Sports and Nations

18 06 2010

I watched Mexico beat France at Cleo’s on Chicago Ave, sitting in the big open doors that give out onto the street. At the final whistle, hoots broke out up and down the street, accented by a few choice celebrations in Spanish. I asked my buddy Alberto, who is Mexican-American, about how strong Mexican nationalism was–say, as compared to loyalty to your region or town (or indigeneity)–in Mexico.

I was surprised to learn that pride in being Mexican, as opposed to say, Michoacan, is very strong all over Mexico, including among the rural poor, particularly around athletics.

It’s surprising because the idea of a “Mexican nation” (as opposed to a “Mexican country” which has no personal identity component) is fairly recent–less than two hundred years old–and was originally championed by the European-descended metropolitan professional classes. And also, Mexico the country was a fabrication of European settlers.

The symbols of Mexico–at parades, at sporting events, in civic culture–are often lifted from Mayan and Aztec civilization. Yet their intellectual and political elites, even their professional athletes, are primarily descendants of Europeans. That rural people more closely descended from indigenous groups would so fervently buy in to a construction of Europeans settlers–complete with the somewhat contradictory pre-Columbian symbolism–is a little counter-intuitive.

But that’s the thing about nationalism; the concept of a nationalism wrapped up in national identity is fairly new and based on intellectual and legal constructs, rather than anything tangible or historical. And in most parts of the world, those constructs were a result of European commercial and imperial activities. Being a, say, Zimbabwean nationalist takes as a settled question the reality of a “nation” of Zimbabwe. Just as often in those places, the European-fabricated nation-state is in peril because free of the bonds of imperial administration, more “natural” in-groups–tribes, religious sects, clans, etc.–begin to buck against the coercive power of the state.

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Your Favorite Movie Is Not What You Think

12 04 2010

I always expect there to come a day when I’ll look around my apartment–maybe by then a house–and all the shit I’ve accumulated since I’ve been old enough to start accumulating shit will have been responsibly disposed of. So, for example, I will have thrown out my old campaign signs and stuffed moose and local band 7 inches. I assume Future Ramsin, who pays his bills on time and in fact sets aside a specific day of the month to do so, will make a big boy decision to throw away the cardboard and construction paper coffin with “R.I.P. G.O.P.” written on it from my 2006 election return watch party.

I can’t wait for that day, because until then I will continue to waste hours of precious, rapidly expiring life doing things like trying to find my Billy Ripken error card, seeing if I can finally beat the “on the satellite” level of Goldeneye for N64, and comparing the “student survey” results of my 7th and 8th grade yearbooks.

Hey, so I came across a section of my 7th grade yearbook that included the results of “survey” taken each grade level. It asked questions like, “Favorite song”, “favorite band”, “favorite actor”, “favorite teacher catchphrase” and “favorite movie.” Here’s a couple facts it revealed: in 1994, 7th graders’ favorite musical act was Mariah Carey, and girl 7th graders were more reliable survey respondents than 7th grade boys.

But a pang of guilt I felt after rolling my eyes in playful shame at the choice of The Bodyguard as “our” favorite movie stayed with me long enough to get me thinking: “Who’re you, Troy Dyer? What would a ‘good’ answer to that question be?”

Pop culture is the most reliable social currency, for all debts public and private. And like money, it’s a signifier of your place in the social order. Your favorite comedy is There’s Something About Mary or The Hangover or Wet Hot American Summer? Each of these answers sends a signal: “I’m this general sort of person.” When you answer that question, are you supposed to pick a movie that demonstrates what kind of movie you like? Your favorite movie to watch? Or the movie you never turn off, if it’s on?

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