Friday, February 26, 2010

Yay, Team

Last week, I strolled among the crowds on Granville Street, watching people drunkenly cheering like lunatics after we'd won some other significant hockey game. There was dancing and shouting in the street, Canadian flags everywhere, music and laughter and wild yelling whoops in the air (this was before the city decided to close liquor stores early to curtail the unruliness). It was infectious, I have to admit - you can't walk through a crowd of people that happy without a bit of it rubbing off. But I also must confess - I am not part of the party. From my point of view, we've sunk our province to the tits in debt to host an event entirely devoted to questions that mean nothing. Who cares what region can produce the best skier, or speed skaters, or figure skaters, or lugers, or hockey players, or so forth? Why is everyone so excited about this shit? With the Olympics coming to an end, I have to briefly just register again my otherness from it all. I do not care that Canada has won gold in hockey. Please don't beat me up.

I have never been good at identifying with a team, understand - especially a team that I wasn't on. The closest I ever came to personally embodying the sort of hysteria one regularly witnesses at sports events was when there was a "battle of the air bands" contest at my high school, in which a group of fellow students "performing" songs by The Who squared off against a kid "performing" as Michael Jackson, whose Thriller! was, back then, a matter of recent experience. I was adamant that The Who win, but not because of any objective assessment of their performance: it was a matter of what they represented - intelligent, passionate, real rock music, versus meaningless commercial pap. Though I was - save for the kids onstage, perhaps - the biggest Who fan in the school, I was hardly alone in feeling that something was at stake; The Who people cheered with such vigor, fury, and abandon that I recall various authority figures looking on, worriedly, which only stoked the fires further. The Michael Jackson people would not be outdone, cheering back even louder for his performances. In the end, as I recall, a tie had to be declared, because anything else would have possibly gotten ugly. The Who vs. Michael Jackson was a competition I could get passionate about: I understood the principles at stake, and righteousness required one side win over the other.

Team Canada vs. __________? Couldn't care less. At the same high school, I also recall the Canucks (aka King Richard's Army) squaring off against the New York Islanders during the big na-na-na-na-hey-hey Stanley Cup game of the 1980's. To prove my indifference, I bet $5 against the Canucks with another kid in my class - in part just to flaunt how unattached I was to the outcome, but in part because I'd actually seen a bit of the games (my father watched sports regularly) and it seemed clear to me on short exposure that the Islanders were the better players, which it grieved me not at all to admit. Since there is no inherent meaning in the act of playing hockey - the question of who skates, shoots, and scores best is a meaningless question, since skating, shooting, and scoring has no value outside itself - the only way I can understand the involvement people feel in such sports is one of regional identification ("our tribe of people from this territory is better than that tribe of people from that territory.") That's a question that in other realms might have resonance for me; I'm not immune to harbouring a certain resentment of the United States, for instance, and enjoy it when Canada one-ups them - say, back when they were sending troops to fight an immoral war in Vietnam while Canada was sheltering draft dodgers - but to construct a meaningless symbolic event to "prove" which country is better makes the whole thing ridiculous. Canada is better than the US - or at least used to be - because of the more progressive social policies we have, the more moderate, rational political climate, the greater value we as a people place on culture, compassion, courtesy and communication over our gun-totin', money-grubbin', flag-wavin' social Darwinist bretheren below, NOT because we skate, shoot, and score better. Even if they skate, shoot, and score better than we do - it doesn't change anything. To the extent that regional differences matter - and pick whatever region you like - I do not agree that we can settle them through sports. It's preferable to WARFARE, natch - but it's still bloody silly.

So: I have no clue how many gold medals Canada has won in the current Olympics; it does not matter to me in the slightest. I gather that Team Canada got gold in some hockey game the other night, and I suppose I'm happy for those people who have made a symbolic investment in the game, since I do realize that for some Canadians hockey is quite important, and it would be embarrassing for them, given that it is perceived as "our sport," for us to lose on our own turf. It'd be like Team Texas losing a chili-making contest in Texas, or Team Russia losing a borscht competition held in Russia. Bully for them, then, that their team won - but personally, I couldn't give less of a damn. SOMEBODY had to win the gold - its the nature of the competition. What difference does it make what territory they came from? Put another way, given all that is good and all that is bad about Canada - what difference does it make that we can produce the best hockey team? It's a silly question, unfitting mature, thinking adults. It changes nothing, proves nothing, resolves no questions beyond itself.

