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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Videotherapy - Foxcatcher

What it the function of the humanities in our culture and society?

The humanities is a broad number of disciplines which are distinguished usually from math and science. They include literature, history, film, the arts, and philosophy. In the last few decades, the humanities have been disparaged at the university level and in our culture because their study does not lead to vocational skills perceived as valuable for employment, and yet the humanities addresses questions about our human experience answering the question of what is the good life? What is the moral universe which we have lived in, live in presently, and wish to create for the future? The humanities inform the way we view ourselves as objects in existence and the culture and society in which we live and function. These views change over time and for most people are unconscious unless they deliberately study their development, sustainability, and change over time. The vehicles for these reflections will be novels and films that lend themselves to deconstructive analysis so that their messages and meaning are made conscious for our edification and enlightenment.

As an example we will consider the 2014 film Foxcatcher.


Foxcatcher is based on a true story about multi-millionaire heir John E. Dupont and his relationship with Olympic Gold Medal Wrestling winners, two brothers, Mark and David Shultz in the 80s and 90s.

From IMBD web site:

Based on true events, Foxcatcher tells the dark and fascinating story of the unlikely and ultimately tragic relationship between an eccentric multi-millionaire and two champion wrestlers. When Olympic Gold Medal winning wrestler Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum) is invited by wealthy heir John du Pont (Steve Carell) to move on to the du Pont estate and help form a team to train for the 1988 Seoul Olympics at his new state-of-the-art training facility, Schultz jumps at the opportunity, hoping to focus on his training and finally step out of the poverty striken situation Olympic caliber athletes like he and his revered brother, Dave (Mark Ruffalo). Driven by hidden needs, du Pont sees backing Schultz's bid for Gold and the chance to "coach" a world-class wrestling team as an opportunity to gain the elusive respect of his peers and, more importantly, his disapproving mother (Vanessa Redgrave). 

John Dupont clearly is an eccentric character with money. Because of his money he is tolerated by athletes and their organizations when Dupont clearly does not have any other qualifications. Dupont has a grandiose narcissistic view of himself as a coach and patron of Olympic wrestling which is delusional but supported by those who desire his financial support and patronage. The ethical concern here is that money can buy access and bestow power of influence when other more substantive qualities are lacking. (This reminds me of Donald Trump.)

Acquiescence to Dupont's grandiose delusion of his self importance brings significant psychological suffering to Mark and death to David. The violation of the moral principle of the right use of money led to a tragic down fall for the three principle characters: John, Mark, and David. The question of whether one should sell his/her soul for financial advantage is raised and a point of reflection in discussing the moral of this Dupont/Schultz story.

And yet, the implication of this duplicity does not stop with just Mark and David. Dupont captures the whole Olympic wrestling training team at this Foxcatcher Wrestling program. Dupont buys off the United States Wrestling Association with promises of $500,000 annual contributions.

All of this happens in the United States where Olympic athletes are considered amateurs and as such train and live in poor circumstances without some other form of income. In other countries, Olympic athletes are often given governmental support. The circumstances under which a rich millionaire can capture an Olympic sports program to fuel his own mental illness is fascinating. Some cynics might say, "Only in America," but sports are captured for political and PR purposes around the world to legitimize political power and credibility as well as corporate influence on customers and the general public.

Sports for sports sake often is not the case as athletes become celebrities with endorsements and other forms of social power. Dupont clearly wants to ride the coat tails of two Olympic gold medal winners whom he is able to buy to vicariously live through their accomplishments.

This movie starts slow but is compellingly engrossing as the creative tension builds between John Dupont and Mark Schultz. I give it a 5 on my scale of 5 and highly recommend it. It should be required viewing for all high school and college level athletes.

Questions for consideration:

1. What is Dupont's motivation in inviting Mark Schultz, all expenses paid, to this home based wrestling camp?

2. What is Mark's motivation in accepting?

3. Why does David, Mark's brother, say to Mark when Mark tells David about Dupont's offer, "What does he (Dupont) get out of this?

4. Why does the U.S. Wrestling Association agree to Dupont's contribution of $500,000 per year? Should they have taken this money? What strings might be attached?

5. How are sports used for political and commercial purposes in the United States and around the world? What are some of the ethical boundaries that should be constructed so that athletes and athletic organizations are not abused by politicians and corporate managers?

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