Frye on Hockey


Gordie Howe and Denis Brodeur

Here’s Frye on pucks
For all Canucks
And others who like
Sports on ice.

Tim Horton knew
That Norrie flew
Around the rink
Not once but twice.

Watching a hockey game is not directly a spectator sport, because anyone interested enough in hockey to watch a game knows how the game is played, & through that knowledge can see much more of what is going on, with or without a commentator, than the players.  (CW 13, 95)

The difference between leisure and distraction or boredom is not so much in what one does as in the mental attitudes toward it.  It’s easiest to see this if we take extreme examples.  Our television sets and highways are crowded on weekends with people who are not looking for leisure but are running away from it.  Leisure goes to a hockey game to see a game: distraction or boredom goes to see one team trample the other into the ice.  (CW 10, 224)

Wherever we turn in this problem, we keep falling over the word “education”: but if education means trying to get people to stop going to hockey games and go to discussion groups on great books instead, education isn’t going to help much either. (ibid., 225)

We get bored because we feel that something is missing inside ourselves.  We look outside ourselves for the missing place, either aggressively, by trying to bully somebody, or by trying to forget about ourselves by throwing ourselves into some kind of illusion.  For this state of mind, illusion is a lot better than reality.  Far better to go into squealing hysterics over a rock‑and-roll singer than over a dictator: far better to fight the Russians in a hockey game than on a battlefield.  But illusion can’t fool everybody all the time.  Some people, sooner or later, have to wake up and look for the missing piece inside themselves. (ibid., 225)

The television camera, being essentially an extension of one person’s eyes, peers, squints, and pries; it is looking for a single visual focus.  The focus is “where it’s at,” and television has a great deal to do with the obsession of the last few years with this phrase.  If we ask what television does best in extending the individual’s visual range, it seems clear that it is particularly good at, for example, football and hockey games.  These are, as I suggested earlier, different from baseball in that they are specifically “where it’s at” games, where it’s at being usually where the ball or puck is.  Focussing on the ball or puck also clarifies the pattern of opposition in the game being played: that is, it illustrates the strategy of one team confronting another.  The result is that television tends to report everything as though it were some kind of football or hockey game, and the vogue for “confrontation” and polarized issues is a major social feature of society’s effort to absorb the television way of seeing.  (ibid., 296)

I wish the makers of such films would realize that no event has any meaning without its visual context and without its historical context.  This program was what André would call incestuous: it was begotten, born, and bred of the television medium.  It looks dead now, for the same reason that no one wants to hear about last year’s football games.  The assumption throughout was that a person’s “real” character is the one he would demonstrate on one side or the other of a polarized issue, and this assumption is preposterous.  The confrontation issue, including football and hockey games, is a form of social ritual.  (ibid., 298)

Television is consequently most effective when it presents such rituals as public weddings and funerals, or the ritualized confrontations of football and hockey games, and it presents “issues” in the same polarized way. Such direct pro‑and‑con opposition, with all neutral or middle ground eliminated, is also what the revolutionary aims at: the revolutionary strives for situations in which everyone opposed to his group can be equally characterized as “counter-revolutionary.” (CW 11, 149)

It is almost irresistibly easy for television to create melodramatic situations, with the good guys arrayed against the bad guys, and so presenting the illusion of a world in a state of constant violence, even though actual life, as Mr. Mohr reminds us, sees violence only rarely. Such melodramas even enter the presentation of sports, whether the sporting event is phoney, like the wrestling matches described by Mr. Kotcheff, or genuine, like hockey games.  Television emphasizes particularly the “human interest” or dramatic side of events and issues, that is, it puts actual events into dramatic forms. Somebody remarked in the discussion that we depend on the news media to structure the news, and that word “structure” is immensely important in this context. Once we get past the talking head in television, we are instantly in a world of drama, whether we are watching a hockey game or a race riot. (ibid., 161-2)

Sadism in sports: gladiators to hockey. (CW 25, 196)

I seem to have got off on an irrelevant track here, a line of thought connected with the sex war.  It is curious how closely the cult of the unfeminine male is connected with a protest against matriarchy.  Actually, heroism & dandyism are apt to go together, as how Cardigan charged into the mouth of hell & in corsets & rouge.  The only men who patronize beauty parlours & get permanent waves are professional hockey players: it’s people like me who are most careless of their bodies & least vain of their personal appearance, my hair being an accident.  (CW 15, 23)

The closing tune [of the Vic Bob] was a very lively and catchy one, based on a skit called “The Last Resort,” where a travelling salesman—I mean a man at a travel bureau—finally broke down in front of a difficult family and a song called “Go to Hell” started.  The theme was the Royal Commission on Culture trying to find some, & deciding to boil down their results in a “revue.”  They finally decided that Canada’s culture was primarily physical—hockey, pea soup & the mounties, & they presented the “Mrs. Mackenzie King medal” to a “Nature Woman,” a sort of Girl Guide mistress.  The leading actress was Jane Mallett, and a very competent actress she is too.  Donald [Harron] did a wonderful skit on a naive Canadian author bringing a drama about a mounted policeman and a bear to Hollywood. (1950 Diary, 5 May)

As I’ve remarked before, playing goal for the girls’ hockey team is about the only job I haven’t been assigned around this place yet. (1951 Diary, 27 February)

We took a taxi and the man chattered about hockey games.  He’s been a coach in Ottawa and was homesick for it.   (1953 Diary, 1 March)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

1 thought on “Frye on Hockey

  1. Ed Lemond

    I love the quote: “but if education means trying to get people to stop going to hockey games and go to discussion groups on great books instead, education isn’t going to help much either.” It should be our motto at the Frye Festival and I think it already is, in a way, here in hockey-mad Moncton. The people have spoken. So we go to them. It’s a two-way street. Interpenetration.


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.