So, earlier today on this Super Bowl eve, I was standing in the checkout line in the supermarket where, needless to say, everyone and their grandmother was buying things like wings, chips and dip.
As the cashier was ringing up my eggs, hummus and tuna, he asked me, "So, who do you have YOUR money on?"
"I'm not a sports fan," I replied. "To be honest, I'll be glad when it's over. No offense to football fans," I added.
"Well, there you go!" The guy responded, suddenly looking at me as if I were a member of the Taliban.
It happens every year and of course, every year, my answer is the same ...
"I'm not a sports fan." I'm so far beyond even pretending that I'm even remotely interested. Here's why.
I just didn't grow up thinking that sports was the end all. I grew up in the culturally-rich environment of New York City where I was bombarded with art, museums, libraries and so on. However, New York City is home to some of the world's biggest, most prestigious pro sports franchises along with the most rabidly loyal fans in the world.
How did I miss this? Well, to be honest, I think that even as a city kid, I sensed that sports was almost this way of making kids conform somehow. Yes, to this day, it's important to teach kids how to compete because we DO live in a competitive world. However, I think that even back then, I wasn't someone who was going to blindly follow the crowd and do what everyone else seemed to be doing.
I have a theory about many sports fans. I think that they're essentially followers. I mean, that's what fans ARE. They're followers. As I'm chatting with you, I'm actually wondering what percentage of sports fans are truly sports fans and how many of them are just going along with the crowd for the sake of "belonging."
Hey, there's nothing wrong with wanting to belong or even following the crowd. When it comes to issues involving the law and conventional wisdom, following the crowd is likely advisable. However, that's not what I'm talking about here.
I've just never understood why I'm supposed to watch games on television or go to stadiums and cheer on people who throw, grab, chase and hit balls. Pun and innuendo very much intended. I've also never understood why many athletes are treated like Demi-Gods. Where's the fun in that? I guess it's fun if you're a crowd follower ... or should I say, "Fan." To me, it seems like a lot of work and personal compromise for the sake of "fitting in."
You know, I think that contemporary art has its own fan base or crowd followers. However, with art, I think it's different. Yes, many people are fans of Picasso and Warhol, but art remains more of a solitary pursuit if you hope to learn and grow.
Even when I attend art events with artist friends, we all know that looking at art is like going to the movies. You may be amongst a crowd of art-loving friends, but everything is about YOU and that painting or work of art that you're looking at. Art is a spectacle, but it's not a spectator sport. It's a solitary experience.
When sports fans watch games, they're witnessing someone else doing all of the work. When art lovers look at art, they're seeing a finished product, but they still must bring THEIR "A-Game" in order to understand and relate to whatever it is that they're observing.
Having said that, let's face it. It's also easy to follow the "art crowd." As we all know, the art crowd DOES exist. Everyone wants to belong to something, I suppose. Yet that hasn't been my experience. Maybe that's also because I'm a writer. I just don't think you can be an art writer and a crowd follower at the same time. I spend so much time alone looking, thinking, assessing, pondering, writing, re-writing and editing. It's certainly not a process that lends itself to crowd following. I feel like I was doing this stuff even back when I was a kid visiting places like the Guggenheim.
Okay, I'll just say it. I just don't think that following the crowd, the way many sports fans seem to do, is very healthy. It seems to be the easiest way to surrender your individuality and moral compass. I mean, haven't we all seen what happens when "pack mentality" sets in? I don't know. Perhaps I need to be "on the inside" to really, "get it."
That'll never happen. Art has taught me that when the crowd goes THIS way, perhaps I should at least consider going THAT way. Try a different route. Maybe even blaze a trail. I'm not a crowd follower. You get weird looks when you're not a crowd follower, but the non-negotiable benefit is that you're always FREE.
Don't get me wrong though. If I'm at a Super Bowl party (which I won't be) where everyone is cheering on their favorite team, I'll cheer along. I won't be a stick in the mud, but when it's all over, just don't expect me to go along with the crowd when they say ...
"Wow! Wasn't THAT a blast?"