Perhaps the most telling formula for the success of a popular culture artifact regards the pairing of two concepts: ordinary person, extraordinary circumstance. Films such as Titanic, television shows such as Lost, and virtually every John Grisham novel have utilized the formula to great eﬀect as they take a group of highly relatable people and place them in a situation far removed from the viewers’ daily lives. We want the people to be like us (in a way that allows us to almost place ourselves within the narrative) but we want the circumstances to be epic and unique (to allow us to imagine what we would do in a similar predicament). The formula is time-tested and proves out in the billions of dollars that funnel through the system of popular culture each year. Fiction writers know how eﬀective the premise of ordinary person/extraordinary circumstance works in a multitude of genres. The nonﬁction equivalent plays out quite eﬀectively as well … in sports media.
Parasocial relationships (see Horton & Wohl, 1956 and later Auter & Palmgreen, 2000) form between the consuming audience and the narratives that take place within the mass mediated sports event. Sports fans seek any sort of connection to the players, ranging from the simplest of casual conversations to a piece of autographed memorabilia to, more recently, following their favorite athletes on websites and through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. We shower our favorite athletes with praise, oﬀering comments about how they are “down to earth” or a “normal guy” or are just “cool.” Yet they are our heroes not just because they are down to earth, but also because they tend to enact unearthly feats rather routinely. Ordinary person; extraordinary circumstance. Snowboarder ShaunWhite became the epitome of “cool” at the 2006 and 2010Winter Olympics because he seemed so approachable – and then proceeded to nail a backside 1080 halfpipe trick. Indy racer Danica Patrick rose to fame by embodying an attractive feminine persona while racing at 220 miles per hour in a cluttered straightaway. We love them because they could be us, yet decidedly, in their actions, are not us.