The Rise of Spectatoritis: Viewers vs Doers

The battle between Doers and Viewers is one to be fought on two fronts. With social media platforms like YouTube offering unprecedented access of the world’s population, it has created a new wave of spectatorism in which viewers are more motivated than ever before to just watch rather than take action themselves.

The “art of manliness writing” is a blog that discusses the rise of spectatoritis. The article discusses how people are becoming too passive in life and are turning into spectators.

Fans in the stadium standing, yelling and cheering.

The college football season begins this weekend, and I’ll be honest: I’m quite pumped. Preseason surveys had my beloved Sooners rated first, and I like sitting on the sofa on a cool autumn day to watch them play (when they win, that is!).

But every now and again, like when the announcer reads out the attendance statistics for the game, I get a slight nagging sensation of unease. 80,000 people came out to see 22 guys sprint about, toss a ball, and collide. It’s easy to understand why—something there’s genuinely captivating about seeing the world’s most brilliant athletes compete. But, when you step back, it’s very strange, isn’t it? There are two groups of men: doers and observers, and one is far, much greater than the other.

Spectatoritis is on the rise.

The exacerbated case, entirely infected, the fan who is nothing but a fan—a flabby creature, emblem of the mass, a parasite on others’ play, the least athletic of all men, never playing himself at anything, a spectacle seeker, not a sportsman—appears now and then. 1915, Richard Henry Edwards

During these strange times, I’m reminded of an old book Kate bought at a secondhand bookshop a few years ago. It’s called Spectatoritis, and it was written by Jay B. Nash in 1938. Leisure time had progressively expanded over the first half of the twentieth century, and Nash believed that since Americans had never been presented with such big expanses of it previously, the nation had not evolved a “philosophy of leisure.” People were succumbing to “spectatoritis,” which he coined as a result of their lack of understanding of this ideology.

Of course, the machine era has already provided an unprecedented amount of leisure, so what happens now? Because it is the simplest thing to do, the normal guy with spare time becomes a spectator, a bystander, a bystander of someone else. He succumbs to spectatoritis, a catch-all term for all forms of passive entertainment, the act of engaging in the most inconvenient activity only to avoid boredom. Rather of expressing himself, he is content to sit back and have his leisure activities slapped on him like mustard plasters—external, transient, and ultimately “dust in the mouth.”

Nash prophesied that the epidemic of spectatoritis will only become worse:

There is such a thing as too much sleep for a man. When given the opportunity to be free, many men fall asleep—”physically and cognitively,” naturally and cortically. They gravitate to pre-digested diversions, packed in little packets for a dollar each, since they lack the urge for creative arts. This has put us into the gladiatorial stage of Rome, when the number of combatants is dwindling and the grandstands are growing in size. Spectatoritism has virtually become synonymous with Americanism, and it is far from over. The stages will get smaller, and the rows of seats will become more numerous.”

It’s easy to see how the specter of spectatoritis has infiltrated every aspect of our lives. Not just in the obvious areas where passive participation has long been the norm–90 million Americans watched the 2011 Super Bowl; 100,000 people saw U2 in concert in October–but also in places where active engagement was formerly the rule. For example, when I went to a couple of “megachurches” a few months ago, I was surprised at how much the service (actually, they called it a “experience”—”service” sounds too boring and stodgy) resembled any other form of entertainment—people listened to the music, watched a video and powerpoint presentation, sat through a short message from the pastor, and left 60 minutes later. There were no prerequisites for participation or any form of service. Worship had become another another item to be passively received rather than actively made, which was intriguing to witness.


A “theater room,” a windowless room with enormous, movie theater-like seats, a sound system, and a giant screen television, is a contemporary trend in the construction of new medium and high class suburban houses. When you take a step back, this is another one of those things that appears strange… There’s an entire room in the home devoted to viewing movies. We’ve progressed from parlors for socializing to rumpus or recreation rooms for playing games, and finally to chambers where individuals sit quietly side by side in the dark.

