The Providence Journal: Tuesday, October 18, 2005
Lets get one thing straight: Real men don't play poker. Poker is about bluffing, and real men don't have to bluff. Also, any man worth his salt doesn't hide behind a pair of sunglasses and under a cowboy hat--indoors--while playing cards on a table with an ad for Levitra running down the middle of it.
And yet poker is more popular than ever right now. Poker TV shows run constantly on the national television channel for men (ESPN) and the national television channel for women (E! The Entertainment Channel.) Bored celebrities, such as Mathew Perry and Ben Affleck, are recovering substance abusers, but they hold on to their street cred by keeping up other vices, like poker! They play-act with a vengeance.
It's getting pretty weird. The other night on ESPN, after a stare-down hand and then a "fold'em" over the virtual Viagra logo, two of the stars of Poker Stars- Chris "Jesus" Ferguson and "Juan Juanda"-took turns winging their cards from 10 feet away at a peeled banana mounted on a pedestal.
As I said before, real men don't throw cards indoors while wearing a large hat and sunglasses to try to pierce a peeled and mounted banana.
The smoke-filled rooms, mood lighting, and undercover-camera angles make poker TV shows look like focus groups for primal male behavior: lies, lies, and more lies, and the ability to bully the next guy into losing everything. Wait a minute. These poker shows are just like U.S. foreign policy. Kidding!
There is something socially evocative about the American poker craze-the absurdity and desperation of gambling-combined with the importance of presumptive appearance. It has been said that chess is the game of Europe, and that poker is its counterpart in America.The question is: Which game is the world playing today? Is it chess-the complex thinking man's game of strategy within a defined set of rules? Or is it No Rules Texas Hold'em- a game ultimately of chance, in which the nicknamed winners can take all all without holding as much as a pair of deuces?
These ridiculous poker shows are trying to tell us something. Ordinary Americans- anyone not in Washington, D.C., or New York City- realize that we are all in a final game of chance and desperation. The dire news surrounds us: natural disasters, nuclear proliferation, globalization-exploitation, a mountain of unpayable debt, and a new generation of Islamic extremists hell-bent on betting it all.
Simply put, we are at a poker table, along with a bunch of absurd characters. Why aren't we playing chess, instead?