Year: 2011

My Packers: The Emotional Tribalism Of Fandom

[Article republished from January 2010]

I can’t sit still when it’s down to the wire.

Four minutes to go in the fourth, the Packers are driving for the game-tying score and I’m on my feet, pacing around my room. It’s been a wild shootout at the NFC Wild Card game: Green Bay’s young gun Aaron Rodgers and Arizona’s grizzled gunslinger Kurt Warner were taking turns tearing up the turf with laser-precision touchdown throws, the defense on both teams nonexistent. In the third quarter, the Packers were down by 21 and gasping for air; now, they’re knocking on the door.

This is the second time in three years the Packers have been in the playoffs. In 2007, we—in Green Bay, Packers fans own the team—had quite the playoff run. We demolished the Seahawks at Lambeau Field in the divisional round on a snow-covered turf. The next week, with the field temperature at or around arctic, the Giants come to Lambeau for the NFC Championship game. In the fourth we tie it up 20-20. The Giants have a chance to win with a field goal, but Tynes sends it wide left. Overtime. I’m on my feet, pacing nervously around the room. Favre throws an interception, and the Giants win it with a field goal. It’s all over.

Today, the Packers are sweating in the Arizona dome. Rodgers connects with Havner, tying the game 45-45. Less than two minutes left, the Cardinals drive and set up for a field goal. Wide left. Overtime. I’m on my feet, pacing nervously around my room. Not again, I think. We win the coin toss. The lob to Jennings downfield – the game winner – is overthrown. Then Rodgers is hit, fumbles, a Cardinal picks it up and runs it in for the score. The game. It’s all over.

The heartbreak hangover. Every sports fan has gone through it: the empty feeling after a devastating loss. The aimlessness. The Packers were on such a roll coming into the playoffs—the loss doesn’t seem real. Its suddenness makes it harder to accept. We were playing, then suddenly the ball came loose, it was in the end zone, and we were done. A bad dream, really.

In the days after I joked with friends that I was going through the stages of grief. The denial came quickly: No, it’ll be called back. There was a penalty. Once it settled in, the anger showed up: What the hell? Why didn’t someone pick up that block? Then the bargaining took place: If we could just do the last play over again… The depression stuck for longer. Seeing the highlights from the game on TV the next few days made it worse. It wasn’t until about four days later when I was finally able to accept the loss and look forward to next year.

This is all very melodramatic, is it not? Applying such a serious paradigm to what is ultimately just a game seems belittling to those suffering the loss of something more than a game. But it is a process many sports fan goes through—consciously or not—with teams and games they invest so much of themselves into; surely these emotions cannot be entirely frivolous.

According to some research, avid fandom and a deep commitment to one sports team are anything but frivolous. A 2000 New York Times article explored the psychology of hardcore sports fans—what their investment means and why it is important. “Our sports heroes are our warriors,” Robert Cialdini, a professor of psychology at Arizona State University, said in the article about sports fans. “This is not some light diversion to be enjoyed for its inherent grace and harmony. The self is centrally involved in the outcome of the event. Whoever you root for represents you.”

Often fanatics of any sport are looked down upon as obsessed, depressed loners in search of diversion and self-identity. But one theory the New York Times floats suggests fan psychology has its roots in “a primitive time when human beings lived in small tribes, and warriors fighting to protect tribes were true genetic representatives of their people.” Every team in its own way is a culture of people who share similar beliefs and customs. In sports those customs – unique chants, specialized uniforms, shared investment in the team’s history – allow spectators to form bonds with their “warriors.” Dr. James Dabbs, a psychologist at George State University, said in an interview that “fans empathize with the competitors to such a degree that they mentally project themselves into the game and experience the same hormonal surges athletes do,” especially in important contests, like a playoff game. “We really are tribal creatures,” he said.