The internet, more than anything else, has aided in the development of spectatoritis. Online interactions are especially deceptive because they give individuals the impression that they are actively engaging in something when, in fact, they are merely another type of passive entertainment. The expression of personal choice is the most common type of “action” in contemporary life. Whether you like or dislike something. You may now become a “fan” of Dominos Pizza, presidential candidates, and even “sleeping,” while before you could only be a “fan” of sports teams. Some websites feature buttons in the response part of stories that enable visitors to upvote or downvote reader comments, which I find humorous. So, if you’re too lazy to write your own material and it’s too much of a hassle to even make a remark, you can still “participate” by expressing your support for someone else’s concept. Giving something a thumbs up or down, however, is not true engagement. Why? Because such engagement is “external, transitory, and a mouthful of dust.” Because there is no risk involved, no putting your own skin in the game. Because it has no effect on you or the rest of the world.

University of Michigan football stadium big house aerial view.

You Can’t Become a Man by Sitting on the Bench.

Personal interest in athletics has been largely replaced by a desire to watch spectacular games, which unfortunately tend to divide the country into two camps: the few overworked champions in the arena, and the large crowd content to sit on the benches and watch while indulging their tobacco and alcohol addictions.

This is what is turning so many smart people against baseball, football, and other sports. This, as will be shown, is a re-enactment of the situation that existed before to Rome’s collapse. Every man was a soldier in her early days; at the end, only a few outstanding gladiators remained in the arena, to be observed and praised by millions who had no experience with fighting or valor.

The term is degeneracy.

I started the Woodcraft movement in America to fight the system that has converted so many of our strong, masculine, self-reliant boyhoods into a bunch of flat-chested cigarette-smokers with weak nerves and dubious vitality.” –Ernest Thompson Seton, founder of the Boy Scouts of America and developer of Woodcraft Indians

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with seeing a few shows. As I said at the outset, I like watching football and sometimes attending a minor league baseball game, a movie, or a concert. I don’t presently have the smug satisfaction of telling people that I don’t have a television, but I do love watching a few episodes each week. I like perusing the web and sharing information on Facebook.


Some guys believe that the whole issue with today’s males is their obsession with college and professional sports. But it’s as naive as believing that consuming a steady diet of idle entertainment has no negative consequences. Rather of experiencing spectatoritis, these guys are suffering from high-horse-itis.

No, a problem emerges when passive amusements become a substitute for what you personally lack, rather than a complement to your life—a once-in-a-while pleasant treat.

William Deresiewicz recently penned “An Empty Regard,” a scathing op-ed essay for The New York Times in which he questioned our present irrational worship of the military. This near-canonization of the soldiers started during the Iraq War, with the good goal of avoiding repeating the errors of Vietnam, when resistance to the war turned into hostility against those fighting in it.

Deresiewicz isn’t opposed to supporting the military in general; rather, he believes that we should utilize them as a “national football team,” a comforting sign that conventional masculinity is still alive and thriving. Deresiewicz argues, “The soldier is the way we like to view ourselves: stoic, strong, focused, and loyal.” However, it’s a safe symbol—a team we can root for from the sofa without having to enter the arena:

 The more the sacrifice made by a tiny number of individuals, military personnel and their families, the more we have moved away from supporting our warriors and toward placing them on a pedestal. Everyone fought in the Second World War. For the most part, soldiers were not distant figures; they were us. Rather of sharing the load, we now romanticize it. It’s a lot simpler to romanticize the combatants than it is to send your child to fight beside them. I believe this is also a type of service: lip service…

The worship of the uniform, according to political scientist Jonathan Weiler, is a sort of citizenship-by-proxy. Soldiers, police, and firemen, he claims, encapsulate a concept of public duty to which the rest of us are now only spectators. To put it another way, we need a quick kick in the pants.

The fundamental danger of spectatoritis gone wild is that it enables us to live vicariously via the qualities of others without having to acquire them ourselves.

This phenomenon may also be seen in the popularity of some television programmes. The Deadliest Catch is a television show that airs on the Discovery Ax Men are a group of men that use axes to Truckers on the Ice Road These shows feature blue collar guys who labor with their hands, get filthy, and put their lives on the line to support their families. The white collar guy, who is unfamiliar with hard work, may get a taste of blue collar masculinity from the luxury of his chair by watching these programs.

However, these vicarious sensations are just temporary. They evoke sensations of manliness for an hour or two, then fade away, leaving the observer completely unaffected. And the world remained totally unchanged.


Discussing a masculine “concept of leisure” needs its own essay, but for now, a basic proposal is that every guy should have at least one item in his life where he has some skin in the game, where he is in the arena rather than watching from the stands. One area in which he is a doer rather than a spectator.




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