December 11, 2013, - 2:51 pm
I could tell a long time ago that the game, er . . . “sport” of bowling was dying. I knew it because, over the years, a lot of bowling alleys in my area have shut their doors. Last year, AMF Bowling–the largest chain of bowling alleys in America–filed for bankruptcy. And you never hear about kids having bowling alley birthday parties anymore. Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal made my observations official. The paper reports that bowling went from nine million Americans in 1980 down to two million–and dwindling–today who participate regularly in the game. And I’m not too disappointed. I hate bowling.
It’s not that I like to see American businesses close–even if they are bowling alleys or bowling magazines or bowling products and services providers. Those are jobs for Americans that won’t be farmed out to some call center in Mumbai. They’re American jobs that disappear, and it’s sad whenever that happens. But I just hate the sport–and how can you call this game which takes no athleticism (and is populated by mostly fat people) a sport? When I was a kid, my friends and I all had bowling birthday parties. (If it wasn’t that, it was roller skating rink birthday parties.) And I hated it, but I went along with it because I was only a kid, and that was the fallback venue parents chose for parties: a bowling alley. And I was not a spoiled kid. I was happy that my parents took the time and effort to put together a birthday party for me because I knew it took work and not all the parents could afford to do this for their kids.
But that doesn’t take away from the fact that I hate bowling. I hate it because I’m not good at bowling. It’s boring. It’s dirty–the rented creepy shoes filled with everyone before you’s athletes foot or other maladies, the dirty balls covered in oil and dirt from rolling around, the dirty three holes in the ball. And there is no variation in the game. All you do–each time–is throw a ball down an aisle to hit pins. After a few times, it gets old.
I like to think I’m not a snob, but if there’s any area in which I am–and in which snobbery is vastly underrated–it’s bowling. The kind of people you think of going bowling are some overweight, grubby lowlifes you see on a movie screen. I think of that Lebowski guy. You know what I’m talking about. Plus I’m reminded of that creepy, horrifying movie starring Woody Harrelson. After that, I never wanted to see a bowling ball again. If I had my way, the Islamic terrorists at Gitmo would be sentenced to bowl every waking hour. There ain’t no torture like that. Well, yeah, I know there is plenty of torture far worse. But you get my point.
On the other hand, I’m sad about what the death of bowling in America also symbolizes. Bowling was–and remains–primarily a blue collar pastime, especially in red state middle America. (I don’t have the stats to prove it, but it’s safe to say that bowlers are more likely to vote Republican and probably much more conservative than non-bowlers.) It’s really the domain of the working class, despite the number of yuppie and hipster bowling-alley-slash-bar hangouts in New York and L.A. And in the ’80s, when the auto industry and other manufacturing arenas were strong in America–and there were far more manufacturing jobs with good pay–the working class auto-workers and their plumbers and so on had money and time to spend, and they occupied it with bowling.
In this era of Obamacare-induced part-time jobs and increased premiums and deductibles–if you are even lucky enough to have a job–there is no time or extra money for bowling. And there are few manufacturing jobs. Those went away with the bowlers and bowling alleys and bowling magazines. And the working-class life under Obama is a lot less leisurely and far more difficult in 2013 Obama America. Yes, some of bowling’s loss was videogaming’s and Facebook’s and Twitter’s gain, too. When bowling was big, there was no internet for socializing, and cable TV had only just begun.
The WSJ report wasn’t actually on bowling. It was about the only surviving national bowling magazine in America, Bowlers Journal International, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary. But, while it survives, all of the other magazines in this case of two dying industries–print magazines and bowling–are now gone. And it’s a symbol of the rigor mortis that appears to have being to set in on the struggling American pastime.
From the ’60s into the ’80s, bowling journalism thrived. Major newspapers employed full-time bowling correspondents. Several different organizations represented bowling writers. On network television, bowling became a fixture. “There were times when bowling was up against the Winter Olympics, and bowling did better,” says Tom Clark, Professional Bowlers Association commissioner.
As competitive bowling plummeted from favor—a victim partly of league play’s heavy time requirements—the sport all but disappeared from network television and newspaper columns. The various writers’ groups merged into one, called the International Bowling Media Association. Bowling publications began folding.
I will be sad about one other thing–though–that comes with the end of bowling in America. Whenever liberals wanted to give gazillions in taxpayer grants to this dumb museum or that stupid non-profit organization of lesbian Muslim Q-tip lint loomers, I would always say, “Well, more Americans go bowling than visit museums, so why don’t we throw money at America’s bowling alleys?” Now, I can’t say that anymore.
And, even worse, someone might get the bad idea of a Bowling Alley Bailout. Heck, they’ve bailed everyone else out.
But I won’t be sad when bowling is gone forever. And that means you, too, bocce ball.
So, am I wrong about bowling? Too snobby? Do you like bowling? Are you sad to see bowling dying in America? Why?
Tags: AMF, AMF Bowling, Bowlers Journal International, Bowling, bowling and manufacturing jobs, Bowling brithday parties, bowling parties, death of bowling, I hate bowling, the end of bowling