Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Someone to Root For

MrsDarwin and the kids were off visiting Bearing today, and not expected back till late, so I allowed myself to get sucked into watching the US v Belgium game, which was playing on the massive screen in one of the conference rooms near my cube.

Normally I'm one of the world's die hard sports agnostics. I'm not sure that I've ever sat down with the express intention of watching a televised professional (or college) sports game all the way through, and the only game I ever saw in person was back in fourth grade when they took all the altar boys to a Clippers game. Still, watching the second half of the game, and then the overtime, I found myself deeply involved. We all cheered when Julian Green scored the US team's one goal in the last fifteen minutes of the game, and the mounting tension as it looked repeatedly like team USA might bring it up to a tie and bring the game to penalty goals.

This wasn't quite the first time this ever happened. I happened to have gone to an Irish-themed pub to listen to my brother-in-law's band play the night of the last game between the Rangers and the Giants in the 2010 World Series, and in a game between a "red" team and a "blue" team played the day before the 2010 election, I found myself susceptible to becoming deeply involved in rooting for Texas.

Given that life in the Darwin household has revolved so much around novel writing of late, and that when writing I somehow get sucked into a vortex of doubt over whether anyone can really be interested in the doings of people who don't exist, it struck me that these brief sports enthusiasms of mine are a bit like the Paradox of Fiction. Why, after all, should it matter a whit to me which of two groups of soccer players sweating it out down in Brazil wins a game? Why in the world other than that we choose to invest interest and excitement in the question. Something interesting enough happens to pull us in, some circumstance, some personality, and next thing we know we are tensing every muscle waiting to see the outcome of a contest that in any objective sense ought to mean nothing to us.


bearing said...

We missed seeing you today!

Brandon said...

That's a fascinating parallel! There does seem to be a sense in which getting sucked into a game is a lot like getting sucked into a book, and I think it's because in both cases we let ourselves get involved in the story of it -- the suspense of the 'plot', or the background of the 'characters', or a theme like the underdog having a chance at victory.

There's so much room for fertile ideas in the parallel, I wondered if there might be work being done in philosophy of sport on the subject. I wasn't able to find anything formal, but Claire Creffield had a post a couple years back noting the same phenonemon.

RL said...

Okay, so I totally get the parallel. It is a definite thing that happens while watching sports. However, I can't for the life of me see how you can pull something like soccer into the analogy. Why not speed knitting or tic tac toe while you're at it?


Darwin said...

Bearing, Wish I could have been there.

Brandon, If you want to write it up, you're certainly more qualified than I!

RL, Generally I'd agree that soccer is a pretty motionless sport (the first 90min ended 0-0) but the overtime 30min were actually insanely intense with fair amount of point scoring and near point scoring.

Itinérante said...

That is really so interesting! I had the problem the other way round. It totally made sense to me why one would get so into the life of people novel/story since it's somehow like adopting them... but why on earth would someone be interested in who wins or not in somewhere so far far away (even if I really love soccer, I still didn't understand why)... So this parallel helped me the other way round! I sure now have another perspective for both! Thank you!

Enbrethiliel said...


Not having a country in the bracket at all, my favourite match this World Cup was between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran. Both of them hadn't won a single match up to that point and Iran was the only team which hadn't even managed one goal. =( So I was thrilled when Iran scored one and Bosnia-Herzegovina got to win. Everyone went home a winner! =P

Treating the players as characters can help, too. I started watching the match between Colombia and Japan knowing nothing about either of the teams. After Jackson Martinez scored a goal and dropped to his knees in thanksgiving, the commentator said something about Martinez reading the Bible first thing every morning. And I suddenly felt as if I were watching a movie!