Thursday, December 29, 2016
December 29, 2016: 2016 in Review: The Cubs Win!
[As usual, I’ll end the year—even this most frustrating of years—by AmericanStudying a handful of major stories. This time featuring a special Friday Guest Post from one of the wonderful student papers in my Senior Seminar on 21st Century America! Please add your year in review responses, thoughts, and airing of grievances in comments.]
On two contexts for one of the year’s true feel-good stories.
Since my first three year in review posts had focused on pretty weighty topics, I wanted for this fourth and final post of mine (before tomorrow’s Guest Post) to engage with a more pleasurable story: the Chicago Cubs breaking their 108 year streak and winning the 2016 World Series. I’m not suggesting that sports aren’t significant—hopefully the many posts and series linked under this blog’s Sports category make clear how much I see sports as a vital part of our culture and society, past and present. Neither would I argue that sports simply offer escapism, a way to forget about the kinds of topics on which my first three posts have focused—not only because we can’t and shouldn’t forget those contemporary topics, but also because sports themselves often feature, and indeed help us better engage with, precisely such cultural and social issues. But at the same time, part of being an AmericanStudier—part of being an academic at all—is not allowing our analytical lenses to obscure the pleasures we can take from the worlds around us; and there’s nothing like being a father to two sports-obsessed sons to remind me of just how pleasurable (and, yes, painful) the world of sports can be.
My sons are more into football and soccer than baseball, but the broader spectrum of baseball fans, and questions of what the sport means to them, nonetheless offers one interesting and important lens through which to analyze the Cubs victory. On a personal level, I have a number of friends who are Cubs fans, none more so than Lito Velasco; Lito’s one of those 21st century friends whom I met through a friend on Facebook and haven’t had the chance to meet in person, but he’s a friend nevertheless, and watching the ups and downs of the 2016 postseason through his eyes became one of the more charged and moving experiences of my year. On a public level, I was just as moved watching legendary comedian and actor Bill Murray process and respond to the Cubs’ Game 7 and Series victory—it’s easy (and likely inevitable) to feel far removed from such uber-famous figures, but Murray’s emotional moments remind us of how much such experiences and emotions are shared across any and all distinctions or boundaries. If the goal of life is to find, experience, and keep emotional connections to the people and world around us, both the most inspiring and the most challenging varieties, then there are few if any elements that provide those connections more consistently and potently than sports (artistic and cultural works, of course, being another).
Speaking of artistic and cultural works, a predicted Cubs World Series victory plays a role in a number of pop culture texts. The most famous is likely Back to the Future Part II, which predicted a 2015 Cubs victory at the same time as, as many have noted, the social and political ascendance of the very Donald Trump-like Biff. But the TV show Parks and Rec nailed its prediction even more exactly, setting one of its culminating 2015 season’s flash-forwards in a spring of 2017 where “obviously everyone [in Chicago is] in a great mood right now because of the Cubs winning the Series.” These pop culture references were often used for either shock value about future changes (as in Marty McFly’s disbelief) or humor about the victory’s unlikeliness in reality (as in this moment from The Simpsons). But I believe the Parks and Rec moment works in a different way, one that certainly riffs off of that unlikeliness but that focuses instead on what a Cubs victory would mean for the community that experiences it (a choice that makes sense in a show that was all about communal identities, politics, and relationships). In each and every case, these references reflect what sports means in our culture, how culture engages with those meanings, and how a Chicago Cubs World Series victory could and did resonate across multiple layers of our 2016 landscape.
Special Guest Post tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Other 2016 stories you’d highlight?