Those who derive a grim joy in heralding the West’s cultural decline must surely take delight in the sudden and troubling popularity of competitive eating. For many years a quaint–if bizarre–swatch of Americana primarily relegated to county fairs, competitive eating has recently risen to a degree that many Americans are confusing it with an actual sport, and its wretched, talentless participants with athletes. Worse still, statistics indicate an increase among young people who believe, erroneously, that the ability to effortlessly slide a six-inch piece of meat down one’s throat is a skill with applications outside prison walls.
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In the halcyon days of yesteryear, Americans were a happier, healthier people. They lived lives which modern Americans would consider catastrophically dull, lacking the Internet, cell phones, flat screen 3D Televisions and indoor plumbing to which 21st Century Man has become inseparable. They had neither the plethora of food choices available now, nor the glut of processed, modified or otherwise bastardized food-based products which will be coming out of American microwaves this evening.
They were a simpler, tougher breed, qualities reflected in the sports they played. People who lived where it was cold and who spoke with funny accents played hockey. Arrogant blueblood cocksuckers were sure to play lacrosse, and soccer found a foothold in the exotic immigrant enclaves on the East Coast. Fellows who liked to kick shit often opted for bull riding. For everybody else there was baseball, football and basketball.
Now, several converging trends have made it possible for a new breed of sporting event to come shuffling to the fore, one that eschews the outdated emphasis on athleticism, sportsmanship and dignity, instead concentrating solely on spectacle.
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One important factor in opening the door for these exciting new athletic events is the increasingly sedentary nature of Americans. When waddling down the base paths becomes too difficult or a lay-up must be interrupted by a short break for breath, it may become difficult to identify with “true” athletes, who with nothing more than a little luck, God-given talent and years upon years of practice, have healthy bodies which the average American can never hope to enjoy.
The most insidious factor in the rise of non-sport is surely Cable TV. Before the advent of ESPN2, who exactly was aware of “sports” like the Spelling Bee, Magic: The Gathering or the Matholympics?
As insipid as those activities are, they pale beside the most odious and vulgar of the non-sports: competitive eating, a vile glorification of excess, of food not for nourishment, but for spectacle.
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What must the rest of the world, much of it malnourished, think of America’s sleight-of-hand in rendering a crapulent circus into athletic achievement? Americans might be better served not by asking why so many foreign nationals are crossing their borders, but rather, why those same foreign nationals haven’t killed them in their sleep?
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Perhaps the most tangible impact of this societal lymphoma is Major League Eating. While it may seem bizarre, or perhaps even horrifying to hear the words Major and League attached to Eating, representatives of MLE were quick to point out that, prior to MLE, there had been no sanctioning body regulating competitive eating, an absence which they claim could have profoundly affected not only the sport’s traditions, but also its dignity.