Another Week Ends

1. Lots of Cubs love to be had this week. First, if you didn’t see […]

1. Lots of Cubs love to be had this week. First, if you didn’t see the incredibly sweet line up of grandma and grandpa reactions on NPR this week, go there first.

And then there’s Bill Murray, at it again, giving a free Game Six ticket to a stranger from Indiana. And it was a ticket to sit right next to him!

And as if we needed any sort of Mockingbird defense of the whole spectacle—or of the whole spectacle of sports fanmanship overall—a great Science of Us bit about the power of sports teams to vicariously represent us. As the article explains, a series like the Cubs-Indians one puts in drastic relief the competitive nature of our own lives—the stakes against us, the curses we’re up against, the general need to win. So there is certainly an abreactive element to our high blood pressure during a sporting event—we are channeling a heightened version of our own bouts. And on top of that, when our team wins, regardless of our personal relationship with the players and managers involved, there’s a deep sense in sports that that win speaks over us in a powerful sense. We are winners, too. There is some serious vicarious representation going on in Chicago this week! Everyone is hugging each other. This is what psychologists (and this article) would call a ‘parasocial relationship’—a standing that speaks intimacy from a one-sided vantage point.

If you feel like you were a part of it — if you say “we won” after the Cubs victory — in a very real sense, you were and are. On one hand, fandom is a parasocial relationship, what psychologists call the one-sided connection that marks the “intimacy at a distance” that people have with celebrities. Very few Cubs fans know Zobrist personally, but that doesn’t mean that the relationships that flower around sports aren’t real.

As Eric Simons, author of The Secret Lives of Sports Fans: The Science of Sports Obsession, told the Seattle Times, “Fans get so much from identifying with a team, in ways even players don’t,” he said. “The athletes can be mercenaries, but the fan is permanent.” There are tons of psychological effects, lots of which have to with community: If you’re a Cubs fan, it’s hard to feel lonely or alienated right now. Experimental anthropologist Dimitris Xygalatas has found, through rigging up biomarker trackers to fire-walkers and the people who love them, that spectators of a high-stakes ritual — like a fire-walking ritual, or, presumably, the World Series — go through physiological states in synchrony. The more closely you identify with the participant, the more your interior states mirror theirs. It’s all a part of “collective effervescence,” the way that humans have synced together in ecstatic rhythm — in the crowd or on the dance floor — since time out of mind. Which, by the way, is the last time the Cubs won the Series.

2. One hell of an article about the religious nature of Cormac McCarthy’s writing over at Commonweal. McCarthy, who has always had an extremely gruesome eye for detail and ingenious sense of evil, may not be your first pick for redemptive themes, and certainly no one’s pick for themes of clemency or mercy. But Matthew Boudway argues otherwise. Sure, McCarthy has a distrust of “homiletic” heroes, and gives his best lines to his metaphysical villains. But, from Boudway’s vantage point, this is because his heroes are human and his villains are not. His villains are certain, about fate, about the godlessness of their existence. McCarthy’s ability to evoking pity for his heroes, despite their malicious acts, is because they are also confused and thwarted misfits. McCarthy is masterful at laying the ugly ground by which mercy to one of these misfits is actually offensive.

McCarthy’s abiding interest in a category of characters we might loosely call “losers”—the alienated, the undesired and undesirable, the freakish and the forgotten, the terminally disappointed—may be the best evidence that he possesses an essentially Christian moral imagination. It is possible to read Child of God as a test case for Karl Barth’s claim that “we have to think of every human being, even the oddest, most villainous or miserable, as one to whom Jesus Christ is Brother, and God is Father.” Can we really think of Ballard in that way, no matter what we say we believe about the extent of God’s love? Can we accept, or even imagine, that a murderous necrophiliac, really is “a child of God”—in that way like ourselves, if in no other? Late in the novel, McCarthy suggests that one might even pity Ballard if one could see him in his cave: “In the morning when the light in the fissure dimly marked him out this drowsing captive looked so inculpate in the fastness of his hollow stone you might have said he was half right who thought himself so grievous a case against the gods.” Ballard’s neighbors in the hill country of Tennessee have every reason to hate him. Ballard, for his part, has pretty good reasons to hate “the gods.” If grace is no less real or important than justice, then it must somehow find room for itself between these two reasonable hatreds. Christian readers of this novel are forced to ask themselves if their God could really command anyone to love a creature as vile as Lester Ballard, without illusion but also without reservation.

