We, the Living

I have noticed there are three classes of people who always say ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ They are emperors, editors and men with a tapeworm.

- Roscoe Conkling (attributed to Mark Twain)  (unless Ben Zimmer of the NY Times is wrong)

There's a lot going on related to the Soccer League of the Majority, but I read something terminally snotty on a vanity site that made me stop and...that thing you do with your brain?  Oh, yes.  Think.

Here's the nutshelled premise, for those of you with enough time to read this, but not enough time to read something else:

Here's the deal: If you don't play for, or you are not an employee of, the team in question, "we" is not the pronoun you're looking for.

"They" is the word you want.


We are not amused.

The bare, basic facts of this are impossible to argue, although I deeply resent the belittling of all the hard work I've done for the Galaxy this year.

If anything, Jones doesn't go far enough.  He allows students at universities to claim the plural pronoun.  Apparently Jones was never a student at a school that played Division I sports, because I guarantee you, when I was a student, I had NOTHING to do with beating Stanford.

...of course, neither did our actual football team....

....f***ing Stanford....

....and Andrew Luck is going to name the score on us again this year, damn it....

....f***ing Bears....

....sorry.  Thinking about college makes me cry.

Anyway, subsuming the individual into the collective is not actually reserved to sports fans.  For example, I didn't catch Osama Bin Laden, I didn't land on the moon, I didn't liberate Paris.  Even though my taxes paid for, I dunno, something like a millionth part or less towards the first, there's no way I can realistically take credit for my nation's achievements before I was even born.

But it sounds vaguely subversive, disloyal and unpatriotic to say, outside of a strict academically historic sense, "They beat the Nazis in World War II" when talking about the Allies.  Not as bad as "They beat us in World War II," but still.

Relax - I'm not saying that war is the same as sports.  I'm just saying that sports has used combat metaphors since roughly forever, and team sports have been particularly well placed to draw on the same kind of thought process.  Sports fans didn't invent overidentification.  They just indulge in it.

The other thing that Jones misses is the competitive aspect.  Of course no one says "We sure started that novel off well," because other forms of entertainment aren't zero-sum.  Being a sports fan means you're cheering for someone to fail.  A fan can either feel guilty about that, or a fan can run with it.  Not coincidentally, there's less money in making people feel guilty - at least, in a sports context.

I mean, it can't have escaped Jones' notice that we fans are strongly encouraged to identify with our favorite teams, can it?  Even if the players, rightfully, look askance at our jock-sniffing pretensions, it's certainly in the best interests of the owners and marketers.   And that's assuming that cheering fans have absolutely no effect on the action...which is possible, I suppose.  On the one hand, tennis and golf's individual performers demand silence from their audiences, but sports teams by and large want the opposite.  They must think it does some good.

And while players might be annoyed by fans at times, it's sort of their fault for picking such a public line of work - so much so, that one is tempted to conclude they actually enjoy the attention.  Are we not entertained?

Bringing this a little closer to home - there's another dimension to this as American soccer fans.  If we're simply mere spectators - well, that alone puts us in a pretty select group.  The growth and popularity of the game itself in the United States has been the (forgive the expression) goal.  We saw our little sport grow up before our eyes - that's not something that any Yankees fan can say, is it?

At the very, very least, we have a perspective and a shared experience that future fans won't have.  We're the fans who showed up for Tuesday night friendlies when the attendance barely outnumbered the players.  We're the fans who wave flags when the US National Team is the road team at home.  So we get to say we.

But yes, Chris Jones, you're right.  Kermit the Frog is a green sock with ping pong balls glued to it.  Faye Dunaway's mother wasn't really her sister.  Al Pacino's little friend didn't shoot real bullets.  Daffy Duck is not a bird at all, but a series of pictures shown sequentially at a rapid rate.  Mel Brooks wasn't really a territorial governor.  And it turns out there's a difference between performer and audience.  Thank you so very much for pointing this out to us, we feebleminded simpletons with our slender and tenuous grasp of reality.

Yes, it would indeed be a better world if we could watch sports with the same kind of detachment as, say, bitter and cynical sportswriters.  From now on, I promise to observe matches with the stony dispassionate neutrality of Dr. Manhattan.  God forbid we have fun, after all.

(Ticky tack edits made.  Proofreading, schmoofreading.)