My attention was directed to a particularly ridiculous event in the sports section of the Winnipeg Free Press this morning. (I couldn’t find a link to it online). I care very little for the sports industry, but my brother, who is an average fan, knew I would be interested in this (at the very least in order to point out its ridiculousness). He knows me well.
The headline read: Fanatics know no bounds. The article (an analysis piece by Cam Cole) was describing the recent outbreak of livid twitter posts directed at the San Fransisco 49ers. What is the source of the football fan(atic)’s outrage? Coles writes, “a poor performance by 49ers QB Alex Smith, who threw every second pass into the dirt, got a free ride because two muffed punt returns by Kyle Williams – a fourth-quarter bouncing kick that glanced off his knee when he ought to have stayed miles away from it, the other an overtime fumble—gifted the New York Giants half their points, including the winning field goal, in a 20-17 victory.” Tweets following the game included:
“I hope you, you’re (sic) wife, kids and family die, you deserve it.”
“If you had just gotten cancer and died like Jo Pa the 49ers would be in the super bowl.”
Cole asks “How did the worst of them get so far over the line that they don’t even know where the line is anymore? Or is it all right to utter such hate, if it’s only the Internet?”
My concern is not whether or not it is permissible, but why it is happening in the first place. I submit that it is a problem of anxiety on the one hand, and boredom on the other. Let’s be clear at the outset that the professional sports industry is for entertainment and for capital.
I find it curious that the failure of the 49ers is problematized to such a degree that it elicits outrage from a significant amount of people. I find it strange that the failure of the 49ers is raised to the level of urgency. I think there is a fairly direct connection between how western liberalism presents things that are urgent, and the hyper-response to the relatively banal failure of a sports team (one of the two teams is always going to lose). Things that are urgent are presented in planetary proportions in western liberalism. The issues that call for our outrage are world-hunger, world-poverty, tyranny in the Arab-East, global sweatshop labour, child soldiers of Africa, etc. Urgency is ubiquitous and it is also completely abstracted. The means we are provided with to respond to urgent issues is by donating money (another level of abstraction). The proliferation of the issues despite our monetary donation only increases our anxiety about the material needs and problems of presumably real people in specific places. We have no means to respond to the materiality of the urgency though.
Furthermore, since the middle class folks who can buy into the commoditised enjoyment of sports do not have their own material urgency, they can dislocate their identity from material reality (the entertainment industry functions as a substitute or remedy for the material boredom of the middle and upper class). The identity of the fanatic is shifted to the sport and with one team in particular. Life is reconceived within the welfare of the team, the sport (which is rarely material, but the welfare of points, another modulation of the welfare of the count on which the abstract capitalist market turns).
So, in summary, because the fanatic a) has no material (significant) means to respond to the proliferation of real urgency in the world (though, as I have noted, these material issues are also abstracted), and b) because the fanatic has no material issues or even hardly a material identity of his/her own, the fanatic projects the failure of his/her team (identity) as urgent—and thereby produces an urgency to which he/she has the means to respond to in outrage. How can this pseudo-urgency, pseudo-anxiety of the fanatic be resolved? Because of the abstraction of material urgency the fanatic either does not recognize or cannot conceive of local material urgencies. The fanatic’s engagement in and openness to the dynamics (failures, losses) of the particular material reality around him/her would dissolve the necessity for and anxiety of an abstraction of urgency and the production of false-urgency (so as to enable false responses). And so, the outrage at Kyle Williams’ fumbles points once again to the machinery of capitalism under the guise of “it’s just a sport,” “it’s only a game” (i.e. those who want to defend it from critics and claim its economic neutrality).
*All quotations are from the article in the Winnipeg Free Press (print), by Cam Coles, Jan. 24, 2012, section D4.