3. No way this article could be covered sufficiently in AWE, but one that has been on our minds, especially in its continuity with the Mental Health Issue. The cover story for Time this issue is Teen Depression and Anxiety, and its connection to the growing phenomenon of ‘cutting’ and self-harm. The article focuses on the causes for this rise in teen angst, and while overparenting and performancism are certainly mentioned, the main target in the article is social media—the ever-connectedness of teenagers from a plethora sources of anxiety.

“I couldn’t tell you how many students are being malicious to each other over Instagram or Snapchat,” she says of the elementary school where she’s the sole counselor for more than 500 kids. “I’ve had cases where girls don’t want to come to school because they feel outcasted and targeted. I deal with it on a weekly basis.”

Conventional wisdom says kids today are oversupervised, prompting some parenting critics to look back fondly to the days of latchkey kids. But now, even though teens may be in the same room with their parents, they might also, thanks to their phones, be immersed in a painful emotional tangle with dozens of their classmates. Or they’re looking at other people’s lives on Instagram and feeling self-loathing (or worse). Or they’re caught up in a discussion about suicide with a bunch of people on the other side of the country they’ve never even met via an app that most adults have never heard of.

4. On the subject of peer judgment (on a lighter note), this was in the NYT last week, about the nuanced courtroom of your personal email tics.

“This isn’t just email, this is identity, said Hilary Campbell, a 25-year-old cartoonist in Brooklyn. “I feel like I’m always trying to balance this sense of being a smart, sensible, reliable person who is also very FUN and quirky.” So she peppers drawings into her emails. She plays with punctuation and capitalization (note the “FUN”). Sometimes she signs off with “Puppy Hugs, Hilary” (though, she noted, she’s not sure if that’s doing her any favors in the being-taken-seriously category).

It’s a lot to think about, from subtle cues in punctuation (“I get frightened when people don’t use exclamation points,” Ms. Campbell said) to specific emoji choice to indicate tonal nuance…Once you put one foot into the rabbit hole, it’s easy to sink deep. There are interpretations of response time: Do you want to be perceived as that available by responding immediately? Or will you, like me, forget to reply altogether if you don’t do it fast?

5. Another Science of Us post this week talks about the work of Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain and author of the new book, On Living. Egan, who was also on Fresh Air this week, explains that there is a common person who comes to mind for those who are dying: their mother.

And let’s have an update on the funeral industry, shall we? When the market moves, your sales pitch must move with it! So, in an age when funeral homes are selling fewer and fewer caskets and doing more and more cremations, funeral “gatherings” are becoming the new industry. Replete with “multisensory experience rooms” with music and wall screens, families can say goodbye to their loved one in a virtual wooded landscape, or a football stadium, or a beachside barbecue. Talk about The Loved One (ht MM): “Many funeral homes are eliminating casket-viewing rooms, considered depressing. Instead, customers view service and merchandise options on flat screens, “just like if you shop on Amazon,” Mr. Rex said.”

6. If you can hold your foodie nose for a second, the Guardian writes about the common Church of McDonald’s, a place that—despite what you may say of its food ethics—is the social glue for so many people, particularly society’s outcasts. This article captures the social lives of many of its regulars—from morning Bible studies to old folks’ gatherings to something of a dignified day shelter for those who need it.

It isn’t just groups who use McDonald’s. For many of the poorest, for the homeless, and for people caught in an addiction, McDonald’s are an integral part of their lives. They have cheap and filling food, they have free Wi-Fi, outlets to charge phones, and clean bathrooms. McDonald’s is also generally gracious about letting people sit quietly for long periods – longer than other fast-food places.

In Natchitoches, Betty Ryder arrives at the McDonald’s every day around 9am, with her book and packs of cigarettes, and smelling of perfume. She buys a cup of coffee, puts in exactly six sugars, and sits at her favorite table.

“I have had a very rough life. Been through a lot. My present situation leaves me without a home between 8am and 7pm, and McDonald’s is kind enough to allow me to sit here.”


Trevor Noah talks liberal anger and Chronicles of Narnia

-Best headline of the week: “British scientists don’t like Richard Dawkins, finds study that didn’t even ask questions about Richard Dawkins”

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