As many of you know, I’m not a big fan of sports. And I’m especially not a fan of American football. So when my Facebook feed is full of, say, Super Bowl fandom, I have a tendency to sneer a little.
But then, around this time last year, I came across this post
from the guy some of you remember as "popfiend" in defense of football fandom. His overall point was this:
Football fandom is really no different from any other kind of fandom. Almost everyone is a fan of something that means a lot to them – bands, RPGs, videogames, comic books, Doctor Who – and you know how you feel when people crap all over you for being a fan of something they don’t really “get”. So lay off the football fans.
To be clear (and he does makes this point clearly) he’s coming from this as a fan not only of football, but of many of the geek/nerd things mentioned above. And he is not saying “you don't get to criticize stuff I like” – he’s just asking you to be nice about it instead of acting like a smug hipster.
That’s a good message.
But I have a problem with the analogy – so much so that’s taken me a year to work out just what the problem is, and how to articulate it. Make of that what you will.
Anyway, my problem hinges on two assertions made in the post: 1. People who mock the Super Bowl are smug hipsters.
Okay, maybe some of them are – at least I think so. The term “hipster” gets thrown around a lot these days to the point that I’m sure what it actually means, if it ever meant anything. It seems to mean “anyone who hates stuff I like and acts like it makes them smarter than anyone else”. I’ve known people like that, but we didn’t call them “hipsters”. We called them “pompous dicks”. So I guess “hipster” is the word we use for that now.
I can see why some anti-Super Bowl memes come across as smug to football fans. But there is a difference between perception and intention. I can only speak for myself here, but I don't feel particularly superior to people who like football. I just don’t understand the appeal, just like football fans don’t understand why it doesn’t appeal to me.
That said, I admit I’m not sure where the line is between fair criticism and smug hipsterism, or who gets to say where the line is. For example, I see football as a senseless emo rollercoaster of institutional violence based on land acquisition and an extreme display of sexist stereotypes (male gladiators fighting for the honor of the tribe whilst being cheered on by nearly naked busty women with perfect bodies, etc). Can I say that without denigrating football fans? And if not, should that matter?2. Football fandom is no different from comics fandom, or Star Wars fandom, or the kind of fandom usually associated with the geek/nerd crowd (whatever that might mean to you).
This is technically true. Sports fans can be as obsessive as comics fans, and their love for it can be just as sincere. So they’re not all that different, right?
Well, not exactly. There’s one key difference: football in general – and the Super Bowl in particular – are assigned levels of sociological importance that traditional “geek” categories do not have, and have never had.
From Little Little League Whatever to high school, college and the pros, team sports – especially football – is a benchmark of social conformity. This may vary depending on where you live. When I was growing up in my home state of Tennessee (go Vols!) sports were practically a gauge of yr sexual orientation. They possibly still are, at least for certain communities or people over a certain age.
Let me be clear: I am not saying that all football fans are homophobic bullies, or that they actively enforce social mores that say you must like football or else. They’re not, and they don’t (and if they are and do, it’s not because they’re football fans). The point is that team sports play a mainstream and influential role in society and culture that has an impact well beyond its actual fan base. Sports are so mainstream as to be ubiquitous. You can always opt out, but yr always going to be exposed to it no matter what, and you’ll almost always be the odd person out on Game Day.
Comics, SF, RPGs and every other geek/nerd pursuit you care to name do not fit that description. Yes, they flourish more now than they ever did when I was a schoolkid. But they are nowhere near as ubiquitous or as woven into mainstream society as sports, nor are they as institutionalized.
The Super Bowl is a textbook example – perhaps THE textbook example. As sports events go, it’s an overblown, overpromoted gazillion-dollar goldmine that you can’t really avoid unless you don’t have a TV or an internet connection – or, like me, you live outside the country. And even then, my Facebook page will be swamped with running commentary on the game, or the halftime show, or the TV ads. It's an event that dominates the entire national conversation, whether you want to participate in that conversation or not.
The same cannot be said for the average SF/comic convention – not even Nerd Prom. In terms of media saturation, commercial buy-in, watercooler discussion and mainstream cultural ubiquity, the two events don’t even compare. Not to me.
This is why a lot of non-sports fans push back against Super Bowl Mania a little harder than perhaps is fair – it’s not just the game, it’s all the sociological baggage that comes with it, and the fact that they can’t really avoid it the same way that people can avoid “nerd/geek” culture if they choose.
So no, sports fandom and geek fandom aren’t really the same. Maybe they are from the perspective of people who are fans of both. I get that. But for non-sports fans like me, the difference couldn't be more obvious.
Now … having said all that, I will reiterate again that I fully agree with the key point of the post: if yr going to criticize the Super Bowl, there’s no need to be a jerk about it.
So after a year of analysis, I’ve found that I basically agree with his overall point – I just disagree with the methodology used to arrive at it.
But then I think football is a senseless emo rollercoaster of institutional violence based on land acquisition and an extreme display of sexist stereotypes (male gladiators fighting for the honor of the tribe whilst being cheered on by nearly naked busty women with perfect bodies, etc), so I would, wouldn’t I?
This is dF