M.Snowe admits she has no long-standing ties to Mets baseball. But the tickets are cheap, the games are exciting, and the location is prime and accessible. As any good baseball fan knows, a game is a game, and seats are seats, and if it isn’t your favorite team, it’s still something to get behind. But that’s the thing with this Mets team–they suck you in when you were just looking for an entertaining afternoon with no strings attached. But then you’re tethered to their foul pole, rapt into the play. Without knowing the players that well, without knowing the history, you can still be enchanted insanely quickly by their lukewarm pitching and haphazard methodology. Before you know it–you’re hooked. You have no idea how, but this oft-losing team has caught your attention. They aren’t exactly a beautiful team. They aren’t gentlemen of the field. They usually signal a win and then fall spectacularly flat, promises broken. You can’t figure them out–you feel they don’t understand you, and how could they–you’re just one fan in a crowd of way too many for comfort. It’s as if they have another mistress, a coy Circe entangling them from afar, late at night after they leave the Flushing locker room, regardless of their protestations. But despite yourself, there the Mets are, and you cling to the idea that they could win and truly be your team, not just for one night, but for the big show. But why? M.Snowe has a few shrewd ideas…maybe.
Mets fans, like many other various groups and individuals, engage in what is usually referred to as “magical thinking.” (Perhaps one of the best literary examples of magical thinking is the memoir by Joan Didion–a good and tragic read, though high on dramatics). Magical Thinking is the irrational belief that one can bring about a circumstance or event by merely thinking about or wishing for it. Outside of early childhood and schizophrenics, this kind of thinking is supposedly abnormal, or at the very least ill-advised. And yet, it has such a pretty, non-threatening name. The allure of it is undeniable. Mets fans hope and hope that their team will enter the playoffs, and yet it seems like the past couple of years, the team has feinted brilliance in August and September, only to dash the fans’ hopes against the walls of Shea like the bulldozers in the coming months when it’s demolished. The Mets had the appearance of winning it all–they acted like a team on the rise, and perhaps the fans were deluded into thinking that their ardent wishes would be enough to carry the team through–alas.
Some people (and some Mets fans included), might find this magical thinking disturbing–psychotic even. Why believe in a team so deeply, only to see your hopes stomped upon? How could you think that all those seeming “signs” of a winning record were anything but random or maybe slightly coincidental happenings in a chaotic world of sport? But then the question becomes, are the fans perhaps smarter to cling to something that ultimately does not directly effect depression levels, or at least subsides with the hope of a new season? Sometimes we all engage in magical thinking–and it can often be much more detrimental than the outcome of a baseball game. There will always be next year for the Mets. Will there always be next year for the other things we wish for irrationally? Will the other things be completely separate from our own actions? Will our individual choices effect the Mets‘ record? No. Will our choices effect our personal hopes and dreams that slide hazardously into magical realms? Probably. And even if the signs are read correctly, what if you find yourself still hoping for a wish that you know cannot come true?
Yes, you can wear your lucky t-shirt to the game and think it helped the cause–but there’s no quantifying that, there’s no direct link to your cotton and the players’ mitts. But what about a misread sign or signal in your own life, and how you choose to interpret it? And we’re not talking about a sign that a hitting coach gives to the player at bat. What about the subtle quirks, the indefinite gestures? Is it the magical thinking sneaking up on us again, or is it real? If only the exquisite pain of daily deciphering was more simple; if only it was more like a ballgame.
M.Snowe watched a play yesterday. Not having been to one in ages, it was unclear what to expect. Entertainment was a cert, but as for anything else, who knew. The play ended up being jarring at times, and the acting was overall well done, except for the odd side character who’s vague attempts to upstage were more pitiful than anything else. But the lead role performed wonderfully (perhaps due to getting the best lines, perhaps not). All of that aside, M.Snowe got to thinking about theatrical catharsis–that old Aristotelian noun translated roughly to mean identification and empathy with situations of theatrical human suffering, while simultaneously experiencing a feeling of joy/pleasure because the situation performed on the stage is not happening to you (as of yet). And Aristotle made some good points. It’s nice to see the apocalypse on the stage, and watch it wiped clean with the swipe of the last curtain. But sometimes, a real good plan will not just make you vested in the lives of the characters. Sometimes your identification is so deep that catharsis is transcended. Sometimes, the vital truths illuminated in a play, however weirdly presented, stay with an audience member long after the final bow. This can happen with mediums of art. There should be a new term, a higher catharsis–a hybrid between catharsis and the death drive. It would be defined as empathy and pleasure at the experience of artful tragedy, but not pleasure because you are observing at a safe distance–pleasure because you too can see the beauty in your own tragedy, your self-same lament.
Speaking of tragedy, let’s talk economy. What we are experiencing is not a main street event. The government decided to deregulate banks years back, and now, low and behold–the investment bankers played some dirty tricks with the books. Only now, we’re the ones paying for it (in taxes?). Who is helping the poor people that were misinformed when they entered into bad deal home loans? Why are we more worried about men (because they’re almost if not all men) who’s incomes have gone from eight or seven digits to maybe only six? Saving the jobs of the people who got us into this mess is not the answer (ummm….can you say Moral Hazard???). These bankers know no shame and feel only entitlement. They earned the tragedy that is crouching towards them–and yet the Bush administration is eager to lighten the blow, or preempt it (go figure, Bush and a preemptive war?). It’s harsh, but its hard to feel sorry for people who knowingly aimed at making deals and taking advantage of those who were strapped for catch, and just wanted a place to call their own. These people are responsible for the tumbling economy–they have faces, names, and are easily found. Bush likes to combat things, especially enemies. Yet in this case he is showing mercy to merciless people who are not exactly in hiding. Yes, banks being run into the ground is bad news for everyone, but there should be consequences for the people who ran them there in the first place–they deserve a bit of a tragic fall. And that would be a bit of tragedy we could all get on board with. Talk about cathartic.
