Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Sports and Our Need for Drama

Well, the Mighty Ducks got bumped out a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday by the Edmonton Oilers.

Why is it about people and sports? Why do some people feel the need to connect themselves with a team by becoming fans? Why do some people seem to act like the fact that they are fans means they had something to do with the accomplishments of their team? And why will these same diehards "turn" on their team when the team doesn't do well? People are funny.

In David Mamet's book "Three Uses of the Knife" he talks about how we need drama in our lives. When we don't get enough of it from movies and books we create it in our lives. We look at the world around us and have a natural tendency to see it as a drama that revolves around us.

I can't find my copy of the book (if you have mine please let me know!) but I remember a great passage where he talked about how we view sporting events. It's natural to assume that when we watch our favorite team, we just want them to come out and dominate, completely steamrolling and humiliating their opponents. But we don't. What we really want is to see a three act drama, just like we expect to see in a movie. I'll try to paraphrase what I remember from the book:

Here's the perfect game, for a fan: in the first "act" of the drama, your team comes out and does well. Things seem great. But all of a sudden disaster strikes! A player from the opposing team makes an underhanded move and injures our star player, who has to leave the game on a stretcher. The evil opposing team surges forward!

In the second act we have what the call in our business "Progressive complications". Everything goes wrong for our team. We get all the unfair calls. Are the crooked refs throwing the game? Our players get hurt at every turn by the opposing team, who refuses to play fair. Even our promising rookie is held scoreless. Our team falls further and further behind. At the end of Act 2 (like in most movies) it seems that all hope is lost.

Now Act 3 begins. Our star player returns after a miraculous recovery! He closes the gap between our team and theirs. Suddenly our team is firing on all cylinders again! They are coming on strong but the clock is ticking. Can they catch up?

As the final seconds tick down (in slow motion, at least to us) our star player makes a fancy move that ensures we will win...but his scoring chance is blocked illegally as the final seconds wind down...and suddenly the rookie comes out from nowhere and pulls off an unbelievably amazing move that wins the game by one point just as the buzzer sounds! We win!

So that's what you really want to see, right? Even if my team is winning in a lopsided game I start wishing the other team would surge back just to keep it interesting. Especially if you're there in person. When you're watching from home you can turn off the TV if the game stinks. But if you're sitting in the stadium in an expensive seat you always wish you got a good show for your money, and agood show means great drama.

All of David Mamet's books on Film and Acting are fascinating reading. I don't always agree with him but he always has a really interesting take on things. I highly recommend "On Directing Film", "Three Uses of the Knife" and "True and False."


AndyG said...

Interesting, but... no, I want my team to steamroll the opposition please!

DanO said...

i feel for you. watching your team firing on all pistons for the first 2 rounds and then get ousted in the third is a painful sting. i too was rooting for those Neidermeyers.
i took the Devils loss in stride - as always:

Nick Sung said...

These are all great GREAT books--
Mamet is a really good fellow to get you thinking about what you have to do practically to get your ideas across--take advantage of the medium and using every part of the buffalo--getting everything to do its job.

How do you find Mamet's approach in 'On Directing Film' fits into animation story?

Jayenti Collins said...

the ducks loss was a double-edged sworde for me. i didn't want them to win because they ousted my team, the flames, but the team that beat them is our rivals. so, needless to say, i'm cheering for the east to win the cup!

Mark McDonnell said...

Impressive blog man. Very nice to come here for sme substance.


Jenny said...

Jeez, a Mamet reader! Okay, I'll bite(rushes out to library).

That's a great post, btw.

Marmax said...

Well it's those games that teams win when they have no hope that are unforgettable. First game I think of is the 88 Dodgers World Series game when Kirk Gibson limps up to pinch hit and hit a home run to win the game.

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for all the great comments...and sympathy. Dano, I, too had Neidermeyermania.
Jayenti, I hear you, Gerber was a former Ducks goalie backup so I guess I'm rooting for the 'Canes.

Nick-I read the book years ago, but much of it had a big impact on me, particularly the idea of "simple, uninflected shots." I should read it again, though. "True and False" has a lot of interesting things to say about working with executives.

Welcome, mark! Get reading Jenny! Good point marmax! And andyg I don't believe you. Search your soul.

Dik Pose said...

I was just talking to a friend about this last night... I am a HUGE baseball fan, Angels... and I have decided that I am going to try to NOT invest myself this season, its an addiction, energy being spent in a void that provides little in return...

I will have to check out those Mamet books..

Great Post...

mark kennedy said...

No kidding. I was very relieved when the Ducks were ousted. Such a waste of energy and time.

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Canada Viagra said...

yeah it is so interesting, but not always, we want to be follower of a team, just for be famous, I don't think so, I' a baseball fan, and every game I lose stress. that's a good way to reducing it.