We wear jerseys and decorate our homes with the colors and faces of our favorite athletes – our warriors – and follow them into the field of battle, though our battle happens in the living room or in the stadium seats and instead of using our bodies to fight like the athletes do we use our voices and emotional support. So when our favorite team loses an important game, the effect is not just mental and emotional; it is common to feel physically depressed or even ill.

Which brings us back to the Wild Card weekend. I watch my team – my tribe – fall as the others smile victoriously on the field of battle. I don’t feel ill, but I’m not happy. I commiserate with my fellow Cheeseheads online. I call my dad to make sense of the game.

“That throw to Jennings,” I say. “That was the game.”

“I know,” he says. We were so close. We rehash everything that went wrong, but then turn to everything we did right. Everything that gives us hope for next year. And there is a lot of hope for next year.

I think my tribe will be just fine.

My Favorite Albums Of 2011

Happy List-Making Month everybody! It’s my favorite of the year. To celebrate, I present my list of albums that I love from 2011. There was a lot of good stuff, but these top few were the ones that kept me coming back.

The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker, Matt Stone & Bobby Lopez
Admittedly, I don’t listen to that many Broadway show soundtracks, so it’s tough to judge this one against others. But hot damn, this one’s brilliant. Not for the faint of heart, it’s extremely crude, searingly smart and funny, but ultimately a redemptive and joyful story about religion, God, friendship, and Star Wars. Listen to: “Two By Two”

American Goldwing by Blitzen Trapper
Like Broadway musical soundtracks, I don’t listen to very much Southern rock, but Blitzen Trapper may soon change that. This album, as with last year’s Destroyer of the Void, is rife with great summer car jams both upbeat and more plaintive. It’s part Lynyrd Skynyrd, part Dylan with a little John Prine thrown in. Listen to: “Might Find It Cheap”

Bon Iver by Bon Iver
Following his smash hit For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver could have doubled down on the haunting and minimalist style on his self-titled follow-up. Luckily he didn’t. Instead, he built upon the For Emma foundation with a “wall of sound” effect, complete with Kenny G-esque sax and 80s pop synthesizer on top of his multilayered falsetto. Can’t say I’m a fan of his collaboration with Kanye, but I am a fan of this. Listen to: “Beth / Rest”

Turtleneck & Chain by The Lonely Island
I don’t know how they do it. These songs… First of all, they’re just well-made songs. But they’re more than that because they’re hilarious. The production value coupled with this trio’s self-effacing and twisted sense of humor elevates this album from a mere collection of parody songs a la Weird Al to a new kind of Internet-age music comedy. I listened to this and the Book Of Mormon soundtrack this summer almost exclusively. Listen to: “Jack Sparrow”

undun by The Roots
When I read that Questlove said they based this concept album partially on Avon Barksdale from The Wire, I was sold. Good thing it lived up to that expectation because I thoroughly enjoyed undun‘s fresh musical style and lyrical flow. It’s more somber than I expected, but I fully expect it to be on repeat for awhile. Listen to: “Kool On”

A Treasury of Civil War Songs by Tom Glazer
Do me a kindness and forgive my nerdiness on this one. This collection of two dozen Civil War songs by Tom Glazer brings history alive by resurrecting songs famous and obscure from the era and setting them to a simple guitar/voice arrangement with the occasional banjo thrown in. Just imagine yourself strolling through Manassas or Gettysburg or Boston during the war and hearing these songs played. Listen to: “When Johnny Comes Marching Home”

Other albums I loved from this year:

Bright Morning Stars by The Wailin’ Jennys
My Head Is An Animal by Of Monster and Men
Middle Brother by Middle Brother
Smart Flesh by The Low Anthem
Locked by Land by Jinja Safari
The Head and the Heart by The Head and the Heart
The Great Book of John by The Great Book of John
The Harrow & The Harvest by Gillian Welch
Nothing is Wrong by Dawes

A Genuine Faith

Rodney Reeves writes on his blog about the “loss by cross” example set by Paul, and how that example is not compatible with American culture. You should read the whole thing, but here’s the kicker:

