ritual

Le Moyne Lacrosse: Interaction Ritual and the Sacred

Yesterday afternoon I attended the Le Moyne versus Merrimack lacrosse playoff game that took place at Le Moyne’s Ted Grant Field. Unfortunately for Le Moyne, we lost a close contest in the last 5 seconds. The game, however, was very exciting, and significantly more enjoyable than the one other lacrosse game I’d previously attended 5 years ago or so. As I watched the game I was thinking about what made the experience more exciting this time around.

In general, I find lacrosse quite boring, and the main reason I went was because I wanted to support a few lacrosse players I’ve had in classes this semester. I know my boredom is primarily because I really don’t understand what I’m looking at. To me, it appears to be a bunch of folks running around, beating each other up, and throwing a ball past a goaltender with little to no reasonable chance to make a save (even though the Merrimack tender did seem to make a lot of stops today). As a baseball fan, however, I suspect that most folks who say baseball is boring really don’t know the game very well. Once you know what’s ‘really’ happening out there, you see a lot more going on during those times it appears most of the players are just standing around. I have to assume, therefore, that I just don’t have the stock of lacrosse knowledge to make sense of, and therefore enjoy, lacrosse. This was still true today. I watched nearly the whole game, and at any point I would have been hard-pressed to explain what I was watching. Clearly, it wasn’t my knowledge of the game that made it more fun today.

Fortunately, as I wandered over to the fence to watch the game, I ran into some colleagues who had done the same. They aren’t the colleagues I hang out with the most often, but I know each of them is a sports fan. There were also a few other faculty and college staff, including our president, who joined us for a while as the game progressed. A good crowd of students, only a few of whom I recognized, were also gathered around the fence and in the stands. I can’t say if it was a more well attended game than normal, but it was a playoff game, so probably there were others like me who came just to check it out. I was watching the game with folks who were chatting with one another about the game and some other college issues, and we were all part of the larger crowd focused on the game.

So, can any of these details help explain why I had a more enjoyable time at the game than I expected. First, I did have a connection to a few of the players. I know these students off the field after spending a semester with them in class. So, they weren’t just numbers and face masks, but rather people I’ve cultivated relationships with. I wanted them to win because I knew they’d be proud and happy, and I’d experience just a little bit of those positive emotions if they did.

The folks I was with certainly added to the fun of the experience. Part of that was because I could draw on their stock of lacrosse knowledge to resolve the regular confusion I experienced about the game play. Why did the game stop? Because he stepped across that line. Why was that a penalty when otherwise hitting with sticks seems perfectly legitimate in this game? Because he hit him in the wrong place. Oh, ok. Nobody likes being confused, and I was less confused than if I’d been there on my own. But, it was more than just lacrosse talk making the game fun. We also commiserated about avoiding grading, congratulated one another on accomplishments, and learned more about colleagues we only knew a little. We were engaging in friendship rituals, and it made us happy, despite the fact the game really was never going Le Moyne’s way.

Beyond our group, the larger crowd, not all of whom were cheering for Le Moyne, helped produce my enjoyment too. The excitement, and even the dread, were contagious. It’s fun to be around people having fun, and sharing an emotional connection, even a relatively negative emotion, with a large, loud crowd can help produce a sense of community with people you’ll never get to know personally. This definitely happened, and it’s not a stretch to say that at Le Moyne the lacrosse field is sacred ground. We have a pretty good team, after all, and the men’s lacrosse team in particular has brought a lot of positive attention to the school. That was the background of these sports rituals we enacted, the school’s reputation beyond campus and shared spirit of supporting the team.

I’d say that I enjoyed the game mostly because of all the positive emotional energy that surrounded us, even in defeat. It was a few hours of solidarity and fun, shared with some friends, some acquaintances, and a lot of strangers.

Saving baseball’s Opening Day. Or, MLB should hire a sociologist! (me)

Major League Baseball’s 2014 Opening Day is Monday, March 31st. Well, actually, it’s Sunday, March 30th. Oh, wait, it’s actually Saturday, March 22nd.

Do you see the problem here? MLB likes to hold on to the notion that it is America’s Pastime, but the actual time of its Opening Day is difficult to follow which makes it, I’d guess, less likely that even fans will watch. And (pardon my nationalism) it’s not even in America this year. Most teams start on the 31st, but there’s an “Opening Night” game on the 30th, and the first regular season game is on March 22nd, in Australia. Where better to “kick off” ‘America’s Pastime’ than Australia, right? All this means that this ‘big game’ starts at 4am on a Saturday morning here on the east coast. I love baseball’s Opening Day, but I’m not waking up at 4am. Game 2 of that series is at 10pm Saturday, so I might be able stay awake for a few innings of that one.

