The Do-Over Culture

by Jason Fertig

As someone who is barely 5’8”, I marvel at how NBA players make dunking a basketball while spinning around in the air look so easy. Yet, even with my great respect for the players’ athletic abilities, Saturday’s All-Star Dunk Contest left me quite annoyed because to me, it was symbolic of a culture that gives trophies for ninth place, stops marking papers in red pen for fear of hurting students’ self-esteem, resets scores when teams lead by too many points, and creates “Special Studies” majors for students who cannot pass any actual major but “deserve a degree for showing up.”

This dunk contest certainly featured incredible athletic feats — dunking three balls at a time, dunks where players started their jump from behind the backboard, and even a dunk over a car. But, while the completed acts were astounding, most of them were completed after the players’ fifth attempts (or more). 

I don’t know about anyone reading this, but as a viewer, seeing a player succeed after ten tries on an ridiculous dunk attempt that involves a 360-degree turn while eating a Snickers bar and tweeting about it at the same time is like watching a train wreck. I had the same feeling I would if I were watching an uncoordinated four-year-old whiff away at a baseball on a tee until he finally made contact, only to have the ball roll harmlessly foul (while the parents applauded anyway) — which I do not believe is what the NBA was aiming at for viewers of this event.

I’m not sure if the players enjoy being given multiple attempts, and I am aware that these players feel that every dunk has been done already, so they have to come up with something new. But in the bigger picture, I see this acceptance of do-overs as emblematic of a culture that want to bubble-wrap its kids. Or perhaps, I am making a big deal out of nothing. It’s just a show anyway, right?