmine Revolution through twitter in high school. Witnessing the acts of symbolic self-immolation. I remember feeling invigorated by the capabilities of the collective to bypass bureaucracy and demand action against oppressive regimes.  

The use of state sanctioned violence to intimidate and harm the collective in order to protect the elites of societies is a universal practice imposed worldwide. I think it’s why the snuff film featuring the murder of George Floyd resonated so deeply with everyone beyond American borders. It featured the state eliminating the ‘undesirable’. A poor, black human. People are sick and tired, both literally and figuratively.  

An uprising in the midst of a pandemic is something we’d read about in history books, surely not live in real time? It seems as though not reckoning with the existence of both racism and virus, and seeing the implications leak into all sects of our daily life- how we eat, sleep, congregate and express ourselves- has forced it before our faces. I live this every day. I’m black, the daughter of immigrants. I come from a long line of resistance, and seeing people who have never had to reckon with their lives being deemed a burden by the powers at be makes me think, this may not be the protests and riots of yesterday’s past. Is optimism allowed?  

2020, the year of disinfecting surfaces and finally getting at the space behind the oven we’ve consistently avoided for years.        

Among my favourite philosophers that don’t stink is Walter Benjamin, a German-Jewish essayist who had a way with contextualizing art and politics. He once theorized, The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life…Communism responds by politicizing art. In practice, Benjamin’s thoughts have proven to be textbook, we see politicians push celebrities to propagate messages and utilize film as a means of propaganda and recruitment. I was reminded of this essay when far right extremist and media personality Ben Shapiro went viral for his thoughts regarding outspoken players in American sports. Shapiro commented,  

“…At some point, people are going to want a sports league that doesn’t allow this stuff to impede play or get on the field,” Shapiro said. “It’s getting to the point where I don’t want to watch sports. My place of comfort has been removed from me, and it may not be restored until there are sports leagues that remove politics from the sports.” 

Well, that’s kind of the point. The politicization of sport is supposed to make you uncomfortable. It’s supposed to disorient you and defile your escapism. Art, whether it’s deemed high or lowbrow, is a means of communication. If fascism is the appropriation of art, then art can be used to reappropriate power.   

As we see the global protests continue across the planet, details of conference calls between the NBA player union leaders and rank and file members have bled into the public sphere. Among the players that have voiced their concerns with the resumption of the league (which I discuss here), Kyrie Irving was the most vocal stating, “there’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us…” and “I’m willing to give up everything I have (for social reform).” Irving wishes to use the leverage he possesses as a renowned athlete to reappropriate power. To force viewers to reckon with the unrest surrounding them. Who the hell cares about a CBA?

Over the last couple of weeks, I often found myself wondering how players, as creators of art, will choose to express themselves on the world stage with the restart of the season. Millionaire athletes aren’t a pillar of an idealistic socialist society, but they are unionized, predominantly Black employees to billionaire owners, privy to the struggles of the masses and even often times coming from backgrounds of poverty themselves. It becomes interesting, to say the least, the closer we wade into once charted waters. I wasn’t surprised by the following reaction from those belonging to media corporations when Kyrie’s statements leaked. A common term seen floating around was “disruptor”. He is disrupting their walk towards normalcy, and God forbid you make the societal tastemakers uncomfortable. 

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