Monday, March 1, 2010

Sports and Bands

By Hanno

OK, as I went to work today, I started thinking about something quite different from what I promised. OK, Krista, I always promise*, and I promise* I will return to Rousseau and the state of Nature next time.

Instead, I want to talk about a strange phenomenon, which we might call 'sport team identification.' The phenomenon to which I refer is when a fan so identifies with the team she follows, that she starts referring to the team in the first person plural. This does not happen for the causal observer. So, when the casual observer watches a team win, he may say to a friend 'They won.' But when a fan watches the same team play, they will describe it as "We won," this despite the fact that the fan knows they contributed absolutely nothing to the victory, and indeed, is embarrassed about that when it is pointed out. And make no mistake, the wins and loses feel personal. To the fan, they really did win and lose, in a certain sense.

But the same identification does not occur in other similar phenomenon. No one watches a band, say the Grateful Dead, and describes it in the first person plural. no one says "We were awesome!" after the show. If an identification is made, it is of a different sort. The fans experience of the show is different from the casual observer, but not in a way that inspires identification.

My question: Why do we identify with sports teams? How does it become personal? And why does that not happen in other similar circumstances?

11 comments:

Krista said...

I have the sneaking suspicion that sports fans believe they are somehow, someway doing something that actually has a causal effect. Our yearning for the win, cheering for the players, and wearing the colors somehow makes the team play better or worse. To illustrate, why else would Red Sox fans turn their hats around other than to try and pull out a win? It's silly and superstitious, but people are silly and superstitious (including those of us who in our reflective moments know better).

True, no one says "we had a great show" at a concert, but people do make efforts to get crowd energy up. We yell and chant (and if you're at the kind of concerts I go to, you throw up the metal sign \m/) in the hopes that somehow we will encourage the band to be as awesome as they can be.

James Senett said...

Wow! What a great observation! Obviously there is something vicarious going on here, but I'm stumped at the moment to cite a dif between the sports team and rock band scenarios. Especially, as Krista points out, since the 1st person plural might be even more applicable in the latter case. My first thought was some kind of wish fulfillment -- but that doesn't seem right. People fantasize about being part of a successful entertainment group as much as the do being part of a successful sports team. Maybe it's historically grounded -- sports teams have so often been associated with institutions to which fans share a similar association and loyalty that the fans do -- schools, cities, etc. I can say "we won" when talking about the UNL football team, because I am a UNL alum. Similarly with the Atlanta Falcons, since I am a resident of the Atlanta area. And if I switch my allegiences to a team with which I have no such association, I naturally carry the idiom with me. Such close associations are rare with things like rock bands. If I hear a band with which I have been associated -- as a roadie, say, or a former member -- might I not say of the concert, "we were awesome"? I don't know. What do you guys think?

Hanno said...

We clearly can have a superstitious connection, in which case the expression makes more sense. but i think we make the connection even when we do not have the superstition.

I think the experience of the game feels like we are in the game itself. Sometimes, you actually move to avoid the hit, or feel the intensity of the moment, almost like the actual players. We have truly identified with the members of the team. We empathize with them, and we rarely empathize with band members. But I wonder how we do this, what makes us do this... and why?

Anonymous said...

I would venture to guess that the "we" is a matter of synecdoche based on the fact that fans share geography with their sports teams, whereas bands do not.

This reminds me of some comment I read years ago in one of Chomsky's books where he talks about spectator sports serving Government's interests in that it conditions people to associate on an intimate level with a kind of ideological group to which they have no real links. Learning to become a maniacal Pittsburg Steelers or Manchester United fan makes for an easy transition into an Army where you have to go out and kill other working class people with which you share more in common than those sending you overseas.

--Jerome

Hanno said...

I suspect that they are both tied to the same thing, rather than one is aids the other, namely tribal identification, much older than armies and sports fandom.

Derek said...

Hanno, you are obviously missing the "agency" of the fan. Your team lost because you couldn't see the game, didn't wear your lucky t-shirt, etc. Of course, this has a consequence.

I missed most of the US-Canada hockey game yesterday because I was in Lafayette. Got back just in time to see the US tie the game (and then to lose in OT). Obviously they would not have tied the game if I hadn't sat down to watch it.

And certainly, UT fans are prone to tribal identities. We sometimes even worry about the degree of civilization they exhibit.

Josh said...

I can only assume we see the pressures of society in competitive-team sport. Since the ritual is a spectacle of "overcoming" we find kinship with the struggle.

At a primal level, we understand that the struggle cannot be overcome alone. The daily alienation experienced from living in techno-industrial culture consumes us with isolation anxiety.

Through ritual, the watching or fandom of competitive sport, we exercise this feeling of isolation and transfer our anxiety onto theChicago Bears. "We" win when the Super Bowl is hoisted at the end of the season, "they" lose when Jay Cutler hurls 25+ interceptions and blows the seasons. We dissociate from the team in loss because it is an acute reminder of our daily loss in the struggle of alienation.

The "struggle" is the crucial distinction between sports team and band. Bands don't overcome anything during a rock performance {excluding elements like bad lighting, bad sound person, etc). Musicians present us with an escape from our daily struggle, without the exorcising ritual of overcoming.

Until we see a musician overcome strict parents that don't support his/her musical talent, live through several decades of poverty to pursue the dream, get dropped from a record label, self-release an album, survive a drug addiction, and play an amazing set of music all in the span of a 2-hour concert, we can only say after the show, "Cash rocked it tonight."

Matthew Butkus said...

As I said at Cancun, there is no "Twelfth Man" phenomenon in a band.

C. Ewing said...

I would venture to guess that the "we" is a matter of synecdoche based on the fact that fans share geography with their sports teams, whereas bands do not.

Dropkick Murphys and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones both made their names in Boston, and are known as Boston bands (even though neither band originated in Boston). But Bostonians know them as Boston bands, and they know themselves to be Boston bands. So the geographical identity was adapted both by the bands themselves and by their fans. They are part of Boston and Boston is a part of them (whatever that might entail).

Perhaps, it is often to a greater degree when it comes to sports teams. That's probably true. Sports teams are more explicitly associated with a given city. But certainly the geographical association is made amongst bands and their fans. Do I even need to bother mentioning the band Boston?

It is rather odd that the Twelfth Man phenomenon does not occur at a concert, especially when in some cases the fans will sing entire songs along with or for the band. Why doesn't it occur when the fans in that case are for more a part of the performance than sports fans ever are? The lead singer is a member of the band. Why does functioning--even if only temporarily--as the lead singer not encourage such an identification? I'm not sure. It seems like it should encourage such identification far more so than simply cheering for a team.

James Senett said...

I must beg to differ on the "12th man" comment. I've played in dance bands and currently do the coffee shop circuit as a solo performer, and there's nothing that peak your performance like a good crowd, nothing that brings it down like a bad one. When my fans leave they say, "You did great tonight," and I always say "right back atcha." It would not have been great without them. If they left saying "Weren't we good?" I would say, "Yes we were."

Jerome said...

re: C Ewing

It still strikes me that Bostonians feel more like they are part of the Bruins or Red Sox than they are part of the Bosstones. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the relationship between individuals and sports teams are like a revolving door -- athletes constantly being replaced -- whereas we think of musicians as being irreplaceable (without Barrett and Gittleman there would be no Bosstones).

If instead of rock being the dominant music form, with romantic view of the artist as individual genius, if orchestras were still the dominant form, things might be different.

(Wieners & Berliners seem to feel personally associated with their regional musical tradition that seems closer to sports mania than, say, the way I feel towards Cajun or Zydeco, even though I have close ties to Mamou and Plaisance.)