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Thursday, July 14, 2011

July 14, 2011: Not a Fan

There are lots of reasons why I love The English Patient (1996; the film, that is—I’ll admit to having only read a bit of the novel after seeing the movie and being left cold), but at the top of the list is its honest and compelling portrayal of something I wrote about in my post on Dresden: the ways in which even the most noble or “good” of wars comes with so much inevitable and horrific badness, and most especially the way every war necessitates the creation of an “us vs. them” narrative in which anybody from within the wrong set of borders becomes an inhuman and unimportant enemy. Many if not all of the movie’s central storylines and character arcs drive home that point, but it’s made most succinctly in an exchange between the titular patient (Count Laszlo Almásy) and his Canadian nurse Hana. She has expressed happiness to have found by surprise a fellow Canadian in their Italian setting, and when Almásy wonders “why people are always so happy when they collide with one from the same place,” she replies, “There’s a war. Where you come from becomes important.” “Why?” Almásy counters. “I hate that idea.”
Almásy has his own very personal and very understandable reasons for hating that idea, but even without having gone through the kinds of traumas he has by this time in his tragic life experienced, I share his passion on the subject. It is perhaps human nature to identify with those with whom we share a home land in this way, and of course such communal connections have the potential for great benefit (at least if we can use them as a starting point for, y’know, actually caring about the well-being of all of our fellow community members); but those connections come, again, almost inevitably and much more dangerously with the need first to contrast ourselves with communities outside of our own and then, more often than not, to hate the individuals within those communities simply because of where they come from. It’s obvious how and why that happens during wartime, although I would still argue that too often we take it for granted or refuse to acknowledge that it’s happening, and certainly that we don’t push back nearly hard enough against it. Much less obvious and certainly much less extreme, but also less understandable and to my mind even more frustrating and ridiculous, is the way in which this happens in the world of sports.
The most overt and broadly communal example of that trend would have to be the concept of soccer hooligans (particularly in Europe), about which I know as much as you’d expect from an AmericanStudier. But here in the States we have our share of horror stories that confirm this trend—the San Francisco Giants fan who was beaten savagely outside of Dodger Stadium earlier this season, the New York Giants fan who got on the wrong bus after a game against the Jets and was likewise beaten within an inch of his life, and so on. And even if we dismiss those kinds of incidents as outliers or as caused by deranged individuals whose issues ultimately have nothing to do with sports—and I don’t necessarily do so—the fact remains that rooting passionately for a sports team seems in almost every instance to require rooting with equal passion against another, and more exactly hating not only that opposing team but its hard-core fans with the same passion. Up here in New England I hear exhibit A for that case every time the conversation on sports radio turns to the New York Yankees, but I imagine every American has a go-to example of this trend in his or her own neck of the woods.
I’m thinking of this today because of the thrilling run by the US women’s soccer team, which has brought them to the upcoming World Cup final. I’ve watched bits and pieces of their matches, and certainly have enjoyed their inspired play, particularly at the goaltending and forward positions. But I will freely admit that the constant cheers of “USA! USA!,” both among fans who have traveled to Germany to attend their matches and among many of my fellow Americans watching back here, have made me root a bit less fervently. It just seems like those chants are inevitably accompanied by boos and insults, and perhaps worse, directed at the other team, and by extension the other nation; and when it comes to that I am indeed not a fan. More tomorrow,
PS. Three links to start with:
1)      A hugely powerful moment from the film’s conclusion (spoiler alert!):
2)      An interesting scientific take on violence and sports fans:
3)      OPEN: What do you think?

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