When I agreed to do Thursday recaps, I was certainly aware that Thursday was less busy than any day but Monday. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how many Thursdays would find our boys idle. That said, I’m going to write something anyway.
Paul Campos, a law professor at Colorado, just published a book: A Fan’s Life: The Agony of Victory and the Thrill of Defeat. It’s mostly about football, and more parochially, the agony of being a Michigan Wolverine fan, but it touches on a lot of issues that are more universal. In particular, the early part of the book focuses on what the Internet has done to drive devoted fans of a particular team mentally dysfunctional. You may see some parallels between what he says and what we often see here on Braves Journal, but with a difference I’d like to talk about. Herewith, a few (fair use… he’s a law professor, remember?) excerpts:
The Internet has changed – and come to dominate — life in countless ways, but it is especially striking how it has created a complex world of communities, in particular communities that allow people with an especially passionate interest in a subject to find one another…. This should be a source of happiness…Yet being a fan of anything or anyone, especially in this mediated context, tends to make us deeply unhappy – the kind of communal unhappiness of people who choose to be unhappy together rather than alone….Yet deeply engaged fandom can be a good thing too…The friendships people form there are very real – especially, perhaps, for middle-aged and older men, who often find themselves isolated in a society where so many institutions (such as fraternal lodges, labor unions, and religious organizations) that once sustained communities have deteriorated or disappeared.
Deeply engaged fans know what it is to wake up, after a night of uneasy dreams, to a sensation of nausea and dread, as we contemplate the many hours before kickoff. We know what it is to relive again and again, through the insidious power of involuntary memory, the dropped interception that surely would have won that game five or fifteen or forty years ago. We know what it is to keep, among many, many other things, obsessive mental catalogs of final scores, starting lineups, nonsensical coaching decisions, and horrible officiating blunders—always going against our team, needless to say. Complaining about officiating—as well as complaining about fans who complain about officiating—are constitutive aspects of deep engagement. If you cannot recall off the top of your head a dozen occasions when your team was well and truly screwed by the refs, you are not a deeply engaged fan.
In any event, during Michigan football games, many otherwise normal board denizens become anoraks of a conspiratorial nature. (I know because I’m one of them.) It generally takes just a few minutes—often only a play or two—for a group of highly educated, ordinarily reasonable, and otherwise unexceptionable people to de-compensate into a bunch of raving lunatics. Shared suffering quickly morphs into collective madness, as we—usually unintentionally—egg each other on toward ever more elaborate manifestations of conspiratorial thinking, histrionic complaining, and other florid displays of our communal masochism. If the game is close—that is, if victory isn’t already almost assured—or, God forbid, Michigan is actually losing, then the board will become a veritable bedlam of agonized cries about terrible coaching decisions, poor officiating, inept play, and the existence of a universal conspiracy to ensure that Michigan will ultimately lose. This conspiracy can include the crooked or blind refs, the league office (which mysteriously wants one of the league’s best-known and profitable programs to fail), and the egregiously dirty players on the other team (who are obviously a bunch of thugs who would never be recruited by our coaches). Our coaches, by the way, totally suck, because they never ever learn from their mistakes, though we point them out constantly. They are almost as bad as the network television commentators, who everybody knows have always hated us, or the opposing fans, who are classless idiots….For as long as this mental state lasts (i.e., until Michigan has an unquestionably safe lead), we hate everything and everybody, especially ourselves, as we wallow in the realization that, once again, we are choosing to waste our lives in this pathetic way….. We live on the Internet, and while the Internet is many things, for people like us it is above all a factory of sadness.
To this I have two things to say: (1) Dude, you picked the wrong team. Either pick a team that sustains excellence or pick a team that has no shot at all. (I happened to grow up a Georgia Tech fan. It’s fine. We expect nothing.) When you pick a team that hires Rich Rodriguez and Jim Harbaugh, you’re just asking for it. (2) Dude, you picked the wrong board. Find a better bar. Does stuff like this occasionally happen on Braves Journal? Yes. But do we let it continue to happen? We do not. If going to the bar makes you unhappy, find a bar with better people.
We certainly have our shared agonies, agonies that bear telling and retelling. I suspect there are a lot more references on Braves Journal to Eric Gregg and Jim Leyritz than there are to Jorge Soler. And it’s not just the fact that Soler’s feat is less than a year ago that explains it. So I get where Campos is coming from. If I were a Cardinals fan, I might be a little like him. But we’re not, and Mac created a safe space for us here to be crazy but not antisocial and we should thank him in heaven for it daily.