The United States plays Belgium today, and I am rooting for the United States. Apparently I am not alone as, according to this (I’m certain) impeccably researched Yahoo news article, the rest of the world is hopping on the US soccer bandwagon as well. This article charmed the pants right off me because it largely stands in contrast to what I believe to be true of fans of anything in the United States.
And when the soccer non-believers start bitching about how much they hate soccer, I suspect they’re actually railing against the perceived inauthenticity of United States soccer fans. And I suspect this annoyance is actually misplaced.
My general stance on the World Cup is that while I am not a soccer fan, I am happy when the US does well, and it’s nice to see people in this country seeming to enjoy the overall experience. The World Cup is a novelty for most Americans, so why not get swept up in it? You don’t have to start waking up early on Saturdays to watch English Premier League games to enjoy the World Cup in much the same way as you don’t have to form an opinion about swimsuit technology to enjoy watching Ryan Lochte holster his derp face for a couple minutes while he bangs out an exquisite 400m IM.
Bandwagoning shit is fun! And I think that’s why much of the world is starting to crush on the US team. Because soccer does not dominate our culture, and therefore does not carry with it the life or death stakes it does for many other nations, our fans and team are viewed as lighter and more fun than most of the other options.
In the article linked above, the “historical arrogance of England” and the “fatalist pessimism of Italy” are mentioned. If this were baseball, you could just as easily reference “the historical arrogance of Yankee fans” and the “fatalist pessimism of Cub Fans,” and be dead on in your descriptions except that the Yankees have actually won enough championships to justify their arrogance, whereas England, I’m to understand, has not.
The appreciation of this style of optimistic American fandom heartens me. I wish all sports were like this. I adore the movie Big Fan largely due to Patton Oswalt’s brilliant performance as an obsessed New York Giants fan. However, I watch it as a fantasy because I like to contextualize it more as a grotesque funhouse mirror depiction of American sports obsession, rather than the chilling, dead-on verisimilitude it actually represents.
I have one friend whom I have had to unfollow on Facebook because his perpetual bellyaching, inferiority complex and persecution fantasies – all pertaining to his sports fandom! – became too unpleasant, and I couldn’t bear witness to its ugliness any further.
I discussed this with another friend, and his words resounded with me so thoroughly, I have repeated them to others several times now. Sports are designed for your enjoyment and your diversion. They ask nothing of you. And yet, they seem to cause some so much angst, so much consternation, so much grief, you wonder why these people persist so steadfastly in their viewing and participation.
This is certainly not to condone outright passivity. I want the teams I support to do well, and to do well vigorously. But when your fandom trends into “fatalist pessimism” or, as a fan of Chile’s soccer team noted, “Fans of Chile, we are always either nervous or sad. We expect to have our hopes taken away,” just stop watching and do something else. Good lord, if you want to watch something that will make you nervous, sad, and that takes your hopes away, just rent a Lars Von Trier or Michael Haneke movie, for God’s sake.
This is supposed to be fun. Sports are allegedly fun, am I right? And while the game of soccer hasn’t grabbed me and likely never will, I’ll join in the fun with other upbeat fans any old day of the week. In what I swear was not me trolling, I asked my Facebook friends if a match between Italy and England was exceptionally boring. I thought it was, but I have no compass for such a judgment, so I requested insight.
One of my friends came back with this: “You’re wrong. Watching Italy pass is worth it alone. No national team can snipe passes so easily and expertly.”
That’s a guy I can watch soccer with! He’s an Ambassador for the game, seems to have the right attitude, and gives me something specific to watch for. As a soccer novice, that’s insight that’s helpful. I never enjoyed rugby as much as I did watching it with some South Africans who taught some basic strategy. Movie comedies are best experienced in a crowded theater where the laughter and enjoyment are contagious. Punk rock should be shouted along to with friends.
And bandwagoning might be the ideal form of fandom for those exact reasons, as much as certain types of people might abhor that notion. Those people can cram it with walnuts. Enjoy your life, and if that means you’re an ad hoc USMNT fanboy for a couple weeks, so be it.
Enjoy the World Cup, everyone. And like a growing portion of the rest of the world, I’ll just add: Go USA!