Abusing Ourselves To Death: Men and The Culture of MMA

There are few things that scare me more than our culture’s current obsession with UFC/MMA and the myriad corollary organizations and sports that go along with it.  When I say it scares me I don’t mean that it scares me in the same way that becoming a senile old man scares me but more like it scares me in the same way in which the current trend of old white guys buying guns and getting their concealed carry licenses scares me.  So maybe it would be more aptly stated that MMA culture scares/disturbs/concerns me.

I have thought about this topic for several years now but the impetus for writing this particular post came in the form of another blog post from The Art Of Manliness, which has as its impetus this article from The New York Times.  On a side note, the article discusses the movie Fight Club, which I avoided seeing for years until I was forcibly locked in a room in college and made to watch it.  My conclusion?  I didn’t like it, contrary to popular belief it is possible to be a guy and not like some of the “classic” guy movies of our time (a topic which may require another post).

So why does this current trend scare me so much?  MMA is not really any different ideologically than the centuries old sport of  boxing in the fact that the main goal is to knock a person out or to render them incapacitated.  I have heard some say that if a person is going to denounce MMA then they must also do the same for American football.  Those people may be correct but I would argue that MMA is different than football because the goal of a defensive player in football is not to necessarily hurt the other player, but to bring them to the ground, to stop them from scoring (injuries or hurting another player obviously happen but it does not have to be the main goal of the player, unless of course that player is on The Saints).  Regardless I am not sure that it is the intention of the athletes that is my main concern anyways, though it certainly is on the list.  What really disturbs me are the masses of people that are obsessed with all things ultimate fighting.  They pay for tickets and or pay per view to watch two men beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, they workout to become like them, and they even enter in the ring to eventually become the next champion.  In short many young men idolize these fighters as the pinnacle of all things manly.  The whole concept seems very Roman to me, something that I thought we got out of our systems a few thousand years ago and as I watch young men feverishly anticipating the next fight I cannot help but wonder where will the first Coliseum be built and if should I start raising lions as a secondary source of income.

Delving a bit deeper into the topic and looking at the core of the issue it appears that the idea of a bottled up aggression in men is another of my main concerns.  It is not so much the sport itself but the fact that it has become so popular because of the need to let out some type of energy or aggression commonly held within the culture of men, particularly young men, as demonstrated in this quote from the New York Times article:

They had a fight club at his high school,” said Ms. Redford, who ultimately allowed her son to train in hopes of channeling his aggression. “They’d punch each other as hard as they could and not be able to show pain.

Now call me old fashioned but punching someone, or getting punched is not fun, at all.  And if you do consider punching someone or getting punched fun then we have two diametrically opposed ideas of fun (c.f. fishing, basketball, camping, roller coasters, reading, etc. etc.). There has to be a healthier outlet for aggression like the type described above, lifting weights, running, swimming, and other activities are some that come to mind.  I think we need to address the aggression that so many people are feeling, if this in fact a legitimate reason for young men’s interest in MMA.  There are certainly worse ways to release aggression than a sanctioned fight with referees, rules and the like.  I cannot help but think of many of the recent unfortunate events with our military such as killing sprees, torture, and the numerous instances of indecent photographs that have been released as examples of horrible ways to release aggression or frustrations.  I bring up the military, not to compare it to MMA in content, but rather in demographics.  The fact is that many of the people in the military, and the extreme minority that has committed such awful acts at home and overseas, seem to have a lot in common, specifically ethnicity, age, and gender to name a few commonalities, with the main audience of MMA.  I should note that I have nothing to compare to the extreme pressure that a soldier in a wartime situation goes through, I am only trying to point out that there may be a common origin of frustration, discontent, and aggression found in two recent phenomenon.  So again, there are certainly worse ways to manifest a feeling of discontent and aggression, but there are also most certainly better ways to do so as well, through various athletic exercises and heaven forbid through human interaction and dialogue.  Have a look at another quote from the same New York Times article as the writer asks a college professor about the rise in MMA popularity with the movie Fight Club at its genesis:

He (the professor) agreed that the impact of “Fight Club” could not be discounted; it became a manifesto for a generation of boys who felt estranged from their masculinity. “It became this kind of magnum opus, and it described a certain culture of this kind of sport,” Professor Thompson said. “This was their thing, and they defined themselves accordingly.”

Why are we as men feeling estranged from our own masculinity?  Speaking from my own experiences I completely understand the stresses of everyday life, especially as a young man in our current time.  Jobs can be hard to come by, and when they are found they are often not what a young man wants to do with his life.  Family and other relationships can be stressful whether that means children, parents, brothers and sisters, friends or wives. Perhaps nothing is more frustrating for a man than feeling like he has no control over what is going on in his own life, that he is simply being tossed around by the world in which he lives.  All of these ideas are among the reasons that the characters in the movie Fight Club start fighting each other as the character Tyler Durden eloquently and profanely opines:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

Mr. Durden makes several points that are accurate to many of our own lives but it is in his physical expression of those feelings where I think he fails.  Even this very blog is a manifestation of the concerns that Durden shares in the above quote.  Drew, Matt, Josh and I have all expressed discontent with our current situations, mainly along the lines of career, and because of that we decided that it may be helpful for us and perhaps even to others if we created a site in which we could address those same issues.  I think all of us have looked at our lives up to a point and thought that we would be much more “successful” or farther along in several aspects of life (I put most of the blame on Saved By The Bell). It is perfectly acceptable to feel frustration and even aggression in life, how we deal with that aggression is what is important.

One bit of a side note before attempting to wrap up what may seem like an aimless rant.  There is one specific setting in which I find the cultural obsession with MMA the most upsetting and that is within the church, more specifically in the setting of youth ministry.  I know of many youth group functions that involve gathering around the television on a Friday night and watching a fight.  First of all I do not think that this is the right standard for us to be setting for our young men.  As I tried to point out earlier, it is the glorification of MMA/UFC as the apex of manhood that is the real problem, and it is that, the fact that we are encouraging young men to cheer for one man as he violently attacks another, that reminds me of the masses of Rome that we have all read about and seen depicted in movies such as Gladiator.  How can we teach our young men about Jesus, the one who refused to bring his kingdom to the earth by way of force and taught us to turn the other cheek, and then gather to praise a man as he unleashes a fury of fists, knees and elbows on another man’s skull?

I feel that I have only skirted around some of the main topics that I was hoping to address in writing this article, so let me be as clear as possible.  We need to reject any ideology or worldview predicated upon acts of violence as a way to prove one’s masculinity.  This does not only include fighting another man to prove oneself, ala the movie Fight Club, but it also encompasses rape, oppression, verbal abuse and other forms of violence against men, women and children.  If our male culture is one that insists upon proving masculinity by how well we can fight, how many women we can have sex with, how physically dominating we can be then go ahead and count me as a counter-culturist.

Feel free to rip me apart in the comment section, tell me why I am wrong, what I am missing, or why you love MMA.  Note that I am not claiming to be right on this one, simply pointing out my personal thoughts on a current topic.  Also, remember that these opinions are my own and are not necessarily held by the other authors of this blog. Please discuss below.

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Categories: Ground Ball Democracy

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4 Comments on “Abusing Ourselves To Death: Men and The Culture of MMA”

  1. Chris
    May 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Brother I used to disagree but over the course of a few years I have changed my opinion, glad to see you are still sticking to your guns.

    • curtisrrogers
      May 15, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

      I am pretty sure we got in a fight in college over this very topic, well sort of this very topic. And then Taylor laughed while reading the Bible because of a thermos. Thanks for reading brother.

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