Nathan could be worse
Posted by digglahhh on 14 July 2007
I’m not often at a loss for words, but certain things set off so many sociological censors at once that I get sent into overload and find it difficult to process and document my interpretation of what exactly is going on. I most recently had one of those moments on July 4th, watching the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. I can’t guarantee coherence as I try to express my feelings here, but I shall try my best.
First of all, it is aired on ESPN. What the fuck is that? I guess that’s the “E” for “Entertainment” portion of its abbreviation. If so, whatever. But then, somebody should tell the Sportscenter anchors that the network’s feeble entertainment attempts have been covered and they can kill the Last Comic Standing auditions and just let me know if J.J. Hardy is going to turn back into a pumpkin anytime soon. Still, even the “entertainment” must be required to be at least as close to a sport as poker is, right? How far removed is a hot dog eating contest from a farting contest? Would they air one of those on ESPN as well? The participants actually view themselves as athletes, as I understand. I’m really trying to limit how many times I say, “what the fuck?” in this piece, but that is asking a lot of restraint given this topic.
Okay, whew, that’s one rant down – the least important one. The subject of what is a sport, what is a game, and what is just a competition is an incredibly interesting discussion, but it’s not all that important sociologically. Let’s get to the more disturbing aspects of this event.
The hour of coverage began with an aerial shot of the crowd. There were thousands of people there. It was absolutely ridiculous. Why would somebody spend one of the few Federal holidays standing under the brutally hot sun, squinting to watch a crew of gastrointestinal anomalies cram their faces with cylindrical beef byproducts from two and a half blocks away?
Onto the depressing symbolism and deconstruction of the event. First, I want to preface this by saying that I’ve always found displays of decadence that use food to be particularly egregious, and, on a certain level, very offensive. Food is the basic unit of sustenance. I often think about how we use food as decorative garnish for other foods and find it quite curious. Last time Meta and I went for dinner, I posed the question of whether it is ethical, apart from being socially acceptable, to bring a child to a nice restaurant.
The hot dog eating contest on July 4th is ironic, or disturbingly a propos on many levels. For starters, according to the CDC, 65% of our population is overweight or obese. Our country clearly has a problem in this regard, and on a day on which we are supposed to be honoring our nation, we are indulging in its problems – in a far more grandiose and blatant fashion than simply stuffing yourself at a barbeque, which at least doesn’t have thousands of onlookers.
In a broader sense, this competition is reflective of so many more of our ugly values. Our disease of conspicuous consumption applies as much to dollar sign as to the waistline. The general international interpretation of American displays of wealth, power, and machismo is that they are crass and childish – two words that aptly describe a nationally televised hot dog eating contest, and a nation that watches it.
Absurd gender identities are at play as well. There is no doubt that a contributing factor to our ballooning of men’s waistlines is the conflation of a (destructively) large appetite with “manliness.” This unrefined image of savage, pseudo-manhood is celebrated as the competitors (all male, except one) gorge themselves.
This event is the apotheosis of our reverence for tasteless and destructive celebrations of excess. The fact that an event like this can gain the traction to solidify itself as an Independence Day tradition is disgusting and disappointing.
I’m hoping that the readership can advance these ideas, or contribute their own, as I find it difficult to fully express why the relationship between Independence Day and the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is so disturbing. Am I the only one who feels this way?
Before I officially solicit any responses, allow me to make two disclaimers. One, I am not a vegan or vegetarian. Admittedly, a fruit salad eating contest would be less disgusting to me, but much of that is due to how much less symbolic value it has than the malt liquor of meat, the hot dog.
Two, I am not opposed to low culture, or even to unhealthy behavior in a competitive form. Most of my friends are in their late twenties to early thirties, well removed from college, and we still routinely play drinking games. Full disclosure: about three months ago, a long night of drinking and cards turned into a three-way White Castle eat-off. (I was not involved in the contest.) My offense is taken at the nexus of the hot dog eating contest, Fourth of July, avid bystanders, and a national television network. This is not a homemade video of a keg stand posted on You Tube. This is competitive artery clogging, recognized and promoted as sport, broadcast on ESPN and marketed as all-American.