Monday, March 20, 2006

Identity and the Fan (Giving up Free Will)

Follow the stream of consciousness here--it might actually get somewhere

Sometimes the way we choose to entertain ourselves is nothing but a way to entertain ourselves. But sometimes, not only the way we entertain ourselves but what we entertain ourselves with, becomes intimately tied to identity. I love the comedy of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, and throughout my life, a fair amount of my identity has been tied to being a fan of Seinfeld. I also like The Simpsons, and Aqua-Teen Hunger Force, and several other comedies. But those other comedies don't reveal anything about who I am (or, if you prefer, who I see myself as and present myself as). Seinfeld does. And even though I've started watching and enjoying Six Feet Under, it will never be a show that I tie to my identity like Nip/Tuck, simply because I have friends who have been watching Six Feet Under long before me.

So too can the individual define himself as a "football fan" or a "pro football fan" or a "Viking fan." I'm not talking here about "identification"--most fans "identify" with a team, i.e., they feel good when the team does well and bad when the team does poorly. I'm talking about when ones identity becomes tied to a particular team.

When I examine the ways in which I've mythologized the Minnesota Vikings, I find striking parallels to the personal spiritual struggles I find myself in (or, if you prefer, I mythologize about myself). I see the Vikings as a team with a glorious but flawed past. I see the Vikings' quest to win the Super Bowl as a chance to redeem that flawed past with a moment of supreme greatness, to give its existence the full meaning it does not currently have, to give the franchise and state a mark on history. It is practically a religious quest--for the Vikings to make sense in existence and fulfill their place in the relative eternity that is sports, they need to win the championship. I also see the Vikings as the perpetual losers, but those who always have high expectations and possibilities but that always disappoint in the end. And couldn't I just change a few words to explain how I view myself? (don't worry, I'm humble enough that "glorious" would be taken out of a description of my past).

I don't mean to be all narcissistic in this blog. I'm not a confessional poet trying to bear my sould via cyberspace. But I raise my example to ask philosophical questions about an individual's relationship with a team. Does an individual project his/her own feelings onto a team's identity? Does an individual alter his/her self-image to fit the indentity of the team? Or is the individual just a fan, with no further connection to the team whatsoever?

Certain fanbases develop national personas--fans of the Packers, the Red Sox, Duke basketball--that the national sports media loves to perpetuate and celebrate. But every team has some history, some identity, some persona. And every fan may or may not tie his/her identity to that particular team's identity.

And at the very least our moods get altered by the outcomes of games, and these moods tend to affect behavior--and isn't what we "do" an important part of who we "are"? In all honesty, if I were not a Viking fan, my life would have turned out differently. Is this a matter of choice, a matter of will?

But that's just the thing about being a sports fan. I believe in free will. I believe in choice. But I have absolutely no control over the success of the Vikings. And yet, I've tied my personal happiness to this entity over which I exert no control whatsoever! I am essentially a victim of fate or predestination or determinism as relates to the Vikings--they will do what they do regardless of my actions, and yet my happiness will be affected by what they do. In order to be a Viking fan, I have had to willingly give up my freedom over my own self--I have chosen to tie my happiness in life to the "fate" of the Minnesota Vikings.

I am an existentialist who believes in choice and hazard. And yet, I've chosen to connect myself to an entity in a way that denies my choice. Is there any wonder there I make a religious connection to fandom?

Sartre tells us the only limit to our freedom is that we are not free to choose not to be free. On this point, I respectfully disagree. I watched Gary Anderson miss that kick. I watched that 41-0 game (at least, admittedly, partway through the 3rd quarter). I watched a Cardinal quarterback that I hadn't heard of throw a TD to a Cardinal WR I hadn't heard of. Those are just the tragic moments--I've also bounded about in pure ecstatic joy. And all for something that I have no free will over whatsoever.

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