Joy and I love baseball’s Opening Day so much, in fact, that for 10 years or so we’ve made the day a celebration. I arrange my schedule so that I’m free that afternoon, and Joy takes the day off of work. We subscribe to the Extra Innings package so we can see that first pitch, wherever it is (ought to be Cincinnati every year), and then we watch the Brewers’ game in full. We eat hot dogs, popcorn, and nachos, and we make homemade soft pretzels. I buy, and even drink, MGD in homage to my Milwaukee nine. It is a ritual that marks the arrival of spring and honors one of our shared passions as much as it is about watching the games.

All of this is why I was interested to learn yesterday about this petition to make Baseball’s Opening Day a national holiday. It is, of course, nothing but an advertising campaign for Budweiser, and its pitch-man is the face of the baseball franchise I most despise, former Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith. While I like the idea of America taking the day off to watch baseball, I don’t like the idea of another corporate sponsored holiday. And, very, very few people would realistically get a day off anyway. This is empty symbolism and advertising, and nothing more.

And there isn’t anybody paying attention who doesn’t know it. I’m not breaking anybody’s heart with this post. In fact, it’s just one more example of how MLB is terrible at ‘making a splash.’ The beauty of baseball is its regularity; its rhythms and routine. It is present in fans’ lives the way weather is to a weather buff. We’ve seen almost all of this before, we’ll see most of it again, and now and then you see something incredible you’ve never seen before and will never see again! It is a comfortable blend of the past and the future, with intense flashes of the present. MLB seems not to understand that instead of doing something contrived and painfully artificial that doesn’t fit into the confines of the sport’s foundational myths of timelessness and tradition, they ought to do something that settles it easily into its fans, and many non-fans, routines.

I’ve said before, often in a bar making exaggerated claims about how baseball is killing itself, that there is an easy way to make MLB Opening Day a bigger hit. To get this done the league doesn’t need the Cardinals’ class, it doesn’t need the White House’s executive power, and it doesn’t even need flipping Ozzie Smith. Just start the regular season with every team playing games on Sunday. In the afternoon. Is there anything better than Sunday afternoon day baseball? No, there isn’t. This would be 15 games* on Opening Day, and everybody’s team would be playing. Right now there are at least 4 national TV networks that cover games, including all of ESPN’s channels and the league’s own MLB TV. Starting at noon on the east coast and staggering start times until 4 or so on the west coast, you could have a 6 to 8 hour national blitz of baseball on a spring Sunday afternoon. MLB already does this most Sundays in the season, the only difference being that right now they only nationally televise 1 or 2 games of the 15 there are to choose from (the Red Sox and/or Yankees seemingly always being involved in the chosen games).

This solution is doable, and what’s best is that it fits within a narrative baseball cherishes. Forgive me the sugary language, but give us day games in the sun, with our families and friends, remembering the past and hoping for the future. And, fine, make some money by leveraging that beautiful myth on the one day you can probably get even non-fans to care by teaming up with America’s most widely loved pastimes – television and blockbuster beer ads.

You can have this idea for free, MLB, but how about hiring an ‘in-house’ sociologist?

*Only one of these 15 games would be the abomination that is inter-league play.

The Pledge of Allegiance and Interaction Ritual

Per Smith wrote a short response to a Salon article about a court case in Massachusetts challenging the inclusion of ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance. Per is right to note that ritual is about action and the solidarity it potentially creates. I believe the arguments about ritual and solidarity, and in this case I believe the Pledge of Allegiance can effectively foster an imagined national community (if it did or does is another question). I believe it probably fails for a lot of people who don’t feel particularly included or excluded, that it actively excludes a good number of others, and that the 1950’s addition of ‘under God‘ made the ‘indivisible’ that follows a happy irony for anyone teaching sociology of religion in this day of increasing ‘nones.’

One of my favorite exercises when I teach sociology of religion is to have the students recite the Pledge as they know it, including “under God,” and then in its pre-1954 language, without the phrase. Some students do hesitate. It makes them uncomfortable. The thing is sacred, after all, and I’m asking them to profane it (for science!). Once we’ve done it, we then talk about how this national prayer establishes religion in our culture, and about how it is potentially as divisive as it is unifying.

I’m not even sure why, but yesterday in my Research Methods course I started to recite the Pledge from somewhere in the middle, right before indivisible (oh right, we were talking about the individual as an indivisible unit of analysis). I said something like, “you know what indivisible means, right, like in the Pledge of Allegiance, one nation, something, something, indivisible…” Probably half of the students gave me a funny look and said, “under God!” One student, I think joking, said to me, “that’s un-American!”

Per suggests we focus on the efficacy of the Pledge rather than its meaning, and argues that daily recitation bound generations of Americans into national community. I agree*, and here I want to apply his argument about the efficacy of the ritual to the interaction ritual I just described. All those years of reciting that pledge, of saying “under God” in the context of affirming patriotism resulted in our classroom interaction. The student didn’t say, “what are you, an atheist?” She said, “that’s un-American.” My skipping over “under God” started our own little interaction ritual because of the meaning she (as a joke or not) attributed to my mumble. I focused on the student, the class focused on us, and I riffed for a minute or two from my sociology of religion lecture about the addition of that divisive phrase. But this was a Methods class, so I assure you we got back to our discussion of units of analysis right away (i.e. This is no dispatch from the front lines of the culture war).

