In a post titled "The depravity of Major League Eating," William Saletan makes the argument that competitive eating - cramming 68 hot dogs down one's throat in a matter of minutes - is somehow like porn. But it's not.
Saletan, writing for Slate, highlights all the more grotesque and gruesome aspects of the blossoming sport (and, yes, there are a lot). He calls the hobby worse than a joke; "it's a joke that has turned serious." He charts the rise of the dominating league, Major League Eating (MLE), which began 13 years ago as a lighthearted way of letting off some steam. The MLE now holds some 85 contests a year, and gives away $600,000 in cash prizes. They have sponsors, stars, and binding contracts.
Yet this is not what seems to bother Saletan the most. When it comes down to it, he seems downright disgusted by what these people are choosing to do with their bodies. He writes:
If you've never seen the Nathan's contest, you can get your fill of it by watching ESPN's excerpt, a full-length video, or MLE's highlights from last year's show. It's an orgy of brown drool, flying debris, and masticated mush. You'll see fists and fingers pushing food down throats. You'll see contestants twisting their necks and shaking their bellies to make the food go down. "They work on their gag reflex," one ESPN announcer explains. Another praises a contestant: "He was blessed upon birth with an overactive gall bladder and not four but six first molars. He's a great eater." In case the frontal images aren't graphic enough, ESPN delivers close-ups through its "chew-view cam," along with a running "dogs per minute" stat.
Unfortunately, he takes the deep-throating connection a little too far. Saletan mentions several politicians who "glorify" competitive eating but "stand foursquare against pornography, except when it involves deep-throating 68 wieners on ESPN." After watching the videos, I can agree that sometimes it's pretty gross. However, there is absolutely nothing about it that makes competitive eating more comparable to porn than any other athletic event. Saletan mentions the dangers of stuffing one's face with food, the potential risks contestants face, yet he does not take into account the injuries incurred in other sports. His entire post is rather hysterical, filled with gross-out descriptions and over-the-top comparisons - even a doomsday-esque prediction:
Fifty years from now, when historians are looking for a moment that captures the depravity of our age-the gluttony, the self-destruction, the craving for worthless fame-it won't be bathhouses, Big Love, or AdultFriendFinder. It'll be Joey Chestnut stuffing that 68th hot dog down his unresisting gullet, live on ESPN. Or, worse, it'll be the guy who broke his record.
Sex and food. Food and sex. I don't know about you, but I'm sick of the two being combined in some horrible spiral of shame. Food is not sinful. Lust is not sinful. AdultFriendFinder is not a cesspool of perversion. Doing these things - enjoying huge amounts of food or copious amounts of sex - does not make one self-destructive, gluttonous, or depraved. Saletans sloppy comparison does not turn me off competitive eating - it just reveals his disgust and distrust of pornography. In drawing the two together, he makes both out to be something threatening, even dangerous. But a group of contestants shoving food into their faces while crowds cheer around is not symbolic of the impending downfall of our civilization. And this is no worse than paying two men to beat each other bloody while spectators urge them on to greater violence. As far as sports go, competitive eating is actually pretty tame. However, I will agree that "conspicuous consumption" might be our weakness, yet when I say that, I'm not referring to hot dogs.