Since then, I watched rugby being played on television with the sound off last weekend and, not knowing much about the game’s rules, was amazed at the players’ prowess but had no idea what to cheer about. On Sunday, I watched the Grammy Awards with the sound on and heard a lot of cheering but just couldn’t figure out what the cheering was about.
In high school, I cheered. We had pep rallies and cheer leaders. We cheered at football games. We were led in cheers extolling the offense to go down the field and the defense to hold that line, and in cheers appreciating the wounded warrior taken from the field of action. We cheered as one voice spontaneously when a runner broke loose or when a long pass connected.
We were really “old school” back then — no trash talk allowed, no belittling the ones you beat. Sort of like a golden rule of competing: play the way you want to be played against— play clean, win clean, don’t make it personal.
More recently, I recall chanting “Yes We Can” and “Four More Years.” The last time I recall really letting out a hearty cheer was on Election Night 2012 and before that Election Night 2008. But I know winning elections is one thing, an important thing, but only the start of governing. I think there is a rule of campaigning that says winning at all cost will not lead to good governance.
Over the years I’ve chanted “LBJ, How Many Boys Have You Killed Today” and “Hell No We Won’t Go.” I’ve cheered when my horse won at the track. I cheered when I saw Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. But I’ve never chanted “USA.”
I’ve joined in cheering performers at music events and plays. I’ve never cheered boxers beating each other up or professional wrestlers throwing each other out of the ring.
Maybe it’s all a matter of taste but in all cases I can understand the seductive power of joining in to cheer, whether it be for the Seahawks or for Daft Punk or your favorite rugby team: it’s being a part of the shared power of the many, the willing suspension of the individual to the voice of the whole.
With sports and music, one can forget, at least for awhile, that it’s bread and circuses, not real life as we know our everyday life. While we are cheering as one voice, we can forget these are multi-million dollar industries selling products and experiences. Nobody cheers for Boeing or Microsoft or Amazon. But it’s entertainment and, as long as nobody gets hurt, it remains entertainment.
But what we cheer for in our real lives isn’t entertainment. When we cheer the victor and demean the loser, we sully the contest. When we cheer the performance, winners and losers, we elevate the contest. What we cheer for and how we cheer, I think, makes a big difference in how we see our world.
So, when was the last time you cheered?