One running joke about hipsters is that they were into x before it was cool. Usually, the x refers to various bands (although I understand that hipster Batman fans were into Mr. Freeze before he was cool). It’s as if hipsters take pride in not being part of whatever they think is mainstream. Naturally, this annoys non-hipsters, which is — I think — the point of being a hipster.
But we all do that. We all form our own little communities, and as other people join those communities, things naturally change. Our understanding of what it means to be in that community is challenged by the new ideas. Sometimes, we can’t tolerate the direction the community goes, and we get out, and all we can say is that being part of that group doesn’t mean what it used to mean.
One incident that I can use as an example is from my high school years back in the 1990’s. I went to a private non-denominational Christian school, and I was a member of a singing group that toured various churches. The director of the group was a long-time family friend (years later he would be one of the two officiants at my wedding). However, right before my senior year he announced that he wouldn’t be returning to direct. I struggled with the decision of whether or not to audition for the group again. In the end, I auditioned, and it was a mistake. The new director and I did not see eye to eye on what the group was supposed to be. (More than once, she critiqued us — or, as I perceived it, criticized us — for being “so white.” And I wanted to say to her, “Yes! Yes, we are! We are almost all very, very white kids, with all the stereotypes that belong there. Stop trying to make us into pop-gospel singers. It makes everyone uncomfortable.”) Since I graduated, I obviously didn’t have a choice as to whether or not to continue in the group, but had that choice been available, I would have run as fast as I could before even thinking of auditioning again. My community had changed.
Much more difficult to define, though, is the feeling of community one gets simply by being a fan of something. I don’t just mean “liking” it on Facebook — I mean really being into a form of entertainment. The hipsters talk about liking bands before they were cool; the theory behind it seems to be:
- There are really enjoyable bands that are not well-known.
- A lot of well-known bands are not ones that I enjoy.
- Therefore, if a band is well-known, they are not enjoyable.
- Any band I enjoy that becomes well-known, I am no longer able to enjoy.
- Anyone who enjoys a well-known band — even one that I used to enjoy — is clearly inferior to me because of my selectivity.
This is the joke many of us make about the hipster culture. To me, it seems that a more genuine, honest assessment would be:
- If a band I like becomes well-known, either they have changed their musical style to meet popular commercial tastes that I do not enjoy, or popular commercial tastes have changed enough to accept this band.
- If they have changed their musical style, I probably do not enjoy them as much anymore.
- If popular commercial tastes have changed, I have to accept that I am not all that different from other people in this aspect; however, these people also like some music that I find absolutely atrocious, so I don’t want to be linked with them.
- Even if I still like the band, I will act as if I don’t because I don’t like the band’s new fans.
I struggle with this in many ways. There are songs that I used to really enjoy until they were re-done by a band I hated, or sampled in a way that sucked out the life I felt pulsed in the original version. For example, I will never forgive “Puff Daddy” for “I’ll Be Missing You.” (I understand Sting actually approved of the “remake” and even performed it once or twice. I’m pretty sure I won’t forgive Sting either.)
Those 700 words that you just read actually bring me to the point of this post.
This is how Tim Tebow makes me feel about the NFL.
I don’t dislike Tebow as a person. I don’t even mind how openly he wears his faith. As a Christian myself, I like to believe that I am open about my faith (although I don’t take a knee in prayer every time I successfully handle an auto claim), and from all accounts — even from those who don’t like him — Tebow is a very genuine person and his prayers aren’t just for show.
However, Tebowmania has attracted a new breed of football fan, and I don’t like it.
There are thousands of people out there who seem to think that Tebow wins because God wants him to, or because God wants him to have a platform for witnessing to the world. And many of these people have never really watched the NFL before, and maybe didn’t even know who Tebow was until his recent improbable streak of wins, but they are now fans of Tebow and will watch his games and will root for him only because of his openness about his faith.
This bothers me, a lot.
I watch football because I enjoy so many things about the game — the strategy, the athleticism, the violence, the legalism of the rules, and so on. I don’t really care about the players as people. I don’t want them to be horrible people, but whether or not they’re Christian, Buddhist, atheist, whatever — it doesn’t really concern me when I’m watching the games any more than it concerns me whether a news anchor or an actor or a musician or a painter holds my religious views.
Thinking that God wants Tebow to win makes some assumptions that I can’t stand. One is that Tebow is somehow more Godly than other players, many of whom have a quiet faith that they share personally. There are LOTS of players who pray during games. Tebow is not the only one, and making assumptions about his lifestyle versus their lifestyles is a dangerous thing for a fan to do.
Another assumption is that God directly controls the outcomes of football games. Now, I know some people believe that God directly controls everything (let’s argue about free will another time) and some believe that God is completely hands off (I don’t agree with that either), but whenever the Broncos lose a game, these fans aren’t saying, “Oh, gosh. God must have been really happy with Kyle Orton” or “Huh, I wonder if Tebow sinned today. I bet he masturbated.”
What bothers me the most about Tebow is that I’m watching Christian people turn into fans of the NFL only as long as a win by Tebow justifies their own belief that being a Christian gives you a special advantage to everyday life beyond the spiritual benefits. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t.
Being a Christian doesn’t change what happens to you. It should change how you react to it.
Now before anyone accuses me of being a Tebow-basher, I want to reiterate that I have no problem with him as a person. I don’t think he’s a great quarterback, and that’s another reason I don’t like this new wave of fans — many seem to think that he can do no wrong and that the proof is in the wins the Broncos racked up. Even a cursory examination of the games will show that most of the time, the Broncos were winning in spite of Tebow. I’ll give him credit — he played pretty well to win the playoff game against the Steelers, and even I’ll be rooting for the Broncos to take out the Patriots. But the feeling of the new fans that Tebow wins the games and the rest of the Broncos are benefiting from his holiness flies in the face of everything that makes football fandom a community to me.
For those of you who are more interested in music than football, it would be like having a new wave of fans of your favorite band, almost none of whom connect with the music the way that you do, but all of whom seem to think that they get played on the radio because the bass guitarist has a great goatee, and that’s all they can talk about.
I don’t hate Tebow fans. I just don’t want them changing my community that much.
(For more on the strange link between certain Christian beliefs and life and sports, read Rick Reilly’s excellent column from February 2000 here: http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/inside_game/magazine/life_of_reilly/news/2000/02/01/life_of_reilly/)