Underdogs and the Left

Slate’s Daniel Engber has a nice article up on Slate.com about why we root for underdogs.  I have always been fanatical about rooting for the underdog when a team I am not a fan of is playing.  I had always thought this was my mechanism of making sure I was fanatical either way when watching a contest.  I attributed that need to a sense of functionality, that if I did not care about the outcome then the time invested watching the contest was wasted.  Ursa taught me about the notion of slack, undermining this utility orientation.  I like that, but how then do I reconcile that thought with the impulses inculcated within when a team of which I am a fan of is playing?  Being a fan, fanatical, is, after all, the very standing in opposition of sense, of slack in this instance.

All of this takes me to the portion, even if tangentially, of Engber’s article that struck me the most: the Marxist criticism of The Underdog.  It’s the same myth as the American Myth, that the poor and the marginalized can rise above the odds.  So then I should reject my stance of rooting for the underdog.  Maybe instead I ought to embrace the Yankees as the uber-Capitalist.  A stance of overidentification.  I reminded here again of Zizek’s illustration of overidentification: M.A.S.H. (Robert Altman: The Player) vs Platoon (Oliver Stone: Natural Born Killers) .  Both are anti-war but the comic criticism pales in comparison to the overly violent Platoon.  I can live with being a cynical Yankees fan, of course, that’s easy since I do not purchase team paraphernalia, even of the teams of which I am a fan.

After all, this sort of overidentification can serve as part of what needs to be done: a patient ideological critical engagement.  Since the Zizek seal has already been broken (I am working through a new, to me, Zizek book, as if it was not obvious) I will cite him directly:

We should learn here from the failures of twentieth century Leftist politics. The task is not to conduct the castration in a direct climactic confrontation, but to undermine those in power with patient ideologic-critical work, so that although they are still in power, one all of a sudden notices that the powers-that-be are afflicted with unnaturally high-pitched voices.  (2009, 7)

Zizek, Slavoj.  (2009).  First as tragedy, then as farce.  London: Verso Books.

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