Colin Wiley

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What does America do better than anyone else? Create spectacle. From film, to television, to tabloids, to politics, America is in love with all that is glitzy and glamorous. This is the reason why Americans have been emotionally attached to professional athletics for more than a century. Sports have had a tremendous impact in many Americans’ lives. Although sports have the uncanny ability to teach men, women, and children a number of life lessons about honor, integrity, hard work, and sportsmanship, sports, like everything else in life, can be very unforgiving. You win some, you lose some. Mistakes are not only highlighted, they are exploited. Not every man and woman is blessed with the ability to dunk a basketball, hit a homerun, sink a hole in one, or score the game-winning touchdown, but professional athletics allow those same people to cheer as if they were the ones with the skills to do all of those things. In that way, professional sports tell us that we can all be great. America loves spectacle, and sports make us believe that we can all be spectacular.

With that said, spectacle is not always glamorous. Spectacle can champion all that is alluring, but it can also expose ugliness. The Super Bowl is spectacle. The World Series is spectacle. At the same time, the gladiators of the Roman Coliseum were spectacle. A championship boxing match is spectacle. The negativity of spectacle has now reared its ugly head into all areas of professional athletics. Ever since the BALCO (Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative) scandal broke a few years ago, mainstream media outlets have been obsessing about the use of steroids in sports. In a sense, steroids have become the latest and greatest spectacle in sports. Most journalists and commentators have jumped upon the opportunity to sensationalize the problem, while vilifying the athletes who have been accused of using performance enhancing substances.

For whatever reason, there have not been many voices in the media that have stepped forward with an alternate perspective. Instead of persecuting the men and women who have been tagged as steroid users, the media should spend more time talking about the positive aspects of sports. They should be reminding us about the reasons why we enjoy watching sports. Without a doubt, the issues of substance abuse, violence, racism, sexism, and sexual orientation discrimination exist in sports just like they exist in the larger society. While we should not be ignoring these issues, we do not have to spend all of our time obsessing over them. Cheaters cheat, and liars lie. That is the same in the realm of sports as it is anywhere else. Let the league administrators and authorities who are supposed to police the problem, police the problem. It almost seems as though we have less empathy for steroid abusing athletes than we do for the common criminal. Let us not forget, most of these athletes would be good anyway. They are not professional athletes but for their steroid use. They do not use steroids because they need to, or even because they ought to. They do it because they desire to attain the next level of spectacle. They take steroids to be enamored by all.

The project started with a simple argument: that we should all stop acting as if the presence of steroids in sports equals the end of days. I originally planned to do a simple podcast or blog (while encouraging others to voice their opinion) to get my point across. The more I thought about my message, the more I realized that a blog or a podcast was not going to be enough. For one thing, people are slow in coming around when it comes to a blog or podcast. The exposure simply is not there when these tools are compared to other forms of media. A following can be built over time, but I wanted to do something that went straight for the jugular. Out of nowhere, I got the idea to link the issue to something or someone that was identifiable in pop culture. I needed something that was relatable to more people. I needed something that would cause people to pay attention when they otherwise would not. I needed something that would grab the attention of the audience in the cyber medium. I needed a Lonelygirl15. Then, there was a second dilemma. I realized that my problem with the over-fantasized role of steroids in sports was really a call for something bigger. My message was really about a more systemic problem in American culture. It was about spectacle. It was about the sensationalized role of violence, corruption, sex, money, and drugs in our society. More specifically, it was about the media’s role in creating that spectacle. At any rate, the idea struck me to emulate the voice of Tyrone Biggums, a memorable character from Dave Chappelle’s Chappelle Show, in a podcast about steroids in sports. It is interesting to note that within the last year, Dave Chappelle decided to walk away from his highly successful show because of the sensationalized spin he felt that his producers and the audience were putting on the show.

Although it was meant to be a funny and satirical look at the idiosyncrasies of modern American culture, he stopped the production of the series because he felt that the show was becoming a spectacle for the wrong reasons. With that backdrop, I decided to continue using the character of Tyrone Biggums in creating a video where he would lambaste professional athletes for their use of steroids, even though he himself is a crackhead. The use of a recognizable comedic character would be helpful in getting people to watch the video in the first place, but the content of the video is what needed to get the point across. The video is definitely over the top, but sometimes people need that to really understand what you are saying.

In the end, I have learned a lot through my participation in the CyberOne course and in the development of my project. By looking at how we are making arguments in the Court of Public Opinion; by “remixing” traditional arguments so that they are adaptable to the cyber world; by being conscious of the Necker Cube; by exploring the realm of empathic advocacy; I have finally understood how my project and my understanding of law school are interrelated. Law school and many legal academics seem to define the role of law in society in a very narrow way. Even though the practice operates very differently, law school seems to push students into believing that all will be well if we follow the path of rational thought, logical argument, and hollow reasoning. It is very possible that a student could go through three years of law school thinking that those characteristics are the embodiment of the law. Classes like these are necessary because they show students that the law must be much more than that. Just like the world needs to express more empathy to start moving in the right direction, the law needs to express more empathy to be recognized for being a noble discipline. A perceived lack of empathy is why the law is respected in the Court of Public Opinion, but not revered. How can we train law students to be good lawyers if we do not tell them to be empathic advocates? How can we expect Americans to be good citizens, neighbors, and friends if we bog them down with all that are “wrong” in society? A little more empathy in the world would go a long way. Fortunately, the cyber world creates a space for empathy to exist. It allows anyone with access to the medium to express themselves in the ways that they see fit. That is what needs to be emphasized in the law; the ability to shape our own experience and make our own pathway through the profession.