The limits of fandom

[30 October 2008]

By Rob Horning

I am very happy that the pro-sports team that I care about the most, the Philadelphia Phillies, won the World Series last night, something I have often doubted I would ever see again. Their triumph seemed to vindicate a by-the-book approach, as “baseball lifer” Charlie Manuel, the Phillies manager, stuck to familiar recipes for success and trusted his players to perform, while opposing manager Joe Maddon, regarded as a kind of baseball intellectual primarily because he wears distinctive 1950s-scientist eyeglasses, tried some unconventional moves that ultimately didn’t pan out.

It’s a novel experience for me to have the baseball season end with my team winning the last game played, but what I’ll probably remember from the season is less that sense of total relief when it’s finally over but the recognition of the passive spectator’s impotence that grows as the stakes get higher for the team you’re rooting for. As the Phillies progresses through the playoffs, I became more and more superstitious, assigning significance to entirely meaningless aspects of my life—which door did I enter work? which train did I ride to my friend’s apartment to watch the game? which chair did I sit in? what beer glass did I use?—as if these things would have an impact on the outcome of games. I desperately wanted to feel like what I was doing mattered to something that had become (perhaps disproportionately) important to me, but the more important the games were, the more desperate my ludicrous magical thinking would have to become. But it’s only when the Phillies secured the last out and they were celebrating in a pile on the field did it struck me with a bolt of undeniable clarity that my watching had nothing to do with it. My sense of agency had left me completely, and I was filled with pure vicariousness, a peculiar baseless pride that is bound up uniquely with participating in mass fandom. It’s exhilarating but also sort of scary.

I’ll probably forget that feeling as it is replaced with nostalgia for what just happened, and agency will be restored to me in the way I describe the big plays and the peculiar way I felt about them as they happen. I’ll turn the Phillies’ World Series win into a story about me, for anyone who’s willing to listen.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/post/the-limits-of-fandom/