In case you missed it and/or you're looking for something to do while you're socially distanced, check out my column from this week, about fights as distractions from inescapable realities. https://t.co/WNcFyswb21— Eric Stinton (@TombstoneStint) March 19, 2020
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
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The coronavirus and our subsequent response of shutting down as much as we reasonably can has, among other things, given us time to reflect and reason to question what is really essential in life.
Our animal needs have been met with the time-tested method of hoarding, though I would hope it’s not surprising to anyone that we still require the same basic elements of survival we always have. Instead, it has been more telling to see how we’re recalibrating one of our more evolved human needs: that of organized work, which may only be a need inasmuch as we’ve all tacitly permitted it to be. Still, how work is situated in a society reflects broadly shared values. Our gut impulse to buy industrial reams of toilet paper may also be a reflection—of our entitled and engorged nation or, more generously, how seriously we take our cleanliness—but how we reward and regard different lines of work says a lot more about who we are.
Essayist Tim Kreider wrote: “If your job wasn’t performed by a cat or a boa constrictor in a Richard Scarry book, I’m not sure I believe it’s necessary.” It seems this emerging coronavirus society, whether it ends up a short-lived fever dream or a permanent pivot point, agrees. In my home state and elsewhere, workers are being divvied up as essential or non-essential. Your daily life for the next few weeks and possibly months will look very different depending on which group you fall into. It makes sense, though. A lot more people are running to their local pharmacies, veterinarians and grocery stores than portfolio managers or consultancy groups; the former are broadly necessary services, while the existence of the latter is neither broad nor necessary.
A lot of what we thought was absolutely necessary—due to cultural inertia more than honest scrutiny— has turned out to be not so necessary. Evidently, a lot of us really don’t have to be at work every single day to do our job, and absolutely those meetings could have been emails. Grocery store workers, who have been derided as “unskilled labor” and denied wages on which they can subsist, are now being seen for what they are in actuality: vital pillars that keep communities from collapsing. Perhaps “level of skill” as the primary hierarchical arrangement is worth reconsidering, too.
As weekend one of no MMA has now come and gone and we move on to the next in an indefinite but likely lengthy series of weekends with no MMA, it’s hard not to think about the sport in similar terms. Is it essential? Are we fine—even better off—without it? Government diktat says no at the moment, but I’m thinking about beyond this moment, about life in general. My opinion alone shouldn’t be trusted: I’m coming up on two decades of being a fan, and I make money covering it. In more ways than one, I have a vested interest in its existence and, frankly, don’t want a world without it. Plus, I’m just a spectator. A dendritic network relies on or at least greatly benefits from the sport, from fighters, coaches and nutritionists to equipment manufacturers, gym managers and pretty much the entire supplement industry. For the most part, those groups of people want to be doing what they’re doing, and passionately so. Google “MMA saved my life” and you’ll get story after story of fighters—Paige VanZant, Derrick Lewis and Mike Davis were on the first page of my search—who believe, well … you get it. How can something that saves lives not be essential?
It also expands awareness. Had I not been an MMA fan, I’d know a lot less about Brazil and probably have no idea that Dagestan even exists. This is to say nothing of its aesthetic and visceral allures, its mix of the beautiful and bizarre and brutal, its capacity to surprise and inspire. It’s the kind of thing that provides a great deal about which to think and write, not to mention countless hours of entertainment.
All of this, plus the fact that I am far from alone in feeling this way, paints MMA to be something that lands firmly on the positive end of the spectrum of essentiality. Yet I can’t help but think: Is it really so bad that fewer fighters are putting their physical wellbeing on the line for rip-off contracts and drunken fans? Is it really so bad that fewer people are getting exploited by promoters and managers, fewer bodies are warping from violent injury, fewer brains are short-circuiting for pennies on what they earn their millionaire contractors? Is it really so bad to face the annihilating nullity of day-to-day life without the brief injection of exhilaration fights provide weekly?
I suppose the same questions could be asked of this pandemic. Is it really so bad that there are less people on the road, that there is less noise, less consumption and less commotion? Probably no one would say no, but when you weigh that against everything else going on, it may not seem like a silver lining so much as a dirty nickel in mountain of s---.
I can’t answer any of these questions for anyone else, nor would I want to try. Clearly, what’s considered essential is far from a hard line, and nobody would want to live in a world governed solely by the tug of our animal needs. Seemingly frivolous things can become endowed with meaning and purpose, thus making them essential in a more resonant way. Regardless, when you’re a fan of combat sports or other violent spectacles, it is important to ask yourselves these questions every now and again, especially in this rare period of absence.
Eric Stinton is a writer from Kailua, Hawaii. His fiction, nonfiction and journalism have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat, Medium and Vice Sports, among others. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint, or find his work at ericstinton.com.
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