Monday, May 27, 2013

How Culture Plays With Time: Part 2

This is the 2nd blog on this subject. 
See my first blog about games and time:

While we must each live, work and die with the unrelenting march of irreversible time, the culture often *plays* with time in safe ways, ways that provide metaphors for life. 

Games, movies, drama, music and other cultural forms are time based. But their peculiar nature allows people to consider time in a secure environment.

Who has not felt their pulse race when the home team is down a few points with only seconds to play? Or the exhilaration when the team wins? Or the crush of defeat when they lose?

We tell ourselves, it is only a game -- yet these victories and defeats are rehearsals for the real things in life -- when someone close to you dies, when you suffer a serious injury, when you achieve a major goal.

Every game has a beginning, a middle and an end, just like living: birth, life, death. Just like episodes in our lives: being born into a family, growing up, leaving.
Game: A complete episode or period of play, typically ending in a definite result: "a baseball game".
Google instant definition
While some games are open ended when it comes to a specific time span such as baseball, others are controlled by the clock such as football. Yet every type of game plays with our sense of duration, as I have written about in an earlier blog: Time & The Human Sense of Duration.

Baseball in the United States is particularly interesting -- especially with sayings about the game that have spilled over into life: It ain't over 'til it's over; you're down to your last out; three strikes and you're out; it's the ninth inning with bases loaded. See a full list of English Language Idioms Derived From Baseball at

And baseball provides many other ways of thinking about time as well. Each action occurs within the context of a bigger event, which itself is part of something even larger. For example, each pitch is an event which in turn leads to plays which lead to hits, runs and outs which lead to the completion of innings which leads to the completion of the game. And the game is part of a season and the season part of the ball club's history.

A sequence of shots showing the complete motion involved with making a pitch. This is a modern chronograph similar to the horse galloping sequence of photos by Muybridge. (
Football, because it deals with time constraints, has a different dynamic. In the beginning there is often plenty of time to make up for mistakes -- because in the early periods of the game, fluid time (see my blog about this in my next post) is available and a team can make up for early errors. However, as the clock ticks down, hardened time (read my upcoming blog) begins to take over and every little mistake or success can have major consequences. In a close game in football, the tension builds to a fever pitch. A team down by 2 points with 2 minutes to go, could win the game, but the window of opportunity is closing fast.

And while sports operates on one level, movies operate on quite another. If you arrive late to a baseball game, lets say the 4th inning, you can easily catch up by looking at the score board and seeing the number of runs, hits and errors for each inning. Not so with movies. If you arrive twenty minutes into the movie, you may never catch onto the full meaning of the story.
Drama plays with our short term memories as you must hold in your mind the action from beginning to end to make sense of what happens. For example, some insignificant event in the beginning might have serious consequences at the close. And for you to make sense of the plot, you will need to remember this small event that occurred at the start.

Film and drama also deal with an arch of emotions. This emotional passage is like a journey. In one type of typical story the hero or heroine, for example, is faced with seemingly impossible tasks, but somehow overcomes obstacles to prevail at the end. Such a story often takes us through a slew of roller coaster emotions. At times it may look as though the hero can never survive. The emotion we feel at the end, when the hero triumphs, occurs only because we have followed his journey from start to finish, because we shared a time span with him.

The audience reaction is often quite intense, even though everyone knows the action is fictional. (
Tragedy, especially Greek or Shakespearean tragic drama, takes us though an arch of emotions, but with the death or destruction of the hero at the end. In this kind of story, we often know what will happen to the hero or heroine but are helpless to keep him or her from their inevitable fate -- a fate often brought on by their own blindness or pride. We see the path they have chosen swallowing them and we want to stop time, stop the relentless march that takes them to their final end. And many in the audience are deeply saddened or weep when the fictional hero dies.

FILM TITLE: D.O.A. (Dead On Arrival) From the moment this American Film Noir tragedy starts, we know this fictional hero, Frank Bigelow, will die. A quiet accountant, he has been poisoned and is doomed. Yet while he is alive he is driven to find out why. We follow his journey knowing the inevitable -- and are deeply moved at the end when he dies. (

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