Mariners fandom, as seen through poststructuralism
Third in a series of highfaluting articles that came out of discussions about how to cope with being a Mariner fan. You can blame Jeff for encouraging this kind of content.
We are not fans, and being fans is not part of us. “Fan” is a socially and culturally-defined role that we fill at certain times. During these times, we are different people, with different values, desires, dislikes, all the way to different social systems.
We may act as fans in ways that we would not act “normally” (which is to say, occupying other roles). We may have fan-friends who we don’t associate with outside of those times when we occupy the fan role. Encountering those people unexpectedly creates tension and unease unless we give in and return temporarily to our fan role, and act in a manner appropriate to that role.
So we recognize that there is no single concept, definable reality, or even a way to represent how we see things, because these are all products of the role we occupy.
Recently, we’ve seen the subdivision of the fan roles. There might once have been roles divided only by frequency and intensity of devotion (casual fan, crazed fan), and only modest barriers between changing roles (addition of face paint, more frequent purchase of team merchandise). Today,
we have a diverse and often conflicting set of fan roles. As some have sought to define baseball as stats v. scouts (which in itself is an artificial concept based on roles and power), so fan roles have been subdivided: there is the stathead fan, the anti-stathead fan, the critic, the follower, the frustrated.
There is even the post-structuralist fan, who looks at the game and sees the events in terms of power and knowledge, and the social constructs that imply and impart identity.
Instead of arguing over methods of player evaluation, they instead see the clubhouse as a panopticon, where the manager exercises his power as a proxy for violence against his players, and the game itself is a barely-concealed analog for the crowd-pleasing gladitorial combat spectacles staged thousands of years ago.
“Milton Bradley exercises micro-political resistance,” this fan might say, “and the structural factors repress him.”
This post-structuralist fan would then be mocked or dismissed by the other fan-roles, and if enough cultural pressure would applied, the post-structuralist fan would move to another role.
No matter what the role, occupying any fan role limits the ideas you can have. A traditional fan could not accept or even express concepts like determining a player’s worth outside the constructs surrounding them, while an equally constrained stathead fan might prove equally helpless trying to understand why Rey Quinones still makes Mariner fans laugh.
We enjoy baseball not because baseball is a fun or interesting sport, but because our occupation of the fan role carries with it the burden of that set of beliefs. Similarly we are yoked to the different teams that our roles proscribe, and the post-structuralist approach helps to explain why it is so difficult to change, for instance from the Mariner-fan role to the Athletics-fan role. Each one has almost exactly the same behaviors and beliefs, but all especially carry a set of prescriptions that changing team loyalties is a betrayal of other team-fans and of your own role as a team-fan.
Thus someone accustomed to occupying the Mariner fan role (of any sub-role at that) will be extremely reluctant, even if they move and are pressured by their peers, to take on a role their initial occupation of the Mariner fan role prohibited.
This is how fandom can be passed on generationally, in the face of local norms, in much the same way religious beliefs can be: once the child occupies the Mariner fan-role, they also come to view the other fan-roles as hostile or inferior, and their perceptions will change to constantly reaffirm their existing beliefs as a Mariner-fan.
Beyond the issues surrounding roles and the related behaviors, thoughts, and problems, poststructuralism at once rejects totalizing or essentialist beliefs. Attempts to understand baseball are acts of violence and subjugation, an example of the larger obsession of Western civilization with destruction and reductionism, acts of vivisection and cruelty resulting, inevitably, in death.
However, equal scorn is reserved for the act of fandom itself, as it is a participatory act in a capitalist theory that holds that professional sport turns the very act of enjoyment and competition into an act of commerce, and in so doing exploits both fan and worker in a paradigm of violent exploitation. The act of ticket buying is contextualized into a supercapitalist theory that further denotes common ground between sexual identity, commerce, and the use of language to establish a narrative (“the owners are losing money” for instance) that further subjugates the fans who are, in the view of the poststructuralist, happily whistling while they pound out additional links in the chains that bind them at the feet of their masters. Owners cannot be fans, because the owner role exploits the fan role. If the president of a baseball club wishes to be a fan, he must first switch roles into one that is taken advantage of by the systematic advantages he set up in the owner role. This is at once a refutation and affirmation of classic Marixst thought, in that by controlling the means of production, the owner forces the fan into a never-ending cycle of increasing toil and misery while the owner profits, but also that one person can be both exploited and exploitee.
Now, if poststructuralism both holds that roles and occupying roles is the product of social and cultural pressure, it seems odd and a little presumptuous to condemn someone who happens to occupy the “Mariner fan” role and not the “poststructuralist critic” role by chance, but it would also seem that the “poststructuralist critic” role behaviors do not include empathy, or at least of that stripe.
It is appropriate that poststructuralist theory forces that realization upon us, and we are faced with the choice of whether to accept the semanticist paradigm of reality or instead an inherently self-contradictory worldview where the predominant concepts are textual and malleable truth, where philosophical narratives as well as examinations of philosophical narratives are neither true or false, but a grim and tedious Sisyphusian paradox where with some luck comprehension of the whole will be redeemable at a local university for five credits.