Epic Carnival | Where Sports and Pop Culture Collide: FANDOM IS IRRATIONAL


by wwtb?, Pacifist Viking

All fans hope to see their favorite team win a championship. When the Minnesota Vikings win a regular season game, I get euphoric not for the win itself, but in part because that win is one step toward winning the division, toward making the playoffs, toward improving as a team and somehow advancing to win a championship.

But being a fan of a team isn't always about working toward that blissful dream. Sometimes you watch a pro sports team rooting for a win even though that win is so utterly meaningless you may as well root for fruit to rot.

This week I watched a basketball game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies. Going into the game, each team was 16-50. At the end of the season, it's not going to matter at all whether either team ends with 16 wins, 17 wins, or 20 wins. It's really not. In several years, when either of these teams might be in the playoffs, it's not going to matter terribly whether in 2007-08 either team won a March game against another bad team. Oh, maybe there's meaning in cliches like learning how to win. But probably, there's not.

The outcome of this basketball game didn't matter at all.

And yet in the fourth quarter of the game, I was finding myself unconsciously, instinctively cheering when the Timberwolves made big shots. When the Grizzlies scored baskets or stole the ball, I grimaced. I was emotionally lifted when the Wolves hit shots, and I felt good after the Timberwolves won the game.

Why? Sure, at any level we should say even if a team we root for wins or loses a championship game, it shouldn't really affect our psyches as much as it does. But even as we say that, we know and accept that it does affect us. But a March basketball game played by two professional teams with winning percentages south of .300? What possible reason could I have to find myself emotionally invested in such a thing?

This week many sports fans will get sucked into March Madness, and will get emotionally invested in a bunch of games between college athletes. In this case, people are getting drawn in by a story--watching these college players duel each other in a tournament games, watching upsets, it's all the same sort of drama that makes us enjoy movies. And that makes sense.

But what doesn't make sense to me is why I care about a meaningless basketball game involving professional athletes with no coherent or relevant story whatsoever around or within it.

Fandom is irrational.

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