Life is random. An amalgam of things.
This is commonly excepted by those who don’t have any hard claims to the destiny often intertwined with religion, or some sense of self-fashioned karmic spirituality. So naturally, if you believe that randomness is a fact of life and that there are unexplainable and unplanned courses of action, your entire worldview is shaped by it. Yes, many things are intentional, but when it comes down to it, control (of others, of events, etc.) is often out of our hands. This can be at once liberating and frightening. There are things we can guide–things we can finagle, but sometimes things fall to the wet pavement spectacularly, or mend up amazingly, and we have nothing or no one to thank or alternatively berate for it. So when someone gets what “they deserve,” it is usually chance and not anything else. We must exclude practical examples that would counter this assertion, like working hard for an achievable goal and reaching it–no–here we’re talking about seemingly unrelated occurrences that end up making sense in the bigger picture–like rudely stealing a crippled lady’s seat on the train, only to end up breaking your leg while rushing on another platform a few days later. For better or worse, poetic justice is such because, like poetry, it is abstract, often confusing, and outside reality or practical use (not that we don’t love it, and wish it was applied daily). Unpoetic justice, as a friend called it, is just as possible (i.e. you could’ve given the cripple that seat and still broken your leg).
So why does it seem that sometimes, the world gives us all what we deserve? Could there be more poetry after all?
more to follow…
M.Snowe would like to share some very astute summations (below in blue) from her coworker/friend, thatsyourtrouble. This was birthed from a lively email debate…
Sorry for the ramblings below, but your blog helped to crystallize some of my thinking here:
Even I was a bit surprised that some have actually been using the term “catfight” to describe Clinton/Palin disputes that are not even occurring. I tried to measure this with my sexismometer, but all of a sudden it seemed to be broken.
The gender politics angle of the Palin nomination is very interesting. It is of course the duty of those on the left to defend her from sexist attacks but to oppose her on the content of the McCain platform (or her own opinions on the issues, if we find out more about what those are).
But what are we to think about her instant popularity among many conservatives and independents? We should not assume that a male candidate could not have attracted the same enormous support, but regardless of whether her gender is an essential component, her own unusual and particular identity is the key.
Her story as a regular person who has achieved tremendous success without the elitist taint of Ivy League education is a large positive factor in the populist tradition. Furthermore, the story of her own life as a woman and mother who has lived her pro-life principles is extremely validating for “values” conservatives of both genders. Conservative and apolitical women will support her fervently because they can stand up for women by doing so. They may even identify as pro-life feminists, but Palin has none of the “negatives” that traditionally accompany feminism in the conservative mind. Her feminism consists in her ability to accomplish anything she tries to achieve (and to do so while raising a family). Thus they agree with her stand against the old-boy network and her ability to break the glass ceiling. She does not embody a challenge to any “traditional” values, and her somewhat unusual (and yet still traditional) relationship with her husband is extremely reassuring in that it shows that she has no fundamentally “anti-man” views that most conservatives associate with feminism. Furthermore, her pro-life credentials obviously cannot be doubted. I would argue that her physical attractiveness is also extremely important. The Rush Limbaugh conservatives truly believe that feminists (feminazis) turn to this ideology in part because they themselves are physically (and thus spiritually, one suspects they believe) ugly, and I suspect that Palin’s physical attractiveness (and youth) are as important to mobilizing enthusiastic support in both men and women as a child star’s cuteness is to eliciting sympathy from a movie audience. I think that even in this allegedly more enlightened age, the attractiveness/likeability connection continues to be as huge a factor in politics as in life. Kay Bailey Hutchison would not have elicited enthusiasm, partly because she is not new to the scene and a rising star, but also because her physical appearance makes her less likely to be liked. The same can apply to male politicians, I’d say, though the bar is set far lower and the effect is probably much smaller.
So in the end Palin is an instant hero(ine) to female voters because of her impressive personal accomplishments while also validating the views of conservative women and (perhaps especially) conservative men. At the same time she also claims the status of a maverick; her maverick status and McCain’s probably reinforce each other in increasingly positive ways. Furthermore, she is threatening only to “old boy network” male politicians, and men and women alike will generally cheer the success of anyone (especially someone who is as instantly charming as Ms. Palin) who has unseated the undeserving establishment (of which the old boy network is an example).
The backstory of the Democrats and the fate of Hillary Clinton helps further, because Republicans and independents can feel that they are standing up for women while the Democrats dissed them. Furthermore, Palin’s place on the ticket allows Republicans and independents to be enthusiastic about an historic candidacy of their own—ground that was formerly necessarily ceded to the Obama people. This eliminates the enthusiasm gap, and, for any Republicans or independents who think about race, it probably wipes away any race-related guilt.
Of course, there are some wonkier conservative voters out there who will worry about Palin’s lack of experience, but comparison to Obama’s lack of experience makes this easier to overlook. Some will also see the pick of Palin as a cynical ploy, but the feel-good story seems to be winning the day. It’s still possible that external events could knock Palin from her current popularity, but unless that happens, I think this gives the Republicans an advantage that the Dems will not be able to overcome.