Revisionist thinking through golf

Altering my perspective on my education


If I’ve talked to you recently, you have without a doubt heard my ravings on Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History” — stories which recount the misconstrued and the overlooked. The series first captivated my interest on a night this winter break when I found myself suffering from a rare case of insomnia. Feeling guilty from the amount of “Seinfeld” episodes I had watched that day, I felt compelled to lull myself to sleep with something more academic and less mainstream. I was trying forcibly for something a little highbrow but caved after five minutes of a densely packed episode of “NPR Politics Podcast.” Thus, I came to stumble upon Gladwell’s series — admittedly, and most ironically, under the “top charts” category.

By the end of the host’s introduction, I was hooked. Most surprising about my level of intrigue was the subject of this particular episode — golf. I’d spent my entire childhood and young adult life having no other affiliation to the sport outside of my younger brother’s persistent request to have putt-putt birthday parties, at which he would put on a manic display of club swinging and short-lived sportsmanship upon realizing he was not in the lead. I can recount other times when my dad stood for hours in front of the TV watching the Masters Tournament, rocking anxiously from side to side with his arms crossed as he rooted for his favorite. From my experience, golf only inspired rage and impatience — as demonstrated by my younger brother’s premature quitting and throwing of clubs — or seemed dull and unengaging.

Those two extreme qualities, which I had thought to be intrinsic to all of golf, were immediately supplanted by two better ones — corrupt and aristocratic. Gladwell unveils the means by which elite golf courses and country clubs — primarily those in Los Angeles, Calif. — cut financial corners by evading property tax laws. He then delves into a philosophical discussion of identity which likens top-tier golf organizations to aristocratic models of government.

In this episode of “Revisionist History,” Gladwell argues the condition that “rich people really, really like [golf]” as fact, rendering the sport as worthy of a salacious exposé. In short, golf was now more than just agonizingly slow to me  — it was debase and a case of the socioeconomic abuse of power.

Granted, I was only fascinated with golf because Gladwell’s aim was indeed to make others, like himself, dislike it by exposing the supercilious nature of LA country clubs. But it had me thinking. What else had I overlooked on the assumption that it was uninteresting?

Answer — a lot of things.

How many times had I hesitated enrolling in a class because the course description on SIS concerned writings predating the 18th century or how many times had I written off the recommended readings on syllabi as inconsequential? Probably too many times.

A thought — my habit of writing off certain subjects as boring without having actually looked into the specifics of its content is not very smart. This isn’t a revolutionary realization. We can most likely all recall how people lacked an interest in or held any knowledge of the food production industry before their introduction to the unnerving “Food, Inc.” documentary. Both “Food, Inc.” and “Revisionist History” are examples on how to reinvent the banal and reminders that the seemingly far-removed can come to fascinate us. We just need to give them a chance.

So, in conclusion, a thank-you is owed to Malcolm Gladwell and to golf for reminding me that my assumptions are more often than not a little off-base, and things can be more interesting than they first seem. This is a note I’ll keep in mind as I will undoubtedly find myself inclined to doze off in my comparative politics class this semester.

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