In case you haven’t noticed the list in the right sidebar, I have converted several classic posts to pages, for ease of access. Some have new names; many combine several posts on the same subject:
Incorporated in this page.
Although I’ve declared baseball the “king of team sports,” I would agree with anyone who says that baseball is past its prime. When was that prime? Arguably, it was the original lively ball era, which by my reckoning extended from 1920 to 1941. The home run had become much more prevalent than in earlier dead-ball era, but not so prevalent that it dominated offensive strategy. Thus batting averages were high and scoring proceeded at a higher pace than in any of the other eras that I’ve identified.
In 1930, for example, the entire National League batted .303. The Chicago Cubs of that season finished in second place and batted .309 (not the highest team average in the league). The average number of runs scored in a Cubs’ game was 12.0 — a number surpassed only by the lowly Philadelphia Phillies, whose games yielded an average of 13.8 runs, most of them scored by the Phillies’ opponents. Despite the high scoring, the average Cubs game of the 1930 season lasted only 2 hours and 5 minutes. (An estimate that I derived from the sample of 67 Cubs’ games for which times are available, here.)
In sum, baseball’s first lively ball era produced what fans love to see: scoring. A great pitching duel is fine, but a great pitching duel is a rare thing. Too many low-scoring games are the result of failed offensive opportunities, which are marked by a high count of runners left of base. Once runners get on base, what fans want (or at least one team’s fans want) is to see them score.
The game in the first lively ball era was, as I say, dynamic because scoring depended less on the home run than it did in later eras. And the game unfolded at a smart pace. That pace, by the way, was about the same as it had been in the middle of the dead-ball era. (For example, the times recorded for the Cubs’ two games against the Cincinnati Reds on July 4, 1911, are 2:05 and 2:00.)
Baseball has declined since the first lively ball era, not just because the game has become more static but also because it now unfolds at a much slower pace. The average length of a game in 2014 is 3:08 (for games through 07/17/14) — more than an hour longer than the games played by the Cubs in 1930.
Baseball is far from the only cultural phenomenon that has declined from its peak. I have written several times about the decline of art and music, movies, language, and morals and mores: here, here, here, and here. (Each of the foregoing links leads to a post that includes links to related items.)
Baseball is sometimes called a metaphor for life. (It’s a better metaphor than soccer, to be sure.) I now venture to say that the decline of baseball is a metaphor for the decline of art, music, movies, language, and morals and mores.
Indeed, the decline of baseball is a metaphor for the decline of liberty in America, which began in earnest — and perhaps inexorably — during the New Deal, even as the first lively ball era was on the wane.
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See also “The Fall and Rise of American Empire.”
Thanks to Netflix, I used to watch two or three feature films a week. I was able to sustain that pace for years because of a backlog of highly rated but yet-unwatched films, and the frequent release of new films of merit. The backlog has almost vanished, as has the offering of meritorious new films.
Take 2013, please! I have thus far seen only four of the films emitted in that year: American Hustle, Blue Jasmine, Captain Phillips, and Now You See Me. Viewers who rate films at IMDb (Internet Movie Database) have given the films average ratings of 7.5, 7.4, 8.0, and 7.3 out of 10, respectively, as against my own ratings of 4, 1, 7, and 7.*
Admittedly, a sample of four may seem inadequate to the task of judging a year’s worth of filmic output, but my assessment of that output would be even less glowing had I not rejected most of it sight unseen. Take American Hustle (please!), which I watched last night. It was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, despite the fact that it’s too long, too loud, too crude, and rarely funny where it’s meant to be funny. Thus my rating of 4. Blue Jasmine, to which I gave a 1, turned out to be another of Woody Allen’s series of kvetches — boring as hell unless you are fascinated by neurotic, yuppie Manhattanites. Captain Phillips and Now You See Me are good but not great films.
I’m content to call 2013 a bad year at the moves — perhaps the worst year — because of two trends. The first is an accelerating downward trend (with respect to year of release) in the percentage of movies that I have called a “favorite,” that is, a movie that I’ve rated 8, 9, or 10:
What about overall ratings? Here are my ratings of movies, relative to the ratings given the same movies by IMDb users; note the steep decline after 1995:
Is it just me? Perhaps. But it’s more likely that movie-goers’ tastes have coarsened in the past two decades. Witness the popularity of American Hustle; witness the unremitting stream of sex, violence, and general depravity that emanates from movies and over the electromagnetic spectrum.
I conclude that movies are getting worse than ever, in keeping with popular culture.
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The Movies: (Not) Better Than Ever
At the Movies: The Best and Worst Years
My Year at the Movies (2007)
The Movies: Not Better than Ever (II)
Here’s a guide to my ratings:
1 – unwatchable
2 – watched all the way through, to my regret
3, 4, 5 – varying degrees of entertainment value, but altogether a waste of time
6 – generally engaging, but noticeably flawed in some way (e.g., a weak performance in a major role, trite story, a contrived ending, insufficient resolution of plot or sub-plot)
7 – well done in all respects, with only a few weak spots; enjoyable but not scintillating
8 – a thoroughly engaging movie; its weak spots (e.g., a corny plot), if any, are overwhelmed by scintillating performances (e.g., the spectacular dancing of Astaire and Rogers), sustained hilarity, a compelling plot, a witty script, etc. (a rating that I’ve given to 30 percent of the more than 2,000 feature films that I’ve seen)
9 – an “8” that is so good it bears re-watching (a rating that I’ve given to only 3 percent of the films I’ve seen)
10 – a movie that I didn’t want to end; a masterpiece of film-making (a rating that I’ve given to only 5 films — 0.2 percent)
Incorporated in this page.
It’s not that I’m going “on hiatus” as they say in blogworld. It’s just that I have a couple of things to “share” that aren’t about politics or economics. I maintain, and occasionally update, a blog called Americana, Etc., which is about “baseball, history, humor, language, literature, movies, music, nature, nostalgia, philosophy, psychology, and other (mostly) apolitical subjects.” (Actually, I do address history, language, literature, music, philosophy, and psychology here, but not in an apolitical way.)
In a relative frenzy of activity at Americana, Etc., I added yesterday (after two weeks’ work) a post in which I compare the greatest hitters in the history of the American League. (That’s a baseball thing-y, in case you’re wondering.) The title of the post, oddly enough, is “The American League’s Greatest Hitters.” Here’s a teaser: Ichiro Suzuki supplants Ty Cobb as the best all-time hitter — batting-average-wise — in the history of the American League. To find out why, and to see the entire list of 120 top hitters, click on the link in the sentence before last. [UPDATE: With a further adjustment to take age into account, Ty Cobb reclaims his title as the all-time American League batting champion. Ichiro Suzuki drops to second place. Shoeless Joe Jackson remains in third place. Details here.]
Today’s entry is “The Quality of Films over the Decades,” in which I revisit and reaffirm earlier posts to the effect that movies have been in a long decline since 1942.
Thank you for your kind attention.