Today I watched the Nathan's Hot dog Eating Contest for the first time ever. I've seen enough highlight footage to get the gist, but I thought I owed it to myself to actually witness the full 12 minutes. I tried to go into it with an open mind. I thought, perhaps it isn't the worst display of gluttony the world has ever known. Perhaps there's a level of sportsmanship that trumps the blatant disregard for millions of starving people. Maybe it's just really fun to watch.
It turns out, the answers to those thoughts are as follows:
1)Yes it is.
2) No there's not.
3) Are you effing kidding me?
Around 3 minutes into the event (which is of course, an eating competition but also,"The World's Biggest Dumbass" contest) I grew predictably nauseous. If there is anything more disgusting than consuming mass quanities of hot dogs, it's eating wet hot dogs. The dipping of the buns into water caused me to dry-heave in a manner that is usually reserved for finding hair in food. But the eating wasn't necessarily the main source of my discomfort. I think it was the spectacle.
The announcers introduced each competitor with a laundry list of their achievements. World record holder in oysters! World record holder in cheesecake! Birthday cake! Fried Asparagus! Chicken Wings! Ribs! Shoo-Fly Pie Champion of the World! This man ate his own baby! And with each name announced the crowd roared with enthusiasm. Roaring crowds for people who eat. "Hey! I eat food too! But you eat waaay more food than me so I painted your name on my face! I love you! I love the way, you know, you eat food... and stuff."
I don't understand the cheering. If you've ever been to a buffet and noticed the gross guy who keeps going up with the same plate, you might not be inclined to clap so hard.
And I'd like to think the announcers weren't being 100% serious with their commentary but it was honestly hard to tell. When introducing the American hopeful Joey Chestnut one commentator said that some American heroes people think about on Independence Day are "Abe Lincoln, Neil Armstrong, Taylor Hicks, and Joey Chestnut." Normally I'd find this comical. But coming from a man who is paid to moderate a hot dog contest, I'm not so sure what to think.
Events like this, where there seems to great excitement over something I don't understand on any level, send me into introspective overdrive. People could be cheering or dressing up or taking pictures and I'm left in a slight panic questioning what the hell is going on. So as each minute ticked off the clock, and 30, then 40, then 50 hot dogs were devoured by each eater, I heard my inner Alvy Singer grow louder and louder. The universe is expanding and these idiots are eating 60 hot dogs.
It was impossible for me to make it through the 12-minute gorging without questioning our collective purpose. And maybe, that's what this whole thing was about. Nihilism, solipsism syndrome, and the meaning of life all called into question outside of Nathan's on Coney Island, Brooklyn.
Or maybe it was about eating hot dogs really fast.