24 May 2006

Unified through the lowest common social denominator

Interesting. This is from last night, here in Edmonton. (Yes, the rest of the world has soccer, Canada has hockey.)

On the weekend, a friend and I were sitting at Café Select a few blocks down from the throngs of drunken sports fans and the literal block-long walls of riot police and paramedics maintaining a semblance of order on Whyte Avenue. My friend was quick to point out how disgusting the behaviour is, and we discussed it briefly with our waiter. I agree with her, but something is missing from the equation.

She pointed out that is was the projection of unity, expressed by the lowest common denominator: unification through the association of athletes, something to tie together the collective voice of a community. Not scholastic, artistic, humanitarian, or any other pursuit, but that of the so-called "jock." Really, no different from Romans watching gladiators two millennia ago.

But yet I can appreciate the force and power of the collective here (Hobbes's Leviathan coming to mind, even though I've not read it).

I am of the opinion that internet communities that build up around the likes of Slashdot, Digg, Boing Boing, et cetera, represent a new form of community. This is nothing new online, and has been discussed elsewhere at length. Smaller, more refined efforts and voices, more specialised individuals coming together under one banner or another, then disbanding till the next time.

Even though I can appreciate the force and am even in awe of the community by this display at the coliseum here in Edmonton, and want to see it flourish into the future, my friend is right, I believe, in that the mass is dying and we're moving away from such groupthink. This would imply that, as individuals, we refine more of who we are and through communications technology, are allowed the convenience of organising ourselves faster and in regards to much more specific events or causes.

Instead of a raucous crowd of cheering nationalists, we have élite cells consisting of specialists — a club thundering down versus the precision of a razor.

This makes me wonder about the so-called Thousandfold Thought as I've been pondering over the past while, as written about by R. Scott Bakker. The analogy also works for society versus secret society.

Sorry, this post is a bit vague. I find the video is quite powerful and there are so many aspects of it that I am contemplating in the back of my head, when I should really be dealing with some other matters here. :-)

EDIT — While the above video evokes respectable feelings of pride and admiration, thanks to Teri for posting the following on MySpace. These illustrate the madness that accompanies these "community events" (of course, liquor is involved). I'm not critical of the enjoyment of the game, hockey is but a catalyst to bring about this insane fervour across the whole of the city. It's the mentality that's been cultured and pretty much expected:

Here we see two jocks crawling across wires hanging across Whyte Avenue. What you don't get to see, however, is that when they fall, the crowd disperses and they smack the pavement pretty good.

And here, two girls flash the crowd. Fun, until one of them gets burned with pyrotechnics, aimed and fired at her from a metre or two away.

I know worse happens in other cities and parts of the world, but in this post's comments Rev Max puts it well:
projecting unmet needs onto mass spectacle as a means to fill and inner emptiness, for the little man crowd member to become important (via group action) the contagion of group violence, political rallies with floodlights and torchlit processions cause people to swoon, some sort of latter day mass ritual substitute political shamanism

like mysticism in the other direction, not ennobling but degrading


brad said...

"She pointed out that is was the projection of unity, expressed by the lowest common denominator: unification through the association of athletes, something to tie together the collective voice of a communit"

Is sport really the lowest common denominator? I am no athlete but I would hardly consider the relatively healthy activity of sport the lowest common denominator. What is truely disgusting is walking in and out of the shops at the West Edmonton Mall. The blur of mass commerce that unifies people not only in thought but also style (as everyone dresses the same). How is a concert of any different than sport? Is 15,000 people united by sport any lower than 15,000 united by Bryan Adams?

Fell said...

That is indeed a good point, and although I may be not be accurately quoting her, it was food for thought. In regards to what you said, I would argue for her in this: Bryan Adams, for example, brings about a combination of music, poetics (if you can call his lyrics such, but they're relative), and an emotional experiene based in the moving power of music as an art. I may be a bit off here, but he is also a pop culture icon, so again may be viewed as a common denominator as such.

Sports can be reduced to a binary system: win, lose. 0s and 1s. Whereas Bryan Adams may be interpreted and different songs, messages, emotions, and what not may be gleamed from one's subjective experience of him, the experience from sports, aside from appreciating an excellent played game (as was this Edmonton-Anaheim game), is that of a projected community embodiment: if the Oilers win, we win. This is an illusion.

I believe that was her point.

It's another thing to really embrace the sport, or gladiators for that matter, by losing oneself to the intricacies of the game. To me, that is poetic in a way. But the numbers of fans that become enamoured with the team at the time of play-offs grows exponentially, which substantiates her claim: that much of the city projects themselves and their aspirations into the outcome of circumstances outside of their control.

It's no different from gambling, and by definition it is an illusion of control. The rush of winning, and "jumping on the bandwagon" in order to receive a bit of that communal rush, happiness. And then easily dropping it the next week after they lose, as focus returns to whatever mundane affairs occupy our lives.

Rev. Illuminatus Maximus said...

My bottom four front teeth were sacrificed to the Canadian hockey gods when I was going to a crummy little Franch Catholic school in cornwall ontario as a 9 year old lad

Love canada, love hockey, hate nuns!!!!

Fell said...

Hey, don't get me wrong, I have no issues with it. I do, however, think it's an interesting topic to contemplate. Doesn't just have to be hockey, could be anything.

Oh, and Rev, that must be quite the smile you have… don't you partake in Israeli boxing as well?


Brad said...

I see what you are getting at, although I would have to disagree with the reduction of sport into a binary code. If it was simply a win/lose situation, people would not "jump the bandwagon" or become united in any common denominator (lowest or otherwise). If it was that simple we would see people jumping up and down like idiots on Whyte Ave. because someone pulled up a Queen of Spades which beat a 2 of Diamonds in a game of cards.

