Stock up on light beer and dip, let the drawstring on your sweat pants fly, and let that gut pour into your favorite recliner! Joke with your bros about your wife not getting you and your need to identify yourself with the playtime of guys in much better shape than you and spend a few more hours a day rounding out your fantasy team roster. Football Season!
Stereotypes of sports fans abound. This seems to be a universal. Comics use the stereotypes as common fodder. Sitcoms use the stereotypes as common fodder. It doesn’t really matter which sport it is, there are likely to be stereotypes of the fans. One of the more interesting is the posturing of male fans representing themselves as more masculine than both one another and non-fans. Any rational look at sports fans will realize the act of watching sports is passive, and an abstraction from reality. Shallow arguments can be made about the physical jostling that goes on in stadium seats, but in general, fans get their fix from a seat… and most often, through a screen. Those in seats in the stadium are experiencing sports through one degree of abstraction. Those watching on a screen through two degrees of abstraction. Fantasy football, which makes a fantasy out of a 2nd degree abstraction, is particularly distant.
“The jager- and buffalo-wing-tinged air inside a sports bar settles damply on a sea of rapt bros watching grown men lope across huge expanses of Astroturf, likely muttering “Rabblerabblerabble” as they run. Patrons at such a joint pound their fists, yell a lot, spill beer, sweat, shout and jump and pound chests when something ostensibly good happens on the enormous televisions, watch the commercials with equal interest, and refer to teams whose collective salary could probably fund annual education for all of Sudan’s children as “we.” Sports. Bars. Suck.” [STUFF HIPSTERS HATE]
So what does psychology have to say about the quasi-alpha-male behavior exhibited by fan boys? To do this, we get to subconsciously invoke another sports stereotype: the apelike mentality. Two studies in particular shed some light on fan mentality. First, a study from 1995 showed that some monkeys would rather be rewarded by the opportunity to watch videos of other monkeys than be rewarded with food (Andrews et al. 1995). Another showed that low-status monkeys are willing to pay (using their prized fruit juice as currency) to look at pictures of high-status males. Whereas high-status males won’t look at pictures of low-status males without being paid (Deaner et al. 2005).
Well now… a bunch of males paying to watching other males at the exclusion of other rewards. Hmm… who does that sound like!? Add to that the fact that the players typically don’t pay attention to fans without being paid (not only is this demonstrated by players’ salaries, but in speaking fees, fees for autographs etc.) and the “fans as monkeys” stereotype is starting to make some sense from an evolutionary perspective. Based on the studies mentioned above, there is no alpha male value being demonstrated by fans.
Taking the logic a bit further, the stereotypes about women’s disdain for their men’s proclivity for fan-boy-itis start to make sense. Women allocate a large portion of mate value based on his status. Therefore, indirect demonstrations of low-status will tend to lower her perception of a man’s value as a partner.
Another interesting component of the psychology of these male sports fans is their internalization of the notion that their fan-ness will somehow transmit the status of the team to them. Moreover, the constant use of “we” in reference to the team, and fan superstition as an expression of irrational belief that they themselves have some influence over the team, is an attempt to signal that they are also somehow worthy of being attributed a share in the success of the team. The successes of the very external team are met with internal personal elation. The failures of the very external team are met with internal personal dejection.
Low-status is the default, majority, and status quo of the human population. As such, what does this do to the collective view of manhood, manliness, et cetera? Could the rise in television and the subsequent increase in 24-7 dedication to fanhood be a cause for the supposed increase in whimpiness of men?
Are you a sports fan? Are you willing to admit it here? Either way, what options are available to communicate actual status and value rather than *cough* aping the status of athletes who live in the same geographical area or go to a school you’ve heard of? Let me hear it…
Andrews, M., Bhat, M., & Rosenblum, L. (1995). Acquisition and long-term patterning of joystick selection of food-pellet vs social-video reward by Bonnet Macaques. Learning and Motivation, 26(4), 370-379.
Deaner, R. O., Khera, A. V., & Platt, M. L. (2005). Monkeys pay per view: adaptive valuation of social images by rhesus macaques. Current biology