By E. Martin Nolan
Just Drop It and the need to fight against the lockout’s bullshit
Forget the economics, the creative accounting, the refusal to own up to the botched expansions of both franchises and salaries, the legal maneuverings, and on and on. We all know one thing about the current NHL lockout: it’s bullshit. How right we are. In his awesome little book On Bullshit, philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt defines “bullshit” as the misrepresentation of the information provider. This is different from “lying,” which involves the misrepresentation of the information itself. Of course, you can be both a liar and bullshitter, but the bullshitter, Frankfurt writes, does not necessarily attempt to deceive us “either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be,” but “he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about his enterprise.” Put another way, “he misrepresents what he is up to.”
Frankfurt’s best hypothetical examples come from politics, where the issue at hand is often less important than the politician’s need to seem a certain way — as in: I feel this way on this issue, so I’m a “real American” from the “real America,” or whatever, so you can trust me on all sorts of matters. It’s not really the particular stance that matters, but how a politician’s stance makes him or her seem. Thus, the immediate issue becomes the “wedge” playing on the public’s emotional response to issue X and implanting a certain feeling toward politician Z or party Y.
The public discourse over the NHL lockout has followed the same pattern. Players, owners, they all “want to save the season,” and feel really bad about the fans losing their game and all. But that’s not really the goal of the negotiations. The negotiations are really about economics, about how to spread the fan-provided wealth around, about how to make the business model viable. Once those things are worked out to the satisfaction of the interested parties — players and owners — then, as a byproduct of that, the games will go on. So, according to Frankfurt’s definition, to claim the goal of the negotiations is to give the fans their game back — when saving the season would really be the result of addressing the economics — is to bullshit. The interested parties are misrepresenting their real motivations.
In a sense, that’s fine. We can see through the bullshit fairly easily, and we’re not surprised by it. But this acknowledgement also reinforces the sad reality of the fans’ powerlessness. The only way we enter into this conversation is on the level of bullshit: we call out the bullshit, we are the target of the bullshit and we rant and rave into the bullshit’s void, which is limitless by definition (there cannot be an end to false claims of intention, because those claims don’t really exist but in the negative). All that, AND we’re the ones pumping in all the money they’re arguing over. It’s brilliant: take our money and our leverage. Investors can claim their rights and pull out their money because that’s where their interest ends, so the CEO can be made beholden to them. Fans’ money is coupled with their love of the game, so the investment they make is not so reasoned or practical; love cannot be extracted like money. So it’s by way of our love that they trap us in bullshit.
I’m not the first one to claim love falls prey to bullshit (Zizek eat your heart out). But it’s not necessarily so. Over at Just Drop It 20,000 people and counting have pledged to scorn their love, and the money it’s coupled to, in proportion to games cancelled. This is a conscious attempt to decouple our love of the game from our financial investment in the NHL in order to push against the NHL’s ability to use the former to force our hand on the latter. It’s a sacrifice: we who have taken the pledge have agreed to put off the indulgence of our love of hockey — after having already been denied half the season — in an attempt to punish those who have taken us for granted.
Who knows how effective it will be, or how much longterm damage the lockout has already done to fan loyalty. But one thing is clear: a lot of fans have woken up to the key roll bullshit plays in our relation to the NHL, and it feels right to take this opportunity to weaken its grip.