2007-02-01 / Sam Bari

You can't beat a system you can't understand

An obsession with first
By Sam Bari

Since the day our founding fathers stepped foot on North American soil, our society has been obsessed with being first. We were the first to colonize the so-called "New World," the first to revolt and defeat Mother England and establish a sovereign nation, and we have continued to establish a long list of firsts in our obsession to stay ahead of seemingly every curve in the history of mankind.

Somewhere along the line, being first morphed into an obsession with first place, and first shared the spotlight with a new ideology. Unfortunately, our obsessive nature to be first has occasionally carried some unwanted baggage. We brag about being the "Land of the Free," yet we come in first with the most people incarcerated per capita in the world. That's not exactly a great first.

We were the first to develop atomic weapons as well as atomic energy - two iffy firsts. Nonetheless, on the positive side of first, we definitely lead the pack in our obsession to establish who deserves to be in first place and be internationally recognized as the bestest of the bestest in every possible category of athletics, professions, and anything else that can be organized to differentiate the winners from the slackers. Our competitive nature is nothing short of manic.

Last weekend, the week before Super Sunday, we had a weekend off from watching America's greatest hits on the gridiron. For the first time in six months, football did not dominate television screens and take precedence over any other activity on the weekend. Families were reunited.

One man hadn't noticed the existence of his wife since last September. "You came back," he said with an astonished expression on his face. "What are you talking about?" she asked. "I thought you left," the man replied. Then he wanted to know who the kids were in the back yard. When she told him they were his, he was dumbstruck. He thought his kids were much younger - all because of America's obsession with competition and who is or will be in first place in the National Football League.

This weekend, 94,000,000 people will watch the Super Bowl on American soil. Believe it or not, only 2,000,000 more will watch it elsewhere. That means almost one third of the population of the country will be glued to TV screens to witness the deciding game of the NFLto establish which team comes in first. However, it doesn't stop there. You'd think we'd take some time off and relax, maybe get away from the pressures of an overwhelmingly competitive atmosphere. But no, it's time to get ready for the Academy Awards.

For weeks, Oscar will be the subject of dinnertime conversation everywhere in the country. We rule in the category of cultures obsessed with celebrities in the world of entertainment. We come in first, big time. However, the competition for an Oscar is not enough. The industry saw how profitable the Academy Awards were and decided to give America more awards, more firsts, and more elitism. They established the Emmys, the Golden Globe, and the SAG Awards. And let's not forget the separate MTV and country music extravaganzas that decide which artist stands on the top of those heaps. I believe several more contests in this category are worth noting, but I can't recall the names of the events off the top of my head.

You'd think that as a culture we would soon tire of being inundated with contests. Not so. We have an insatiable appetite for this stuff. The successes of programs featuring athletic competition, and contests in the field of entertainment were so overwhelming that one of the most profitable categories in the world of television was established - reality TV.

I could go on, but I think the point is established. We are a nation driven by a quest to be in first place. Wouldn't it be nice if we came in first as the country with the most leisure time on our hands? I don't think it's gonna happen. We live in a system that we just can't seem to understand.

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