“Thinking like an American comes naturally to those of us who live in these United States. Thinking like a follower of Christ is far more challenging. In fact, American ideals often trump our Christian convictions, especially when it comes to living the crucified life. How are we supposed to love our enemies when we’ve been taught to kill them? How can I follow Christ, giving up my rights like he did, when I’ve been trained to protect my rights no matter what? Why does loyalty to America take precedent over loyalty to Christ, that pledging allegiance to a flag is nobler than swearing allegiance to a cross? To what extent is our American citizenship more important than our Christian identity? How many Christians act as if patriotism is just as important as the gospel—or even worse, an expression of the gospel?

In several ways, the American way of life is at cross purposes with the crucified life; American politics cannot contain Christian faith. For example, politics makes enemies; Christians love enemies. Americans are taught to preserve national and personal interests at all costs. Paul taught his converts to prefer the interests of others. American consumerism is built on the idea that we should always want more. Paul was content with more or less. In light of these stark contrasts, one cannot help but wonder: if we were to live the crucified life like Paul—losing our identity in Christ—would our neighbors be compelled to accuse us of foolishness for forsaking the American way of life?”

(h/t Jeffrey Overstreet)

What Is Aaron Rodgers?

A point of pride here: Jason Wilde is the Packers beat writer for ESPNMilwaukee.com and a Twitter fiend and also hosts “The Aaron Rodgers Show” on Tuesdays. He solicits questions for Aaron on Twitter and today on a whim I submitted one.

Turns out, he asked the future 2011 league MVP my question. What was the question? and what was his answer? Listen to the whole show below, or skip right to my question at the 37-minute mark.

Update (April 2015): The audio from the show is no longer available. I asked which Jeopardy category, besides football, would he most excel at, and he said history or religion.

Hark Noel! My 2011 Advent Playlist

It’s simple: no Christmas music until December. That’s my rule. So every year after Thanksgiving ends and the Advent season approaches, I’m thinking about three things: snow, eggnog, and what music will help me enjoy them. Some songs here are old classics, others modern takes. Heard as a whole, they’re but a slice of my Advent aural feast. (I’ll be updating as I hear more and better Christmas music – let me know your favorites in the comments.)

“Why Can’t It Be Christmas All Year?” by Rosie Thomas, A Very Rosie Christmas
“Darlin’ (Christmas Is Coming)” by Over the Rhine, Snow Angels
“Sleigh Ride” by She & Him, A Very She & Him Christmas
“Only At Christmas Time” by Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
“Winter Song” by Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson, Hotel Cafe Presents
“Frosty The Snowman” by The Ronettes, A Christmas Gift for You
“Joy to the World” by Future of Forestry, Advent Christmas EP: Vol. 2
“Little Drummer Boy” by Bob Dylan, Christmas In The Heart
“Let It Snow!” by Dean Martin, Christmas With the Rat Pack
“I Celebrate The Day” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby…Let It Reindeer
“Come Thou Fount” by Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas: Vol. 2
“O Holy Night” by Sleeping At Last, Christmas Collection 2011
“Marshmallow World” by Darlene Love, A Christmas Gift for You
“Merry Christmas, Here’s To Many More” by Relient K, Let It Snow, Baby…
“Snowed In With You” by Over the Rhine, Snow Angels
“White Christmas” by Bing Crosby, Bing Crosby Christmas
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” by Frank Sinatra, Christmas With the Rat Pack

7 Beautiful Movie Music Moments

Sometimes we as moviegoers have to let movies affect us in ways we cannot explain or control. One of those ways is through music. Whether it is an epic orchestral theme or a lone piano suite, music in the movies can make the difference in how I respond to the story. Listening to a CD of movie themes got me thinking about my favorite movie moments that were made better because of their music. There are many such moments, but here are a few that stand out.

