Chronological Snobbery (kran'-uh-laj'-uh-kul snab'-uh-ree) noun. The logical fallacy that something from an earlier time -- be it thinking, art, science, or sport -- is inherently inferior when compared to that of the present.

Usage example: Many people assume that today's NBA players are stronger, faster, and more talented than players from the 60s, 70s, and even 80s. That's a clear example of Chronological Snobbery.

Word History: The term was coined by British philosopher/author/poet/critic
Owen Barfield. According to Wikipedia, Chronological Snobbery occurs "when someone makes the presumption that since civilization has advanced in certain (usually scientific) areas, people of earlier time periods must have been on the whole less capable in all areas." Likewise, many NBA fans simply can't imagine how players from earlier eras could compete with the "stronger and more athletic" players of today. Even so-called experts like ESPN columnist Eric Neel think that today's stars are categorically superior to the stars of times past.

This type of thinking is short-sighted, and can be easily dismissed with a little thoughtful analysis. It's been proven, for instance, that athleticism is meaningless without an accompanying surplus of skill (refer to careers of phenoms such as Harold Minor, Eddie Griffin, et al.). It's also been proven that a truly skilled player can overcome a lack of overwhelming athleticism to become one of the best players in the world (Larry Bird, Magic Johnson). For these reasons, among others, the "Stronger + Faster = Better" argument doesn't hold much weight with me.

Furthermore, it's probable that the the gap between the athleticism of Now versus Then has been somewhat overstated. First of all, the game has become much more flamboyant over the years. In his autobiography A View From Above, Wilt Chamberlain stated flatly that many of his NBA contemporaries possessed speed, strength, and jumping ability that was comparable to players in the modern era. He then pointed out that, in the 60s and 70s, the high-flying game of today was considered arrogant and classless. There were players who could jump and dunk like Jordan, but they (typically) didn't want to show up and embarrass their opponents in any other way than by winning the game. Chamberlain also claimed that many coaches specifically told their more athletic (i.e., black) players not to be too flashy, for fear of alienating a primarily white fanbase that was suspicious and fearful of African American men and their relative athletic prowess.

These factors have changed. Modern players love nothing more than showing up their foes as a means of attaining "respect" (usually in the form of money), and the fan base -- although still primarily caucasian -- now seems to prefer hot-dogging and show-boating to sound, fundamental play. And as this ideological change progressed, the media coverage of the NBA (and most other major sports) has grown exponentially. We'll never be able to watch Wilt's 100 point game, but you can buy Kobe's 81 point game on eBay or watch it on YouTube. The athletic feats you can see, and those memories that are most recent, tend to be much more compelling than those of a forgotten (and unrecorded) past.

Of course, there's also a sort of Reverse Chronological Snobbery, where people feel as though the present can't possibly reach the heights of the glory days of decades past. Bill Simmons, for instance,
remains convinced that the NBA reached its absolute peak in the 80s and has only gotten progressively worse since then. Players from the 60 and 70s, and the fans who grew up watching them, think that era is superior. Of course, it's impossible to prove anything, because teams across eras will never be able to compete. What's best, probably, is to develop a healthy appreciation of the history of the game, while at the same time enjoying today's NBA without wasting too much time on cross-time comparisons.
2 Comments:
Anonymous Sean said...
This was a great post--an essay, even. I personally suffer from the reverse type, but you're right. It's not good to look down on or overly glorify the past. It probably wasn't that different than the present.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Bill Simmons is like those jackasses that come up with the 100 best rock and roll songs of all time, and Smells Like Teen Spirit is only one post 1990 to qualify. Yet he's not even a Baby Boomer, so I don't understand why he's stuck in such an intensly sentimental bullshit point of view.

Links to this post:
Create a Link