Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hockey games and societal release of energy

I said I'd write a post about going to see the Sharks play hockey, so here I am. I'm not a typical sports fan, myself - I like to watch superb athleticism, teamwork, and coordination with as few breaks as possible, but I don't tend to get heavily riled up if the Sharks lose a game. In a way I suppose it's my tendency to distance myself that makes me good at seeing things from an anthropological perspective. I feel the disappointment, but I say, "It's a game; it's not that important." And it works.

On the other hand, there's something wonderful about being a part of an enormous crowd. When the Sharks score a goal the surge of noise is incredible, and I stand and shout and jump with everyone. That thrill isn't feigned. It's the same kind of transport I feel when I listen to a taiko drum concert. Being picked up and carried by the noise, and the rhythms. Feeling a part of something enormous. It releases a particular kind of energy that can't be released in any other way I know of. This is an energy that is visceral, and when it comes in enormous crowd form, it's most often channeled to keep it from getting ugly (but not always, as with English soccer hooligans).

The crowd-scale expression of visceral emotion performs a vital function in a society - so if the society you're creating lacks this, you might want to consider filling the gap with something. Gladiator spectacle. Sports. Drum or rock concerts. Massive dance gatherings. Something.

Here's a pet peeve of mine. In Star Wars: The Phantom Menace you had this incredibly oppressive society, and everyone got together to watch pod races in which participants could quite easily be killed. And everybody was smiling, silly and excited, and the movie spent tons of time showing us how amusing all the pod racers were. My brain said, "No way." I think Anakin's mom and I were some of the only ones who knew what the more realistic scenario would have been. Exhilaration and terror. A crowd on the verge of murder.

Societies will tend to control personal behavior to different degrees. And each society will control behavior to a different extent at different times of life. Very often you'll find that there are opportunities for extravagance and deviant behavior built into a particular life model. Japan puts a lot of stringent controls on children up until their graduation from high school, and again following their entry into the workforce - but they relax those to a maximal extent in the college years, for those who attend college. In my story, "Let the Word Take Me," I built a society that had extremely strong rules about speech behavior, requiring speech to occur only in certain ways under certain conditions - and to counter that, I built in a coming-of-age period in which new discoveries and new uses for speech were not only allowed, but required.

I'm not saying we should all have worlds that contain sports. But it is important to realize that human energy doesn't always stay in a highly organized form, and as we build societies, to include opportunities for that more chaotic side of human energy to show itself.