Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest and Things I Don’t Understand

Hot dog contest There are many things I don’t understand, so this one will just have to get in line. But why would someone want to eat 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes?

More importantly, why would someone want to watch someone perform such a feat?

Crowds flocked to Coney Island on a sweltering Fourth of July to watch an event that has become as much a holiday tradition as barbecues and fireworks – the annual Nathan’s hot-dog eating contest.

And what they saw was two athletes (of sorts) at the top of their competitive eating game.

Sonya “The Black Widow” Thomas broke her own world record, wolfing down 45 hot dogs in 10 minutes to take the women’s title. Meanwhile, over in the men’s competition, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut scored his sixth consecutive victory, tying his best of 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes in the process.

I suppose the motives of the contestants might be (barely) intelligible. In the age of celebrity, if thousands of people are willing to watch you be an idiot, well at least you have your finger on the pulse of something the public craves. But what craving is this satisfying?

People are fascinated by auto accidents and horror films but competitive eating is neither horrific nor threatening. And we like to watch people make fools of themselves, but the crowd doesn’t think this is foolish. We enjoy watching competitions but with all the other avenues for competition out there, why this one?

Is it a sport? We enjoy sports because people who can run, jump, catch, or hit a baseball (or person) better than anyone else have achieved excellence at a basic human capacity. For all human beings our mobility, strength, eye-hand coordination, and muscle memory are essential for us to live, so we admire people who are really good at it. But eating 68 hot dogs? All of us eat but becoming excellent at eating does not involve cramming stuff in your mouth as fast as you can. This is an “excellence” with no value.

Unlike many who have commented on this event (see comment threads here), I don’t think it is morally wrong. It is no worse than countless other acceptable activities that use resources to excess. It is a symbol of gluttony but I don’t get too worked up over symbols. It’s just weird.

I suppose the closest analogy would be the contortionists who, back in the day, were a sideshow at the circus–an unusual but useless ability that piqued curiosity. But competitive eating is not a sideshow—it’s a main event.

If anyone has an explanation, let me know. I can shorten my list of things I don’t understand.

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