I am not well versed in your area of cymatics but who is to say that music has anything on sport? Who is to say that the emotional experience of music is any different than the emotional experience of watching some big sweaty guys shoot a rubber disc?

I do, however, understand your point (or your friend's point) about the illusion within sport. In the days when I became disallusioned with many aspects of life I came to the point where I hated professional sports. I refused to even cheer for my Vancouver Canucks even as they started to pick up again since '94. But they weren't my Canucks. Many of them didn't even share my nationality. They didn't share my philosophical beliefs. And many of them were utter assholes (cough.Bertuzzi).

Anyway, I don't know why I shared that. But I did. It's out there. That said, whatever conclusion you end up coming to, just remember that the situation as a whole is extremely entertaining to watch. If humanity has an essence, its stupidity.

Fell said...

Some good points there, Brad. I don't know if either side is right, but I like seeing the thoughts of others on it cuz it's applicable to more than just hockey, that's for sure.

I am sure that if she comes by the blog and sees these posts, she'll leave her further opinion.

Fell said...

Brad, you might dig this article from the Calgary Sun, in regards to Edmonton. Link

Steph said...

A big part of my point was the fact that people are so desperate to celebrate something, anything, that they 'jump on the bandwagon' with the easiest and most accessible idea available to them.

Many of these people are not going crazy over the Oilers because the strength, skill and strategy of the sport is something they truly admire. Many of these people are going crazy simply because they are being inundated with the propaganda that hockey victory is the single most pressing issue presently confronting our community.

By projecting their own self-worth onto an outside source, they are able to feel validated as individuals and as a community. Obviously this community spirit is a valuable pursuit.

However, this false sense of accomplishment (in my opinion) serves as a blinder for many people. What about digging deeper into your own identity to define (thanks Don) what it is that you really want to accomplish personally? What about pursuing those personal goals with the same fervour? I don't see that many people cheering their faces off at the office.

I think that's the real danger with the hockey hype. So many people want to be distracted from their own identities and be swept away into a bloated sense of security. Obviously hockey isn't the only such distraction, but it is currently an extremely heavily promoted one.

Celebration is awesome and incredibly important, but this is the only event I've ever seen in this city with this amount of involvement. The waiter made a point about people taking their freedom for granted - I feel sorry for people for whom hockey is the best and most important reason to celebrate.

Fell said...

Steph, that was much more eloquent that I was putting it.

Fell said...

I'd also like to point out that the term "lowest common denominator" is not a bad thing, it's a tool. I am finding that the best way to understand symbolism is through deduction to the interpretive lowest common denominators, too. It's applicable in many ways.

brad said...

I totally agree with you Steph, but why are we so desperate to celebrate anything? I am sure that part of it is, as you say, self-validation. But I'd go a little deeper than that. How about jsut the primal need to feel something, feel anything. I suppose that is why I compare sport to music.
We live in such an uptight society where for the most part we are lacking in any sort of physical touch. I just think that our minds are just screaming out for the need to feel something, emotionally or physically.
Perhaps sport (be it the gladiators, Oilers or Eskimos) is just one of those things that allow us to stop thinking so much and allow us to feel; not becuse of identifying ourselves with the game, but just because we are so rarely hyped up about something with thousands of other people that we begin to feel.

Or maybe I've just seen Crash too many times.

brad said...

oh yea, I found that article somewhat amusing, especially with certain references to what Calgarians think of Edmontonians. I happen to be a displaced Vancouverite. The reason I came to the University of Alberta rather than U of Calgary is because I had always perceived the political and social atmosphere of Edmonton similar to that of Vancouver. The whole thing with the latte-sippin Edmontonian, however, is a little misplaced. Edmonton may be a little more "liberal" and a little more "civilized" (for lack of better word), but Vancouver it is not.

Heres a crazy factoid:
Number of Starbucks in...
...Edmonton: 39
...Calgary: 68
...Vancouver: 210
...Seattle: 412

Rev. Illuminatus Maximus said...

Check out Zola's Germinal or other 19th century lit about the madness of crowds, also the U of Minnestoa pub Male Fantasies Volume 1: Women, Floods, Bodies, History about the psychology of fascism, also Morris Berman reenchantment of the world

projecting unmet needs onto mass spectacle as a means to fill and inner emptiness, for the little man crowd member to become important (via group action) the contagion of group violence, political rallies with floodlights and torchlit processions cause people to swoon, some sort of latter day mass ritual substitute political shamanism

like mysticism in the other direction, not ennobling but degrading

there's definitely something to it

for a much more scary example than a hockey match see


p.s. my teeth are fine, pleased to report that our communist neighbors to the north have excellent, excellent low to no cost dental care, or at least they did when i was a kid

JK said...

If you think all the hype in Edmonton right now is suspect, you should have been in Denver, summer of 1996. Other than that, it was Quebec's team that won the Cup, us Denver people didn't know jack about hockey. We didn't really have any business celebrating. (They did say the Nordiques never would have snared Roy though -- Roy apparently being a big reason for the championship)

That year we all took Hockey 101 as the Av's "brought Denver" its first pro sports title. Looking back, I remember it being awesome and I've truly loved hockey ever since. There is no sport in the world which matches the intensity if the Stanley Cup playoffs. LCD or not, hockey is far and away the more refined of all the North American pro sports.

Go Oilers!

Fell said...

These are good points that I can appreciate, put forward by my friend Chris, via MSN:

one thing about pro sport, aside from riots, is that it is like theatre at it's lowest common denominator
in that it's easily accessible
and you don't need special instructions or training to appreciate it
like one might say you need for artwork
but there are many storylines and archetypes coursing through it that people might not even understand they're absorbing
but it affects them none the less