Cast Away: Saying farewell to Wilson

When Chuck (Tom Hanks) finally leaves the island four years after crash-landing there, he is mistakenly separated from his beloved anthropomorphized volleyball but can’t retrieve him.  There is no music for the entire film until that time, about 50 minutes in. So when the soft strings finally come in, we feel the catharsis the same as Chuck as he paddles away. The theme itself, by Forrest Gump and Back to the Future composer Alan Silvestri, is so tender and affecting.

WALL-E: Eva and WALL-E’s space dance

I’m glad Pixar has basically locked down Thomas Newman for their film scores, because every one he does its magical, including The Green Mile, American Beauty, The Shawshank Redemption, and Finding Nemo. In a film full of cute moments between the robotic protagonists, the impromptu, extinguisher-propelled ballet may be the cutest.

Lord of the Rings: The whole trilogy

I’d argue the LOTR score is the most necessary and perfect ever. Howard Shore’s compositions are practically supporting characters in themselves. There are many stand-out moments in that trilogy for me, but there are two that would not have worked without a musical backing:

The first is in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf falls into the Mines of Moria as the fellowship looks on helplessly. It is a shocking and grievous moment, but the lone mournful soprano voice over the somber choir does not overwhelm it. It allows us to rest on the sadness if just for a moment.

The second is in Return of the King in one of the many endings, after Aragorn becomes the new king and the four hobbits bow to him. He stops them and says, in recognition of their sacrifices, that they bow to no one. Then the whole crowd bows down to them and the main theme of the trilogy swells one last time, representing the grandest end of an epic adventure.

Once: The breakup song

Once has quickly become my favorite film “musical” more so than real musicals because the music interweaves with the story so seamlessly without the awkward transitions between dialogue and song. In a movie with so many good moments, I still have to choose the scene when the Guy plays the song “Lies” while watching home video of him and his ex-girlfriend. He is still heartbroken, and the song backs him up in that.

Video unavailable, but here’s the audio:

The Truman Show: The end

The piano-heavy score by Philip Glass and Burkhard Dallwitz mixes classical standards with original compositions, adding whimsy and sophistication to Peter Weir’s allegorical tale. The best moment, though, comes at the end when Truman finally hits the wall, literally and metaphorically. It is a culmination of everything Truman has been through and we as the viewers wait in anticipation for how he handles the moment. It’s as good an ending as I’ve ever seen in any movie.

Remember the Titans: The final game

The music throughout the movie builds little by little, but it isn’t until the final game when the orchestra is at full-blast. Trevor Rabin’s score builds with the tension of the final game, but the moment I always remember is when Coaches Boone and Yost exchange congratulations at the end of the game and hold up the ball together. It is a triumphant moment for the team and for the music.

Why Wait?: The Adventure Of Marrying Young

Previously published in the North Central Chronicle on April 23, 2010. The PDF version of this article as it originally appeared in the Chronicle is at the end of the story.

Antonia and Brian bought a wedding planning book for $14. But sometime later Antonia’s maid of honor bought them a $4 wedding planning book as a gift.

They returned the $14 book.

Such is the way of things when college students are trying to get married.

Once commonplace, young marriage has now become the exception to the rule of waiting to get married until after college, when couples can achieve financial stability and emotional maturity before diving into a lifetime commitment. Data from the 2000 U.S. Census shows that the average age at first marriage for American women was 26, up from 21.5 in 1970. The average for men also jumped: from 23.5 in 1970 to 27.8 in 2000. Yet many of these Millennials – young adults reared by overprotective Baby Boomer parents in an increasingly “me first” culture – are still choosing to buck the trend of postponing marriage until their late 20s and take the very unselfish step of getting married during their already stressful college years.

So what’s the motivation? Most young people today don’t expect to get married during college, so the desire to get hitched and to hell with the statistics goes beyond finances or merely settling down earlier than usual. According to four students from North Central College in Naperville, Ill. – all at different points of the engagement-wedding-marriage path – it’s about what feels right.

Brian, a junior engaged to Antonia (Tone), a senior, said he didn’t expect to get married until after college. “But then Tone happened,” he said.