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*l also think we need to focus on the contested meanings of rituals, especially of those rituals supported by the state. I doubt very much that Per would disagree with me on that point as he was arguing against those who might call ritual meaningless, which it clearly isn’t (hence the court case).

 

You Think I’m Fat? Well, you can’t drive!

So, I started it. I admit it. I could have just let the bad driving move go without responding, and it would have been as if it never happened. Instead I started a road rage ritual that ended strangely.

So, here’s the scene: I’m driving on a 4 lane road here on the west side of Syracuse, going west in the inside lane. It was about 11am, and there was a lot of traffic. I tend to drive right on the speed limit, or even a little bit below (I was being tailgated immediately prior to this little episode). As I approach a green light, a BMW enters the road very slowly from a parking lot on the right, and quite near the green light. The BMW is probably going 10mph, and drives across the outside lane to turn into the inside lane, cutting me off. I hit the brakes as I approach the green light and say to Joy, “what’s this guy doing?” as I stop nearly on his bumper. I think, maybe, he was stopping at the green light because he wanted to get into the left turn lane which was already handling more cars than for which it had space. You have to go with the traffic, though, you can’t just make up your own rules of the road. What’s the point of laws and norms, right?  (more…)

Race and class privilege in daily life: Stones in the wall

We have a fieldstone retaining wall that runs most of the length of our property. It’s great for curb appeal, but it also tends to slowly come apart. Occasionally, sections need to be rebuilt. On the face of it, this involves taking the stones down and then stacking them back up, but there is more to it. You need to have a plan and some knowledge of building a stable wall to do it right. A few years ago a portion of the wall got to the point where it was clearly going to collapse fairly soon, so something had to be done. I don’t have the strength, the knowledge, nor the desire to prove my manliness to do this job. So, I called two landscape companies for estimates.

Just making the call made me aware of my middle class privilege. Not only can I afford to live in a desirable neighborhood with nice landscaping and well cared for houses, I can also afford to pay someone else to do my part to make sure it stays that way. I do this with the vast majority of the maintenance on my house. Walking into a Home Depot or Lowes makes me feel overwhelmed, but buying and using something as simple as a can of WD-40 gives me that “I’m a man!” rush. I’ll usually watch whoever repairs whatever is broken and feel like I’ve accomplished something. But, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about privilege and racism in everyday life. (more…)

Old friends and the Old 97’s: Rock, Ritual, and Community

I spent the last few days with old friends. I met my friend John when we were roommates during my first year of grad school. He’s married now, living in Boston with his wife and daughter. We’ve stayed friends over the years even though we have a running joke about seeing each other only every 18 months, or so. John and I became fast friends back in 1999 because of our mutual love of music.  For him, it’s Bruce Springsteen who can’t be topped.  I don’t share the love of Bruce, but I understand.  I understand because for me it’s the Old 97’s, the other friends I hung with in Boston this weekend.

Nobody ever sees the drummer.

Now, the 97’s and I aren’t friends in the common usage of the term.  These days I see them less than I visit with John. I’ve never shared a meal or a drink with them. I’ve never even spoken with them, in fact, but over the last 15 years or so I’ve spent 15 to 20 (I’ve lost count) of the best evenings of my life with them.  (more…)

Starting from here

A number of scholars influence my approach to thinking about rituals of community and exclusion, domination and liberation, of power generally.  That sentence certainly gives clues to those who’ve done some reading about these issues.  For a few reasons, it’s worth my time to write briefly about the writers who have influenced my thinking thus far, and what I take away from their social commentaries.  First, I hope that it helps me identify useful ways to synthesize these ideas and to note informative points of contention.  Second, I hope it helps me see holes in my approach to this work I’m doing.  For example, the voices I comment on below are clearly gendered, raced, and otherwise privileged.  To ignore that as I start to think about rituals of power would be irresponsible.  I must also be sure to actually do something about it.  I also note that I regularly wonder how much of my inspiration is a result of misunderstanding.

First, I’m reading a lot of C. Wright Mills (or maybe I’m reading certain selections, a lot).  This is probably no surprise as Mills has made some of the most well known statements, within sociology, about power and individual freedom.  Mills forces me to think about what it means to be free given the intersection of biography with history and fate.  More specifically, we live and act within the rules of institutions that we defend intentionally or implicitly.  It seems clear to me that we frequently are blind to the inhumanity of our actions because we default, as part of the drift, to bureaucratic rationality.  So often one’s defense of an institution takes the form of legitimacy claims that seem meant to malign (imagined) radicals, but also silence those who might otherwise simply wish to engage in constructive conversation with no intention to dismantle said institution. (more…)