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Obsessed with excess

As a society it seems that Americans have always been obsessed with excess. For generations it has been imbedded within our psyches to desire the biggest, want the best, be the first and go the fastest. For decades individual Americans have created and done things specifically designed to quench our seemingly never-ending thirst for over indulgence. As a country we have fashioned things like the jumbo jet and 600-horsepower cars, which have the capability of traveling in excess of 200 mph when most speed limits don’t exceed 70. We drink from “Big Gulp” cups and can run down a 1,000-calorie hamburger if the mood should strike.

To a great degree much of our national pride stems from this permeable vein running through our culture that America and Americans are the best. Everything we have is the best; everything we’ve done, invented, or developed, in our estimation, is superlative. These feelings and desires don’t stop with random consumer products and services, however. For most of us, we ourselves have to be at the top, or at least in some way, shape or form believe that we are among the best in whatever it is we individually do.

While being the best, having the best or simply desiring more is relative and fluctuates depending on a specific individual’s reality, this mentality is a cornerstone of American life. We are generally exposed to and become aware of this phenomenon at a very early age. As an adult I think we can all look back with the understanding that even as children we were cognizant of the established “pecking order” that existed relative to an enormous variety of things in our lives. We all knew how we stacked up when it came to the grades we got in school; where we stood on the scale of our athletic abilities; how nice our various “things” were compared to our peers; or how popular we were with both sexes. To a large degree this circumstance doesn’t disappear with the arrival of adulthood; the “currency” just changes. The same needs for more, bigger and better which took hold during our youth have manifested within us as adults in our desires for a bigger house and more money so we can buy a nicer car or take a better vacation on one of those jumbo jets.

Over the past several years, this desire to be the best on an individual level in conjunction with our society’s passion for those who are the greatest at what they do have transcended the general day-to-day existence, with much focus being placed on the obsession many Americans have for their sports heroes – most importantly those heroes who have received a high level of scrutiny as to what paths they took in their rise to iconic status. Many have had strong feelings during past years regarding the highly debated and strongly contested “unethical” practices by which many athletes have risen to their lofty glory.

Names such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Roger Clemens and most recently Lance Armstrong immediately come to mind as those who once enjoyed almost cult-like public worship, but have now seen that “worship” replaced by an equal level of hatred from their formally loyal suitors. Who is to blame for this phenomenon? Most flippantly and exclusively reserve all condemnation for the individual athlete who in their mind has behaved with strictly selfish motivations and desires. It’s cut and dried; case closed.

To some degree this is true, and a certain level of blame is warrantable. But in the same breathe isn’t our society, our culture, responsible for an almost equal share of culpability? Does the mentality within our culture that strives for the biggest, the best, the fastest and the farthest not have some hand in the creation of the mindset of the athlete/entertainer who, through an “unethical” practice, is merely attempting to give the audience more of what they desire: bigger explosions, faster cars, deeper home runs and more championships? Must we the consumers place an asterisk beside the excitement, joy and pride we gleaned as we were entertained by these super humans and their feats? In many ways (and I speak from experience), we the athlete were attempting to scratch a personal itch society may or may not have created within us from a very young age, but to an almost equal degree we are/were simply trying to give the people what we knew they wanted: MORE!

Quote of the week: “A man, as a general rule, owes very little to what he is born with – a man is what he makes of himself.”

– Alexander Graham Bell

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