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ROGER ROSENBLATT: See them in the uniforms of their favorite teams, the numbers of their favorite players: Ordinary citizens in the stands at baseball, football, basketball games, screaming, stomping, high-fiving for the team of their choice. The fan is part of the game. Radio’s Bob and Ray used the old joke, “I don’t know why it’s so hot in the ballpark today with all these fans.” But the fans can blow an ill wind, too.
Year after year, game after game, they erupt from their seats in a frenzy of happiness, or in a rage at a call. They are ready to transform the game into a civil war, all because they care so much, they love so much. They live for the Red Sox, the Mets, the Miami heat, the L.A. Lakers, the football Giants, Packers… the Cubs. Oh, the Cubs. And that now-famous game six in this year’s national league pennant series when a fan in the stands snatched away a foul ball from Moisus Alou. The cubs lost the game. They might have won but for the fan who, at game’s end, had to be protected by security guards from other fans. It’s a potentially lethal group- – a mob.
Americans find horrific the scenes of European soccer or football fans, wild in their fury– they kill one another in stampedes– yet we often come close ourselves. A bad movie had it right: In “The Fan,” Robert de Niro pursues Wesley Snipes, a ball player, with deadly enthusiasm. It’s not just sports. Who will forget Kathy Bates’ tortured zeal as James Caan’s biggest fan in Stephen King’s “Misery”? (Screaming ) misery, indeed. “Fanatics have their dreams,” wrote John Keats, “in which they create a strange and parochial paradise.”
Fans are fanatics made colorful and acceptable, but their blood is as hot. Nobody is right but the objects of their affection. Everyone is wrong but the ones they favor. It spills over into politics, into culture, into public life. I hate Bill Clinton or George Bush. I love Jay Leno or David letterman. John W. Hinckley stalked Jodie Foster, then turned his mental torment on a president. Mark David Chapman was John Lennon’s biggest fan, and he killed him.
SPOKESMAN: The Beatles! ( Cheers and applause )
BEATLES: Close your eyes…
ROGER ROSENBLATT: They say that it’s all fairly harmless, this transference of self-love to love of a shortstop or an actor or a rock group. For the most part, it is harmless. Yet it is scary, too, under the skin.
People in a mass become something other than people, a reversion to a prior life form. The bobby soxers who lost themselves in old blue eyes’ blue eyes, the Beatles fans, the fans of the rolling stones. By their eagerness to be as one with the ones they adore, they love in excess, they love too much. I used to enjoy going to ball games, but I do it rarely now. Part of the reason is age, part is that I don’t like the fans of whom I am one.
When I talk of lethal zealotry, I can feel it in myself, and so, in a self-civilizing act, I prefer to watch my teams at home on TV, where I can cheer or boo within nearly acceptable limits. What makes the fan murderous is that he knows no limits, wants no limits. He is of the all-or-nothing mind, the black and white, the love ‘em or hate ‘em– the most dangerous mind in the world.
I’m Roger Rosenblatt.