I have gazed into America’s future and what I saw was grown men tossing bean bags at a small hole drilled in a tilted plank of polished wood.

Except what I looked into wasn’t some Nitzschean abyss.

It was my TV.

(Some, no doubt, would argue that there is no discernible difference between the two.)

Just 16 years after the movie “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” lampooned ESPN’s endless quest for new programming by creating a fictional ESPN 8: The Ocho, a channel that televised fringe sports such as dodgeball, reality has overtaken make believe.

There is indeed a professional league for cornhole, and you can watch it on certain ESPN networks.

(But not The Ocho; that remains a cinematic invention. For now.)

Cornhole is most typically played in backyards, the competitors having a beer within reach, and the savory aroma of barbecued meat wafting about.

(It cannot be a coincidence that the sponsor for the professional cornhole league is Johnsonville, the big bratwurst outfit.)

I suspect that if not for a few well-publicized impalement incidents some years back, viewers would instead be watching lawn dart championships on ESPN.

Which at least would potentially enliven disputes between competitors in ways not possible with cornhole and its soft and generally benign bags.

Ours is a litigious society, alas.

I had previously seen cornhole events listed on the channel guide, but the other evening was the first time I actually watched a competition for more than a minute or two.

I was transfixed.

My wife, Lisa, was both amused and incredulous that the game was being treated not just as a serious competition but with a palpable deference.

I watch televised sports fairly often so I’m familiar with the standard elements of the format — a pair of announcers to describe the action and add an occasional anecdote about a player or coach, perhaps a third crew member to do halftime and post-game interviews, plus all sorts of on-screen graphics to tell us things about the competitors we probably don’t care to know.

(And lots of commercials, many of them showing disturbingly fit and attractive young people cavorting in the sunshine, and sometimes in the sea or other body of water, while managing to maintain both a solid grasp on a malt beverage and the sort of exaggerated smile that has always struck me as indicative not of bliss but of incipient psychopathy.)

It was more than a little strange, then, to see this predictable approach applied to cornhole — a game typically interrupted not by commercials for hard seltzer but because your cousin’s 3-year-old fell and skinned her knee or because Rusty, your uncle’s obnoxious cocker spaniel, grabbed somebody’s burger and then peed on your mom’s begonias.

But apparently if you put up enough sausage profits you can portray even cornhole as a competition nearly as dramatic as the Super Bowl or the Final Four.

ESPN, always clever with its graphics, divides the screen so viewers see the throwers on the left side, with a close-up camera on the cornhole board on the right so you can simultaneously see where the bags land.

The announcers have mastered the verbal art of alternating drama, as when a key throw is about to be made, with awestruck admiration when a competitor pulls off a particularly difficult feat.

You might think it reasonable to wonder what such feats might be, in a game with the straightforward goal of tossing a bag into a hole, and with no large, agile people trying to stop you from doing this as in, say, football or basketball.

This is because you don’t understand how complicated cornhole is.

Turns out the game — at least when played at the highest level, as on ESPN, with literally thousands of dollars and, presumably, free brats at stake — involves strategic decisions that would confound a Major League Baseball manager.

Should you go for an air mail or a blocker?

And if you can pull off a four-bagger in the next round is it possible to white wash, if not actually shuck, your opponent?

The cornhole lexicon is at least as extensive — and to my ears, more piquant — than for most mainstream sports.

(I am not, to be clear, suggesting that cornhole is an actual sport. I’m merely trying to get into the spirit of the thing.)

I watched long enough to see the start of the second of two semifinals matches. The competitors — two teams, each with two members — actually warmed up. I presume this gave them a feel for how the room’s humidity and artificial wind currents would affect the flight of the bags, although I’m just guessing.

ESPN showed bio boxes for the players, including — and I only wish I were joking about this — the brand of bag each uses.

I learned, among much else, that one competitor, apparently dissatisfied with the popular Killshots bags, designed his own, sold under the name Game Changer. Although he and his partner were losing to a Killshots-wielding duo when I turned off the TV and went to sleep, so perhaps his engineering skills aren’t especially prodigious.

(Cornhole bags, at least those used in high-stakes televised events, no longer contain corn, the origin of (half of) the game’s name. Plastic resins now predominate — proprietary mixtures, no doubt, guarded as zealously as nuclear launch codes or breakfast cereal color dyes.)

I suppose I ought to be at least a little annoyed that America’s affinity for sports is such that we have elevated games such as cornhole to televised spectacles.

But I can’t muster even a tepid disdain for what I watched the other evening.

There is plenty to be anxious about these days, with coronavirus spreading and an inevitably nasty presidential campaign looming.

It seems to me that treating a silly game as serious is harmless fun — a diversion from troubling events, a function for which TV, notwithstanding its myriad faults, is well-suited.

And if you can suppress your laughter well enough you might even glean something profound from watching a cornhole tournament.

After a competitor failed on a risky throw, the announcer, in the sober tone reserved for landmark moments, intoned: “You live and die by your aggression.”

Indeed.

But at least we understand he was speaking figuratively.

This was cornhole, after all.

Not lawn darts.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.

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