Friday, June 11, 2010

Geography Matters

Geography matters. I suppose I would be hard pressed to make a more obvious statement. After all, geography has always mattered. With apologies to Karl Marx, the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of geographical struggle. Yes, societies have fought other societies over the control of land. But in a larger sense, culture and geography have always been intertwined, and cultural differences have by and large fallen along geographical boundary lines. Imagine an alternate mid-19th Century America, where half of the northern states were slave states and half of the southern states were free states. Actually, it's impossible to picture such a scenario. And anyone who has looked at a presidential electoral map in recent decades would have ample evidence that America is still largely ideologically divided and grouped into geographical concentrations.

Again, I concede that these observations are rather mundane. But where this discussion becomes interesting to me is in considering the concrete (and not necessarily political) differences between geographical areas. Others have done a better job than I could do here in exploring such distinctions. David Brooks has practically made a living doing so. Chuck Klosterman used the Lakers vs. Celtics rivalry of the 1980s as a prism for dividing all of society. While he didn't technically attribute the differences between the two teams to geography, one just can't imagine Larry Bird playing in L.A. or a Boston team known for "Showtime."

And I ran across a sports story just yesterday that reiterated the relevance of geography. The ugly divorce of Los Angeles Dodgers owners Frank and Jamie McCourt has allowed some stunning facts (and innuendos) to be revealed. And one of those revelations is a real doozy: In a story similar to that of Rasputin, Jamie McCourt credited a Russian-born faith healer with ending an eye affliction she was suffering from. Apparently, this led to the faith healer (a guy by the name of Vladamir Shpunt) ending up on the Dodgers payroll, and according to Jamie's lawyer, drawing a salary of over six figures. And to earn this sum, he had to sit in front of his TV during Dodgers' games and send the team "positive energy."

What does this have to do with geography? I know what I am about to write will seem like a joke, but let me be clear when I say with absolute seriousness: "Only in L.A." I honestly can't imagine a team outside of Los Angeles employing a faith healer, much less at that kind of a salary, in order to provide "positive energy." (Though with the St. Louis Cardinals now spending six figures on Jeff Suppan, it is arguably not the worst expenditure from a major league baseball team).

But for all that, there was another sports story yesterday that indicates to me that there may yet come a time when geography doesn't matter anymore. A day after it was reported that Nebraska was bound for the Big 10, Colorado was reported to be going to the Pac 10 conference. When what we now know as the major college athletic conferences were first formed, they were created entirely on the basis of geography. Big 10 Universities represented the cream of the Midwest. The Pac in Pac-10 was short for Pacific, etc etc. And for many years, schools, media, and fans never considered it desirable to play games on a national scale. A conference championship and a bowl game against a team from another conference were all that were striven for. But it's hard to wrap one's head around the fact that when some of these conferences were first formed, radio wasn't even invented, much less television, much less the Internet. The Big 10 was actually formed before the Wright Brothers took to the sky. So it's only logical that as times change, as technology makes the world smaller, that geographical identity would be loosened. And maybe some day when our electoral college map resembles an impressionist painting, we will look back on the day that Colorado joined the Pacific-10 as a key shift in the history of the world.


Post a Comment

<< Home