Monday, May 06, 2024

Review: Sports Spectators

Sports SpectatorsSports Spectators by Allen Guttmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Noted sports historian, Allen Guttman, takes on the topic of sport spectators in this short volume.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part is “Part 1 From Antiquity to Modern Times” and it covers just that, though, in 123 pages, in no great detail. Most of the chapters in the first part focus on specific sports of the era and their spectators. Guttman highlights some of the demographics and what we know (or think we know) about how sport was spectated.

The second, and shorter, part of the book looks at spectatorship more analytically. It considers the impact that media has had on spectatorship, in short, but useless chapter, what academic critics like neo-Marxists say about spectatorship, and then closes the book with two of the more interesting chapters. The chapter on hooliganism tries to get at explanations of spectator violence; though Guttman’s analysis seems to end with few answers. None of the theories offered satisfy, though they all explain at least a small part of it. The last chapter on what motivates fans to be fans has a similar trajectory. There are several different theories and analyses offered, all of which seem to get at piece of it, without themselves being satisfactory. It’s an aesthetic experience, but not art. It’s kind of like worship, but also not religion. It’s a way of self-identification, but that’s also really complex and fraught. This chapter was the most interesting to me as a philosopher; and in part tis what draws me to the study of sport spectatorship both professionally and personally. Why do we watch? Guttman’s chapter isn’t an answer, but it is a good palace to find some questions to answer about why we spectate.

Published in the mid-80s, there is much that is out of date. Obviously, in the last 40 years sports spectatorship has continued to evolve. But Guttman identifies many of the trends that are still relevant today. I would imagine the media chapter would be much more substantial and the changes in in spectator violence would make the analysis of that chapter even more ambivalent. The role of gambling and fantasy would also have to be covered.

The book as a total is uneven. There are sections that offer interesting insights but others that are a bit pedantic. The historical sections condense a lot of material to provide a useful overview of the history, but is also too general to be that helpful beyond the general sense of things. The analysis/methodological sections are just too limited in scope, though as I noted above the last chapter raises some important questions about fan motivations.

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