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Hyperpartisanship: An Addendum

Posted By Brian Phillips On May 10, 2011 @ 1:32 pm In Featured | 23 Comments

Lots of smart, even inspiring, responses and rebuttals to the rage piece. But writing on the internet is like Barry Bonds’s head—the more people talk about it, the more it turns into something else. So I want to take a second to tighten a couple of screws before we let the topic go.

The idea is not “you should care less about [your team] [soccer] [sports].” There’s a difference between caring too much and caring in a way that’s toxic and self-destructive, and the piece was only about the latter. I thought that was pretty clear when I wrote “you can be a crazy tattooed ultra and still be okay” and “you can care about something other than your club and still be totallysupercommitted to your club,” but a few people, even people who liked the piece, still got the idea that I was saying “lighten up.” I don’t think a collective lightening up would be a bad thing, and I don’t think you have to have a favorite club to be a real fan. But at the same time, it’s entirely possible to be this guy without giving yourself a hyperpartisan brainwash. And it’s specifically that bitter, suspicious, hyperpartisan attitude toward the game that I was trying to write about—not raw passion.

“Hyperpartisanship” doesn’t mean fandom. If you’re a fan of a club, you’ve picked a side. If you’re a hyperpartisan, you’ve let the side you picked blot out everything else. You can’t admit that your club is ever wrong, you genuinely think that your opponents (and fans of your opponents) are bad people, you can’t believe your team ever gets a fair shake from referees or the media. That’s not the same thing as caring about, even living and dying over, your side’s wins and losses. It also doesn’t mean that you care more than a different kind of fan. It just means you’ve short-circuited your head to receive, and broadcast, command messages from your own party. And because those messages are usually at least semi-delusional (“Ramsey’s refusal to accept Shawcross’s apology was worse than Shawcross’s tackle” is this month’s “Palin has a surprisingly firm grasp on foreign policy”), you’re constantly running up against contradictions, which feeds your persecution complex, which means you’re always a little pissed off. You’re not engaging with the game so much as angrily trying to shut out everything about the game that threatens you or that you don’t like.

“Joy” doesn’t mean casual entertainment. Any misunderstanding here is on me, because I used the word “fun” a couple of times and didn’t develop the idea that the purpose of soccer is to bring you joy. So let me clarify. I suffer over the game. I look for meaning in the game. I don’t see the game as a series of easy thrills. I was thinking of joy in a very broad, adds-something-huge-to-your-life sense, in the same way that you could say music exists to bring you joy even though music can turn you upside down and throw you against the wall and still be great music. The point is that you’re going to the game because it makes your life richer and better—whether by making you feel something, making you laugh, making you sob, showing you something about yourself, scaring you, or yes, giving you explosions of happiness—and that if it’s making your life smaller and worse, something is wrong. It can, and should, make you angry sometimes. Just not always and not by default.


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