I took my three-year-old son to a college football game approximately a week ago. It was between the United States Naval Academy (Navy) and the United States Air Force Academy (Air Force). I would like to say that the premise of the event centered around a football game, but viewing the event through the eyes of my three-year-old son made it apparent that it was so much more than that. Before the game started, a squadron of fighter jets flew over the stadium. This was followed by five paratroopers that jumped out of a plane and gracefully landed on the field about thirty yards away. The entire Navy football event was centered around patriotism, nationalism, structured inter-institutional competitiveness, and social habituation. That may sound vague. Frankly, the whole event felt like a vague expression of traditionalist nationalism.
I people-watched most of the event. I loved seeing the general trend of the attendees (straight-edge conservative types) with a dash of hippies, a sprinkle of underage patrons who had yet to fully assimilate, and a wide variety of characters who didn’t quite fit the mold. My son and I walked around in relatively outspoken Hawaiian shirts that were commented on repeatedly. I assume the lack of conformity made people uncomfortable? Or, perhaps they truly were “rad” shirts. I will currently assume the former. Either way, it was fun to stand out in a way that subtly ruffled feathers indirectly.
It was interesting to explain the acts and actions surrounding the opening ceremony in particular. Explaining why 4,000+ people were wearing the same outfit and walking in unison onto the field was another piece altogether. I dared not explain that it was an impressive show of brainwashing and coercion on the part of our federal government, but rather, a collective expression of our innate human need for meaning, purpose, and affiliation. I doubt he understood most of it. I figured that it was worth the effort regardless of his apparent inability to comprehend why everyone was standing up as a piece of multi-colored cloth rose slowly up a massive metal pole, why everyone put their hands across their hearts, why a small group of teenagers yelled “Oh!” during, and why everyone could sit back down afterward.
I thought, “Wait a second. Why do we do all of these things?” I have been doing these things my whole life. I marched onto that field over ten years ago. I wore that white uniform. I bought into everything that I had been told. I was convinced of the prestige. I had taken part in the collaborative effort to extinguish the Middle East’s influence on our sovereignty. I had been a cog in that massive wheel that perpetuated the belief in “something more”. I am still a cog in an even larger wheel that supplies the funding for both institutions essentially just from being alive and a law-abiding citizen in this relatively peaceful and democratic society.
I began to once again question the socially constructed habits. I began to view the Navy football ceremony and all of its pieces as powerful pageantry; and nothing more. The belief in those symbols is what gave those actions power. It is that same belief that gives power to institutional symbols, colors, and culture. It is that same belief that provides the infrastructure that supports those institutions through tax dollars generated by the belief in cultural norms and habituations that perpetuate the cyclical motion of economic turnover. Nothing new. Sociology is riddled with reasons for this behavior. Seeing all of these events through the eyes of my toddler reminded me that so much of life happens unconsciously (especially as we get older).
Not all of the Navy football game seems extraneous, useless, or superfluous. Not by any means. Those powerful constructs provide so much meaning and purpose to lives that may have been riddled with incongruity, listlessness, and a lack of motivation. They are the bulwark against a life lived without a sense of purpose, however, it seems rather trivial to say that any of it should exist, to begin with. That is not to say that if you begin to unravel the reasons as to why they won’t lead you to rational and objective reasons that make sense based on historic events. I guess answering his rather trivial questions allowed me to see the entire event through a new lens. However, the more it changes, the more it stays the same.