Tuesday, 16 April 2013

on the twisted economics of fandom

Part of being a fan is sticking with a team through all the ups and downs not only of a single season but over multiple seasons. Once the choice of team is made the logic of fandom tends to demand that this is a pact of loyalty. Yet this is not ever really a reciprocal loyalty. Fans are in fact pledging loyalty to a business, a corporation. This is a type of economic exchange in which the hard-core fans continue their identity, association and, let's be clear, purchase of a product that to all intent and purposes fails to deliver on the often extravagant promises. No only do we pay to attend, we then pay to have a limited, overpriced choice of food and beverages, we pay to be subjected to inane and amateur pre and mid-game 'entertainment', we pay for a decidedly limited 'programme' and all of those before we watch the game. So we do this because of the expectation that 'our' team will deliver- if not the winning of the championship, then at least the winning of the conference- or at poor last, the winning of the game. Even beneath this we hope to experience- even if in a lost game - those moments of transcendent excitement, agility, brilliance, courage and skill that will survive the often mundane play that occurs in most sporting encounters. In effect we  purchase  brief moments of transcendence, encountered in collective experiences of transgressive identity. This is tribal transcendence, in which the team represents, however briefly, the possibilities that we, the tribe believe somehow embody 'us'.
The owners however have a different outlook. I have been reading Dave Zirin's incisively brilliant and angry "Bad Sports. How the owners are ruining the games we love" (Scribner, 2010). Zirin is one of those rare sportswriters who takes the analysis into a wider engagement with politics, economics, society and culture. In short, this is how sports writing ought be be- but too often isn't. Zirin is a sports critic- or rather, a writer of sports criticism- in the same way others are critics of literature, or society, or culture. Zirin's concern is that the owners, in so blatantly and brutally treating sports as a business- and in demanding public money for stadiums- are expressing complete disdain for the fans.

 Fans are mugs and idealists all at once- we want to believe the best, the impossible- yet in doing so we are often taken for a ride by the business of the 'team'. We can choose not to turn up, not to watch- yet, by our own twisted logic- that the owners count upon- we feel disloyal if we do so. The constant changes in team uniforms are part of this. I refuse to buy a team jersey because in the end all I am doing is giving even more money to the business of the team. Yet I will continue to attend in the spirit of hope that, however briefly, this team, these players, will provide a moment of transcendence and excitement that I can, in all honestly, respond to in an utterly transgressive manner. Because fandom is , if we are honest, the experience of transgressive behaviour- in many forms, behaviour that, if encountered outside of the game, would seem even stranger than when we do it within the bounded confines of the game. It is a site for and sight of irrationality. And this is what professional sport counts on- the willingness to purchase participation within a bounded environment of transgressive irrationality.

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