Team Canada won gold in the hockey? I scratch my ass and roll over.

Yay, team.


Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Sports gets a lot of attention but supporting and cheering for a local rock band or Michael Jackson impersonator (if that kid in your high school was any good he could cash in right now impersonating the older multiple prescription taking needle tracked MJ) to make it big all over the world has much the same reasoning behind it. We want our own to bust out of Buttholeville. BTO, Heart, kd lang and many more did so in my time. To a lesser extent many others made it as well. It is all pretty much the same. I wore my England colours around town last weekend. Warned every German I could find they were going to get their fat beery ass kicked in a few months time in South Africa.

Allan MacInnis said...

Aha! I thought of you as I wrote the above, btw.

So THAT's it, eh? It's a tribal celebration of the hometown boy who made it to the big leagues? (How many players in the Canucks are actually from Vancouver, tho'?). There IS that common tribal element between the rock star as hero and sports star as hero, which I fully acknowledge in the above... but I think there's somethin' more to it than that. I mean, I can REALLY APPRECIATE music, regardless of what region the players are from... sports, not at all, even if they're from my region. So it makes a difference to ME, anyhow...

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

The whole sports/rock/whatever star celebration is a bit weird, but there is fun in a lot of weirdness. The exhilaration of being part of a tribe on a football terrace in the '70s was very, very comparable to being in an demented punk rock rock crowd during roughly the same period. Same goes for local junior B hockey games in previous decades (its all tame now) when a lot of police were necessary to intervene between rival hero worshippers.

The brevity of our Olympic stars' brightness is the most remarkable thing of the Five Ring Athlete Idol. I had to look it up to be reminded Trevor Linden was playing for the New York Islanders when he played for Canada in '98 and the only reason we Canadians remember any of our past Olympic heroes is that there have been so damn few of them.

Anonymous said...

Nice. Couldn’t agree more.
Let’s add to that the fact that about 50% of N. American Olympic athletes and semi- and professional athletes in general (esp. those in winter sports) come from CAUCASIAN middle-class families. The working class and the poor (ie. those living at, and below, the poverty line: sadly, I think that this includes you and me) are not represented in this spectacle hence do not fathom, nor want to endorse, its symbolic value.
Also, “skating, shooting and scoring” is actually embedded quite deeply in the cultural capital of North America---so it definitely has value beyond simple community-building based on regional representation & pride, albeit not meaningful to you---as a key cog in the mechanism of capitalist economy and its reproduction. Generally it goes something like this: middle class family supports the expensive training of a child → child gets good at a given sport because of good support through coaching→ child gets scholarships to university/college based on sports performance→ child/adult reaps the benefits of affordable education, (etc, etc, you get my drift). A lot of the time this has nothing to do with actual talent or passion (although I prefer not to use those terms because, frankly, I don’t believe in them, esp “talent”). Also, let’s not forget Canada’s embarrassing and desperate attempts at some sort of identity construction through Hockey, to make up for its impoverished and short national history (in comparison to Europe and Asia). I am of course talking about Canada’s Caucasian history, not the rich Native culture that existed prior to Canada’s history as a white man’s invention.
Art (all arts: here, I include performance and music) can also function as a community-builder (or community-building based on hero-worship: arena rock, pop etc) but I think what you’re trying to get at here is the fact that art relies on a slightly different type of economy of exchange with signifiers that you seem to prefer and value over those offered by the culture of sport. It’s that small part of “art” or “creation” that resists being swallowed up in capital- seeming to prefer the act of reciprocation over investment. This is highly debatable esp. if you think in terms of institutional support, but there are fundamental differences that I think you make clear, on a personal level, in this entry.
Ultimately, art (esp. certain types of music) at least has the potential to critique existing norms through deviating from them (especially in that short moment before its avant-garde forms become doctrinaire) - unfortunately sport can never offer that since it tends to rely too deeply on the healthy and smooth functioning of these norms.

PS. Crowds are highly contagious. This can be a good, or a very, very bad thing indeed.

Anonymous said...

I won pretty prime tickets at my office Xmas party last year to see the Canucks play.

It was the first game ever for both my husband and myself. We were in row 19 behind the Canucks goal and while the experience was fun (in a once is enough sort of way) what really disgusted me was how the players kept changing.

Jeezus! I swear they were swapping out every 1 minute of play. I mean, really? It all seemed so lame and lazy.

We left during the break and the Canucks won which is kind of nice. I suppose.

regard, Judith