Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Sport and cancer

Yeah, I think it's a weird pairing too. Never mind.

First, a fantastic profile of Siddartha Mukherjee, oncologist and author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, one of the best on-fiction books I read this year (even if the second half does drag somewhat).

One of its most arresting observations was inspired by a conversation between Mukherjee and a friend many years earlier "about the nature of interior and exterior", which returned to him as he was working on the book. "Every era," it suddenly struck him, "casts cancer in its own image." The US in the 70s was haunted by cold war fears of the enemy within – and so the "big bomb" was replaced by "the big C". HIV overshadowed the following decade, and then the search for cancer-causing viruses became oncology's new obsession. Now that we're obsessed with genetics, the focus of research has moved on to hereditary causes. "When a disease insinuates itself so potently into the imagination of an era," he writes, "it is often because it impinges on an anxiety latent within that imagination."

I got all riled up on behalf of (American) football fans when I read this WSJ article about how the NFL will not release the 'All 22' footage - the angles that show what all the players on the field are up to during the game - to fans. 

By distributing this footage only to NFL teams, and rationing it out carefully to its TV partners and on its web site, the NFL has created a paradox. The most-watched sport in the U.S. is also arguably the least understood. "I don't think you can get a full understanding without watching the entirety of the game," says former head coach Bill Parcells. The zoomed-in footage on TV broadcasts, he says, only shows a "fragment" of what happens on the field. 

And a rather good list of the top sports books of 2011 from Dan Shanoff on Quickish, interesting also for this final observation, his prediction for sports publishing in 2012:

Shorter-form (and quick-turnaround) e-books from "indie" publishers like Byliner and Atavist; from sportswriters publishing on their own; from mainstream publishing houses (including Amazon, foreshadowed by Emma Span and Ben Cohen); and -- most interestingly -- directly from mainstream sports media companies (taking a cue from what The Atlantic did with Taylor Branch's cover story this fall and Politico's e-book strategy, which made its first surge this week) will explode.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The idea of loci of anxiety and their relationships with cancer was one of my favourite observations in the book. It made me wonder what our modern anxiety is, and whether the idea still holds true. Today we are afraid of the chaos within ourselves and our own capacity for destruction, not catalysed by a foreign invader, as with the AIDS era, but from the things that make us human. We have the ability to completely destroy ourselves with means of our own making - environmental collapse, economic collapse, social collapse via terrorism or famine, the engineering of supercharged bugs and viruses - all extra-corporeal but all brought on by a humanity not really at war with anyone in particular, but instead yoked to flawed ideas of progress and value.

Cancer is like that. The cell works for and against itself, doing nothing more than what it is programmed to do and obeying its very nature, but nevertheless helpless to stop itself bringing about its own destruction.