The thought of getting married didn’t weird to him at all. “I just couldn’t imagine being with anyone else. Why wait until later when I could just do it now?”

Angie, a junior married for seven months, felt the same way when she got engaged during her freshman year. “Ryan and I knew we were going to get married,” she said, “but I always thought we would have a longer engagement. Even right when we got engaged, the initial date of the wedding was after I was graduated from college. That lasted about two weeks. We thought, logistically, why wait?”

Aileen, also a junior, expected to follow the common path toward marriage. “I thought I was going to be mid-to-late 20s, established with whatever I was doing. I never thought I was going to get married young.” But she found herself engaged at 18 to a man 12 years older than her. The age difference, though, was never an issue. “We just wanted to get married. It was a natural thing, no questioning it or anything.”

Marriage to these college students was not something they took on with the same assumptions and concerns their parents had before getting married a generation ago. They’re getting married because they want to – and because they can do it relatively easily with the safety net their parents provide. This doesn’t mean they think a lifelong marriage will be easy; it simply shows that true love and its aroma were too great for them to ignore.

“I think that for us you can’t take faith out of the equation because we knew that God wanted us to be together,” Antonia said. “Obviously we were a little apprehensive as to when, but after praying and being with each other, we know we want to do this after I graduate.”

Angie echoed the reliance on faith. “It definitely played a part in our relationship from the start,” she said. “I think because of the faith we share, as a couple we were years beyond most couples at our age. Maturity-wise I think we grew up a lot. It really grounded us in the things that really matter.”

But getting engaged, it seems, is the simplest part of the whole ordeal. The reaction from friends and family is where the sparks start to fly.

Angie’s parents had also married young, so the news to them was surprising but still exciting. They did, however, want to make sure she didn’t drop out of school. “That was a priority because they knew it was important to me and they didn’t want me to lose sight of that,” Angie said. The reaction from her classmates was considerably more mixed. Getting engaged as a freshman was unusual, making her nervous about what people would think. “Most people were nice about it,” she said. “But I did get some pretty rude responses. I had one student walk up to me and say, ‘So are you engaged?’ I said, yeah, I am. I was kind of nervous to tell him. But he was like, ‘Wow. Why? Are you serious? Why would you do that?’ And it just killed me.”

Aileen encountered similar apprehension. “My parents were a little apprehensive about it, only because I am young,” she said. “Other than that, the response was pretty nice. Everyone was excited.” Yet the age difference was always an issue, though not to her. “With the connection we had I never really though it necessary to care about that. My mom was OK with it because my grandparents were 11 years apart, so she was like, ‘Hell, what’s another two years? It really doesn’t matter.’”

Brian and Antonia received a lot of support, making them wonder about people’s true feelings about their engagement. “To be honest I wish we’d had more skepticism,” Brian said. “Everyone was just like, ‘Oh, awesome!’ and were super supportive. I would have appreciated more honesty because not everyone would have felt that way. I was shocked at how much support we got.”

Antonia said she’s gotten more pushback, almost a year after the engagement, from an unlikely source: her professors. “I’ve heard, ‘You’re going to be married forever. Do you know what you’re doing to yourself?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I realize that. That’s why we’re getting married.’”

Those voices of doubt were not unreasonable. Statistics on the fate of young marriages tell a dreary tale: the New York Times reported on studies that show teenage marriages today are two to three times more likely to end in divorce than marriages between people 25 years of age and older. Another study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 48 percent of those who marry before 18 are “likely to divorce within 10 years, compared with 24 percent of those who marry after age 25.”

Knowing the odds against young marriages turning out successfully yet still diving in anyway shows a confidence in the institution of marriage and in each other these young betrothed have that previous generations did not. These students were worried for other reasons, like how to pay for a wedding and start a life together without having yet established a career. “Weddings are expensive,” Aileen said. “Plus, I have to pay my own way through college – that’s all on my shoulders. Financial stability is going to be an issue for both of us, but I really never think of problems. If they come up, they come up.”

