Mocking the Fan for Fun and Profit: Sports dirt, fanship identity, and commercial narratives
Popular characterizations of the sports fan are riddled with images of people who are seemingly bizarre and possessed. In fueling an “imagined community” (Anderson, 1983, p. 6) of sports fans, much media imagery is self-serving, relying on the most animated and colorful of fans, thereby naturalizing what might be seen from a step back, as diehard, unbalanced commitment. So frequently do we encounter those who live and die for their team, rant their viewpoints on sports talk radio and blogs, paint their bodies in team colors, go hoarse chanting and do the wave in stadia, and seemingly know more trivia about sports than they do about more important real world matters that it is not surprising that many see sports fans as morons or idiots who lack meaning in their lives (Are all sports fans morons? 2007; Barrett, 1995; Johnston, 2006; Most sports fans are complete idiots, 2008). Such a casting is reinforced by even the most straight-laced social-psychological literature on sport fanship. Here, renderings feature seemingly quirky compensatory and defensive strategies in the mostly male fan’s obsessive tendencies. Ever nimble, sports fans BIRG (bask in reﬂected glory), CORF (cut oﬀ reﬂected failure), COFF (cut oﬀ future failure), and Blast (derogating disliked opponents) in order to maintain what may seem an odd and fragile equilibrium (c.f., Wann, Melnick, Russell, & Pease, 2001). All this fuels a folklore of sports fans and their laughable dysfunctionalities that characterize their undying commitment to sport. While empirical and ethnographic research may paint a far more tempered – and
even rational – picture, narrative constructions of the sports fan, alongside those of other kinds of fans, continue to pathologize fanship as obsessive, hysterical, or as a form of psychological compensation (Jenson, 1992; Sandvoss, 2005). Such narrative castings of the fan are increasingly common in today’s Web 2.0 world, where sport speciﬁc sites and blogs encourage the fanship story to be seen as one characterized by an “always on” distraction, where obsessive checking of the latest scores, injury
reports, or betting odds are just a click away. In investigating such tendencies, there is a need to interrogate what is seemingly an oxymoronic and hegemonic dynamic: the strategic use of the mocked sports fan in advertising narratives to help sell to those being mocked. To frame this eﬀort, the next sections locate key understandings that undergird mocking the male sports fan and outline a reader-centered strategy to critically assess the “dirty logics” and ethical ﬁssures in such tactics.