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Virtue Signalling, Frank Clark, and Escapism

So I was reading, one of my favorite sports community sites which focuses on Seattle Seahawks content, and was greeted with the following article about up-and-coming pass rusher, Frank Clark.  Here’s a snip of the article’s headline in Fieldgulls’ feed:



Now, I really like this player for a variety of reasons.  Some of those reasons are simply due to his freakish athleticism and incredibly competitive nature, and some of those reasons have to do with the peculiar circumstances surrounding the man himself, rather than the player (or, more pointedly: surrounding the man’s past).


Here’s the setup: Frank Clark was a top draft pick of the Seahawks two years ago, and was universally regarded as one of the top talents in that draft class at a premium position (pass rusher).  The only reason he fell to Seattle was due to a domestic violence charge which was ultimately dropped against him, with the prosecutor in the case actually coming out on the record and saying that, while the situation between Clark and his girlfriend at the time was a bad situation/altercation, she (the prosecutor) found insufficient cause to charge him with domestic violence (the charges were reduced to “persistent disorderly conduct”) and is on the record saying she doesn’t believe he punched or slapped his then-girlfriend.


The stigma of the situation lingered, however, causing him to plummet down the board (he probably should have been a top-15 pick that year, but went at pick 63).  And here we are, two years later, with articles at the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS’ MOST POPULAR COMMUNITY SITE leading off with literally eight paragraphs of what we, on the internet, call ‘virtue-signalling’ where the author attempts to make as clear as humanly possible that domestic violence is bad and that people need to recognize that it is bad, and that our enjoyment watching someone accused of it should probably be diminished.


Understand: this isn’t a rival team’s blog, where criticisms and undermining of Seahawk players would be understandable–or even appropriate and in the general spirit of competition.  This is the Seahawks’ fans’ own site, featuring an article which suggests it’s about Frank Clark’s playing ability and potential breakout into superstardom, but instead spends eight whole paragraphs talking about domestic violence and the stigma surrounding this player who was once accused of it.  Eventually that article does get into some football-related content, and that content slightly outweighs the virtue-signalling social commentary (~1300 words to 1100 words) but here’s the point:


Sports is escapism.  Professional sports even more so.  We don’t watch sports to be inundated with social commentary; there are indeed times when social commentary is warranted, poignant, or downright indisputably relevant to a given performance or performer.  Stories of rags-to-riches youths bootstrapping themselves on the backs of their talent and will to succeed are inspirational, and they always will be.  Stories about the inevitable fall from grace, which unerringly claims every last shred of our youthful vitality in the course of time, are equally important to the human condition.  And stories of boundaries being crossed, along with the attendant consequences of such behaviors, are also helpful and innately human–and, as with all things, celebrity is a factor which magnifies our collective attention.


But this story is two years old, with no new relevant developments to introduce that might modify our opinion on the matter.  So why does the author choose to go to such effort to discuss what is, essentially, yesterday’s news?


I’ve mentioned it above, and the somewhat snidely-employed label for this phenomenon (a label I happen to employ because I do think it fully encapsulates and accurately describes it) is ‘virtue signalling.’  It’s defined via Wikipedia thusly:


That’s what the author is doing here: conspicuously expressing a set of moral values.  We can guess at the author’s intentions, but I think a safe bet would be that this is done in the interests of promoting the author’s standing with a given group (that group might not even be the community of Seattle Seahawks fans, but rather some third party of onlookers with whom the author is, or desires to be, affiliated).


The comments section for the article in question immediately blew up with complaints about the persistence of this domestic violence narrative in any and all articles related to Frank Clark.  There are, according to SBNation’s on-site search engine, 2243 (as of this article’s writing) results for ‘Frank Clark Fieldgulls,’ and it is my experience reading these articles that all of them which focus on Frank Clark spend inordinate numbers of words discussing his private life and history.  I, like a significant (and apparently fast-growing) number of those who frequent Fieldgulls, am frankly sick of hearing about this issue in isolation.


Ultimately, all of this social media virtue signalling is no small part of why Donald Trump won the last Presidential election.  People are sick of being preached at everywhere they turn.  Not ALL people are sick of it, certainly, but enough that aggregate sentiment has shifted sufficiently to cause a serious backlash.  When people tune into a football-centric site, we want to read or talk about football.  When we tune into our favorite TV show, we don’t want to be bludgeoned over the head with virtue signalling and thinly-veiled declarations of ‘YOU’RE BAD!’ howled by the show-runners, writers, and actors.  We tune into these outlets, in no small part, because we desire to escape into something different from our daily lives.  We all know that the bubbling social cauldron will keep churning while we do so and that, whatever problems we fleetingly forget while enjoying the latest episode of this season’s hit TV series, the woes of the world aren’t going anywhere while our attentions are elsewhere.


But we also expect a measure of respect for our increasingly precious free time.  If people want to read commentary and opinion on social events, trust me: we’re perfectly capable of tuning into cable news, talk radio, one of the myriad social media outlets focusing on such, Twitter, Facebook, or even the water cooler (yes, some people still interface with current events this way, you smartphone-zombies 😉 ).  One thing we absolutely do not appreciate is the unwanted impregnation of our escapism with the opinions and virtue-signalling efforts of people who are convinced we Must Be Shown The Way.  People rightly rebelled against religious zealots intruding into every sphere of society with their peculiar constellations of virtues and preferences, and people are rightly rebelling against our precious free time being infected with similar expressions of punditry and proselytizing stemming from crowds with no so-called ‘Holy Book’ binding them to one another.


Trust me: we can find news, opinion, and debate just fine on our own.  Focus on doing what we asked you to do, whether that’s writing fiction novels, filming hit TV series’, performing music, writing about sports, or anything else that captures our attention during our free time.  We’ll tell you if we want to hear about politics, social issues, or anything outside the bounds of pure entertainment.  If we haven’t told you to do so, you can rest assured it’s not something we want you doing on that particular platform.

Published inCultureInformationpoliticsReligionsocial psychologyVirtue Signalling

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