Angie was less worried about the money than her fate as a college student. In the months leading up to the wedding, she worried she would become disconnected from school and have to drop all the things she loved doing. “ButRyan and I sat down and talked about it andwe decided that if I wasn’t doing all these things that I’m doing, I wouldn’t be myself,” she said. “I wouldn’t be the woman that he married.” Still, she did wonder. “‘Should we wait? Maybe we should have held off for another two years. Is it really that big of a deal?’ I definitely had those questions.”

Even with the doubts swirling, they still need to plan a wedding. How do they do it as full-time students with jobs and class and extra-curriculars filling their days?

“It got really stressful,” Angie said. She was getting married a month and fifteen days after classes ended, but was also the female lead in the school’s production of Romeo and Juliet. “I just didn’t have time to focus on the wedding. I didn’t even touch my invitations; I picked them out and my parents did it all for me. They were saints.”

But is the marriage worth it? Is getting married before you’re even allowed to rent a car worth the late nights and doubting loved ones and the chance you’ll end up another divorce statistic?

Angie was unequivocal. “The last seven months have proved all my worries false,” she said. “Since we’ve been married I’ve never questioned it. We definitely made the right decision.”

Click here for a PDF of this story as it originally appeared in the Campus section of the North Central Chronicle.

A Morning Brush With Rahm

This morning, I was catching a train at the Clinton green line stop when I go through the turnstiles to see a phalanx of reporters and cameramen gathered before a podium with the Chicago seal affixed upon it. Turns out Rahm Emanuel was due for a press conference on the L’s newly installed security cameras.

I waited for a bit to see Mr. Mayor give what probably ended up being a very boring presser, but before he could arrive a CPD officer kicked me out for “security reasons.” (Apparently my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, red beard, and perplexed yet slightly annoyed facial expressions were especially alarming.) I thought about staging my own “Occupy Clinton Station” demonstration, but didn’t feel like getting a mouthful of pepper-spray.

So I headed up to the platform, a bit disappointed I wouldn’t see Mayor F-Bomb himself, only to find yet another herd of journos waiting for Rahmbo’s train to arrive to get some film of him exiting the train-car like us real citizens do. So I stood there awkwardly between the pack of cameras and Emanuel’s exit point, hoping to get into some local news B-roll or at least do a man-on-the-street interview.

Soon enough, Air Force El arrived and out hopped the Mayor. I snapped a few pics before jumping onto the train before the doors shut. Apparently the very sight of an elected official using public transportation, however artificially, is deemed remarkable in Chicago judging by the news coverage. I thought about staying to try for a handshake or a shove from a bodyguard, but even my day had to go on after a brush with the second-most famous Emanuel brother.

And as a sad postscript, of all three big local news outlets, only one (ABC) used a clip from that moment. I wasn’t in it, much to my chagrin. Next time I’ll try to tone down the awkwardly-standing-and-gawking vibe.

“I’m going back to my hometown. Gonna sit right down and take a look around. Tall trees talking all around the shore where the wood meets the river at the forest floor. … Does a true heart change or does it stay the same? I think I’ll go on back to from where I came.”
–Blitzen Trapper’s “My Home Town”

On the bus. I’ve taken this very path many times in the last five-some years as a carless one. It takes a little longer, but you get stuff done and you can think. Lord knows I’ve done a lot of thinking in these years, especially of late. But there’s a point when all the thinking you do doesn’t actually result in anything but more thoughts.

So what to do? Does a true heart (as mind I suppose), as the above song asks, change or stay the same? Will you know its truth evidently or does it seek you out to knock your head? I’d like to say this bus ride to my hometown can answer the question, but these days I’m not so sure.

Song: ‘Christmastime Is Here’

“Be Still Your Fears (Christmastime is Here)” – Chad Comello

This is a demo I made last October, using only my guitar and GarageBand. May it bring tidings of a merry holiday.