What we need now? Cultural responses

Sports and the pandemic

This weekend in Virginia, high school sports matches will be able to be held in almost “normal” conditions, with large numbers of spectators. Our Governor has loosened rules for in-person gatherings, as more residents of the Commonwealth have gotten vaccinated, and the virus infection rate has fallen. That the Governor made a point of allowing larger gatherings right now – when league championships are being determined – is a sign of the important cultural role played by sports in schools and society in general in the US. Friday nights in the fall in many US states, the place to be is the local high school (American) football game.

Other countries have other priorities, often culturally determined. India has experienced severe upticks in viral spread following many Indians congregating together for religious festivals. One of the difficult issues in India, as elsewhere, has been whether to be impose lockdowns country-wide or allow individual regions to make the rules based on local conditions. Federalism has been a tricky topic in countries like Germany or the USA, where traditionally individual states have control over public health measures.

The cultural issues are not just related to national cultures, but also to generational groupings. For young people, not being able to get together is not just related to losing entertainment venues, but also to the greater importance of socialization for that age group. It has been interesting to follow this past year, just which institutions and services are seen as important, depending on individual and group characteristics. That doesn’t reference just those deemed of “essential” importance (health care workers, grocery store clerks, etc.), but rather those services individuals are used to having available: gyms, hairdressers, church services, arts events. Which are truly essential, many have experienced firsthand, finding ways to exercise at home, cut ones own hair, etc.

The fascinating question is this: what will represent temporary changes and which are long-term? It seems lasting effects might be changes in greeting rituals and more remote working opportunities. Uncertain from my perspective is whether masks will become a new normal in countries other than those, for example in Asia, where masks have been widely used for some years. I think many folks assume that this pandemic is a once in a generation event; I’m skeptical on that; it seems inevitable that we will see more viruses appear. That may bring more culturally determined differences.

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