Sunday, September 07, 2008

Future Purple Haze

I spent about six hours today watching television today, emotionally investing myself in athletic contests in which my rooting interest was solely determined by my geographical proximity to the teams. Or, more accurately, by happenstance of being born in the same political terrain as the participants (if geography were the main consideration, there would be more Bear fans in the south suburbs of Milwaukee than Packer fans). I am certainly not the first person to notice the absurdity of this phenomena, as evidenced by a now several-years-old Onion article with the headline: "You Will Suffer Humiliation When the Sports Team From My Area Defeats the Sports Team From Your Area." But no matter how ridiculous it might be, major league sports teams continue to enjoy home field advantage.

And this mentality certainly extends beyond sports. I went to college with people from Illinois who I believe liked the Smashing Pumpkins solely because the band was from Chicago. I am somewhat chagrined to encounter Minnesotans who swear to be superior Bob Dylan fans because their birth certificates are on file in the same state as his. Similarly, though prophets may not be appreciated in their home towns, authors are more likely to sell books close to home.

However, I have also noticed a counter-trend in the years that I have been a sports fan. It is no longer a given that someone from a certain geographical plane necessarily has allegiance for sports teams from that area. Thanks to ESPN, satellite TV and radio, and the Internet, it is possible for a fan to not only root for teams from afar, but to do so passionately. I know people who more or less arbitrarily root for teams from multiple cities scattered throughout the country. I also know quite a few people who are avid sports fans, but have no particular rooting interest for any team: they are more likely to root for their fantasy team than an actual real-live squad of players.

And I think this is actually indicative of a larger trend in American society, that is simply more manifest in sports. It is a cliche that technology "shrinks our world," but in another sense it has enlarged our borders, to the point where it means less to be a citizen of any given U.S. state, perhaps to the point where a woman vice-presidential candidate from a previously isolated outpost of a state can now be seen an American "everywoman."

And consequently there is less "pride" attached with being a native of any particular state. Again, this is most readily apparent in sports fans choosing to forgo support for the "home team," but I think this was also apparent as far back as the 2000 presidential election, when Al Gore failed to carry his home state.

To be sure, I think it will take awhile for these trends to fully materialize into status quo upheaval, but I think that time is coming. Right now, our nation is still split along demographic lines, and we still have preconceptions and prejudices about those who come from other geographical areas. But my guess is that in the decades to come these differences will be spread across demographic populations no longer bound by geography. In other words, the culture wars won't be decisively won, but will diffuse to the point that every state is "purple," and every state becomes a battleground in presidential elections. At that point, Congress may have no choice but to end the Electoral College system. And maybe professional sports teams will go back to barnstorming, with no team tied down to one specific home base.

But until then, I'll continue to enjoy it when sports teams from my area humiliate sports teams from your area.


Anonymous Luke said...

Yes, finally a well written article regarding this ridiculous outbreak of local fans enthralled with foreign sports teams!

When I arrive at work every morning, I see a New York Yankees sticker on the back of a Pontiac Grand Prix. Why? This person has obviously never personally known a Yankee player or probably ever even set foot in the state of New York!

At the root of it all, I believe it is the ideals and dreams of the user. Someday, they wish to be involved in that culture. They wish to experience that supreme devotion. I think personally, in all actuality, it is some sort of psychological issue.

As for one party's vice presidential candidate... let's just go ahead with that "Joe six-pack" lady.

10:47 PM  

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