05 February 2014

A moment of loudness

In a twist, today at 12:12 pm, the state of Washington will have observed a moment of loudness, in celebration of the Seattle Seahawks professional football team's recent Superbowl victory.  That shared moment will no doubt have been most deeply felt and expressed by the thousands of victory parade attendees in downtown Seattle, while other fans are decked out in fan gear as they go into school and work today.  (The superintendent of the Seattle public schools apparently misjudged the fervor of the fans in the city and had to back down from his initially firm statement that school absences to attend the parade would not be considered 'excused' by the school district. Local King5 news has reported on tv that over 500 of the 3000 district school teachers are absent today, and 13,000 students out of 50,000 are out.)  Markers of fandom are still visible in the aftermath of last Sunday's game, with ornaments and flags on homes, yards and cars all over Washington state (and apparently elsewhere, among non-Washingtonian fan club members, see "Vancouver Seahawks fans are Superbowl Ready," Jan. 31, 2014, CBC news).  The flags and jerseys depicting the #12 are especially popular (see flag in photo below).  It's not an idea original to Seattle apparently (see Ballard, Chris. "Into the belly of beast mode in Seattle's 12th man," Nov. 6, 2013, Sports Illustrated), but it has cleverly linked more fans to the team and created new merchandising opportunities.  As a single entity, the fans are depicted as the imaginary but instrumental 12th man on the 11-man team roster.  Those fans, the ones with tickets to home games anyway, have been credited with creating so much noise inside the stadium that they have helped derail opposing teams' efforts.  Presumably, other Seahawks fans wearing #12 jerseys while watching at home on tv contribute in spirit.

Such fandom represents the quest for social solidarity in modern society. It is similar to the religious fervor that ties people together and that fosters essential social cohesion of which sociologist Emile Durkheim spoke over a century ago. Social connectedness is what gives meaning to people in their lives as members of communities on multiple levels. Without it, societies would cease to exist. In the past, shared religious beliefs were the source of such ties in much of the West (and continues in some parts of the world), while nationalism, or national pride is a more modern source. In the current era, love of country is often supplanted by enthusiastic fandom focused on loyalty to sports teams and their wins and losses. Wars between countries fought on fields and trenches become socially constructed as war-like athletic skirmishes on artificial grass fields created by a "civilian leisure class", as Steve Almond notes in his riff about football and its real physical risks for players (
"Is it immoral to watch the superbowl?" Jan. 24, 2014, The New York Times Magazine).  Some sporting events bring together national pride and sports fandom such as the Olympic games beginning today in Sochi, Russia. 

source: http://blog.thenewstribune.com/seahawks/files/2012/05/MemorialDay.jpeg
The connections between war and sport, and religion and sport are nothing new.  Neither are the intense feelings and the potential fanaticism that these all may bring about, and that spell potential danger. (Fan is short for fanatic.)  When groups of fans recognize and bond tightly over shared identities or feelings and expressions, the implication that often follows is that if we are this, then THEY, those people and groups who are not us, are something else, not as good, not as smart, not as human perhaps. This us vs. them mentality is inescapable even when the distinctions are really quite weak.  Obviously there is nothing that inherently different from a Seahawks fan or a Denver Broncos fan, or a Olympique Marseille fan and a Paris Saint-Germain fan if we want to talk football as the rest of the world knows it. Yet, in my family's short experience as denizens of the south of France, we quickly learned that it was interdit (forbidden) to root for the Paris team, even when this team was playing a foreign team such as Barcelona's team!  (Read my take on French football rivalries here: Allez les gars! Nov 26, 2012)  In this case, team loyalties seemed to go much farther than nationalistic ties, and sometimes these have led to fights and vandalism between warring fans.  When local or national or religious or sports pride supersedes good judgment and mutual respect for fellow humans, that is when we get into trouble and undermine our humanity.  It is our shared and more fundamental identities as human beings and citizens of planet Earth that would seem to be more significant (at least until we discover other analogous life forms elsewhere).  Go world!

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