The vigorous exhortation to “play” now haunts every corner of our culture. Typically issued as an imperative along with words like breathe and meditate and dance and celebrate, the word play, in its catchall generic form, has a curious way of repelling the senses, conjuring as it does all manner of mandatory frivolity, most of it horribly twee and doggedly futile. Yet Johan Huizinga, the Dutch cultural theorist who tirelessly examined “the play element in culture,” asserted that the one defining feature of play is that it’s voluntary. “Play to order is no longer play,” he declared flatly. “It could at best be a forcible imitation of it.”
…A second-order definition of play, Huizinga notes, is its close correspondence to the serious adult activities of work. “Play must serve something which is not play,” he observes—which is why so many children’s pastimes openly mimic adult pursuits, from the near-universal rituals of doll nurture to games that reenact the aims and provisional alliances of war-making.
But in a consumer culture committed to prolonging adolescence at all costs, the boundaries demarcating child and adult experience have blurred to the point that it’s no longer obvious just who is imitating whom. The American state of play is terminally confused. Much of it feels grimly compulsory, and carries with it a whiff of preemptive failure to achieve the target level of revelry.
March 20, 2014 @ 3:43 pm
As a serious yet non-serious bicyclist, I am always appalled by friends and acquaintances who track via computer programs their "performance". Heck, I even do it myself to some extent…since my Italian road bicycle was stolen I don't have a computer to watch how many feet I am climbing on a bicycle ride, and it bugs me. Even though it shouldn't.
I also generally ride solo because too many of the group rides turn into competitive grinds. I am too pudgy right now to do that anyway, but more importantly, why make it such drudgery…with lists of rules about how to ride in a group and rides which are nothing but staring at the wheel in front of you, rigidly following a prescribed route, etc. etc.
So…I do more solo riding. Because I just want to explore things at my own pace. I'm not training for the Tour de France, dammit!@
March 21, 2014 @ 10:48 pm
That's why I don't claim to enjoy hiking, because that term calls to mind spending thousands of dollars on equipment and an almost competitive nature about walking through the woods.
March 24, 2014 @ 3:21 pm
Damian, get with the program. You need to change this blog into a Hiking Heroics blog with equipment reviews and macho descriptions of slippery rock faces conquered and the like!
I am not innocent of this. I spend far too much money on cycling stuff, but then, contra the sneers, lycra has a purpose and is more comfortable than riding around in blue jeans.
March 26, 2014 @ 8:03 pm
Leave competitive assholes alone!
I ride for a purpose – to get a good amount of exercise – but I also find it fun. So it's "play" if I say it is. I do think it's funny that people think keeping track of every mile logged and every calorie burned is so important. The Protestant Work Ethic and internalized Christian shame keep many people from enjoying anything too much; they have to make leisure seem like work to justify it.