Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Escaping the Prison of the Past

Let my people go!

At some point I feel like I stopped writing about the Lions and my own experience as a fan and started writing about Lions fans in general. I’m not entirely happy with this. I’m not entirely sure why or when it happened but I suspect it has something to do with how tightly we are collectively wound as a fanbase right now. All I know is that I kind of want it to stop. So, naturally, my way of doing this, lunatic that I am, is to write about it some more. Commence vicious groaning.

We are tightly wound largely because for the first time in a long time this season feels like it has real, meaningful stakes. It’s not just a farcical circus, like those terrible Millen years, years in which we could all just sit back, shake our heads, cry on each other’s shoulders and universally agree that everyone and everything was awful and should be burned at the stake. And it doesn’t feel like a prelude to something else, something better, like the last couple of years have been. No. This year, it feels like it matters. I’ve written a bit about this before. If this goes wrong, then . . . well, we’ll all be in the streets punching each other in the dongs and lady dongs, heaving pitchforks at dazed security guards outside of Ford Field and gibbering about Occupying the Ford Family. We can’t even deal with the idea that this could fail. Forget about the reality.

That’s why we’re wound so tight. And that’s why we’ve already begun turning on each other like vicious, feral animals even though, all things considered, the world of the Detroit Lions is a pretty sunny place right now. Sure, the candy and blowjobs machine might be acting up a bit, but things are still good and we need to remember that. It’s kind of frightening how quickly people can become spoiled, how quickly they can forget that not long ago a win – any win – was cause for wild celebration and joy in our hearts. Now, a win isn’t good enough. Now, we have to win the right way. I include myself in this. Following the Lions win over the Vikings on Sunday, I wrote a long, emoish piece stained with tears of blood and my own shame and then some people yelled at me, and hey, you know what? For the most part, they were right. I’ve gotten caught up in that tightly wound psycho circus which has affected everything this season. We’re all a little nuts and I might be the craziest one of all.

Still, I’m not going to deny my feelings. I mean, that’s part of the story right now. Things are crazy. We’re irrational, completely capable of putting things in their proper perspective and if I felt unhappy following the Vikings game, then that’s what I had to write about. Whether those feelings were appropriate or not is kind of irrelevant. That was just . . . truth. It was a statement about where we are collectively as a fanbase right now as much as it was a statement about the Lions as a team. Despite how good things have gone this season – at least on a big picture comparative scale, in which this season looks like the Garden of Eden compared to the fucking Hellraiser Pit of the Damned most of our seasons have looked like – we’re not in a good place as fans. I wish it wasn’t true, but it is, and, well, here we are.

I’m not sure if I really remember a season that has felt this contentious, this . . . angry. People are flipping out about every little thing. If it isn’t the play on the field, it’s the team’s reputation in the media. If it isn’t Matthew Stafford’s smile (or lack thereof) it’s Ndamukong Suh’s cantankerous intransigence. If it isn’t lashing out at the media, it’s lashing out at each other. Over every tiny little thing. Everybody who isn’t exactly like you is bullshit. Their opinion is part of a systemic poison that needs to be eradicated from the fanbase before the team can move forward. You have dudes running around on Twitter conducting Pogroms, ethering whole segments of the fanbase simply because they aren’t happy enough or are too happy or who boo at the wrong time or whatever. Everybody is carrying on like a goddamn angry Nazi. I’m not excluding myself from this either.

We’re just wound way, way too tightly. I saw this all coming. I did. I have talked about it off and on for a while now, but still . . . goddamn, we have become completely ridiculous. Today, everyone is collapsing onto their fainting couches because they didn’t like what Ndamukong Suh said – or didn’t say – during a radio interview. Yesterday, people were frothing at the mouth and damning each other to hell for feeling nervous at the end of the Vikings game. Before that, people were whipping themselves and each other, both bemoaning their own “betrayal” as fans by their “thuggish” team and pissing on others for saying the exact same things. We are a miserable bunch, vicious and mean, and nobody seems like they’re happy these days. Which is a shame, because, hey, this team is probably headed for the playoffs dudes and lady dudes. The fucking playoffs! Again, perspective. Perspective.

Negativity and criticism by themselves aren’t bad things. I think this is one of the things that we all need to learn and understand if we are going to move forward without completely melting down and viciously tearing each other apart. If the Lions don’t play well, it’s okay to say so. We don’t have to white knuckle it the whole time, terrified that something bad is going to happen because, hey, something bad will always happen. That’s life. To deny that is to deny reality and to deny reality is to embrace foolish insanity and ultimately, despair. Hey, look, I get it. After years of misery, after years of flailing around in the shit pits of hell, we all want Paradise. Shit, we think we’re entitled to it and anything that doesn’t jibe with that White Picket Fence picture of Paradise we all have in our minds is immediately set upon by the pack and viciously torn apart. Anything and anyone that mars that picture is immediately rejected and condemned as an Enemy of the People.

But our true enemy is delusion. Our true enemy is our inability to deal with reality. The Lions are a good team. They’re not a great team. They’re not a bad team. Really, good team might be overstating it a bit right now. They’re an okay team. They’re not the team that started 5-0 this season. But they’re not the team that’s gone 3-5 since then either. They’re a 10-6 team and that’s damn near miraculous given that only three years ago they were a 0-16 team. You know what? I take it back. The Lions are a good team. 10-6 teams by definition are good teams. Me saying they were just “okay” was just another example of me falling into that trap I just talked about. I got caught up in my own fanciful notions of what good actually means and because reality didn’t exactly match my pie in the sky expectations, I shit on that reality. It’s shameful as hell, but hey, I just did it and I can’t deny that.

But while that is shameful and vaguely pathetic, what is just as bad, if not worse, are the people who have that pie in the sky expectation and then completely discard reality when it doesn’t match that vision. These are the people who refuse to ever admit that anything is less than perfect. These are the people who publicly shame anyone who has the temerity to act like this team is anything other than the ’72 Dolphins. These are people who are clinging to their own self-delusions so fiercely that they are incapable of dealing with the real world in any meaningful or sane way.

Look, we’re all nuts. We’re Lions fans. That shit goes with the territory. It just seems like everything has become too focused on proving who’s more nuts or on arguing whose brand of nuttery is more authentic or more correct. Here’s a hint for you: none of us are. We’re all fucking lunatics, gibbering about paradise from the perspective of the perpetually damned. Of course our visions are all skewed. Of course they are all warped and cracked. We are all inmates of a wild asylum, hooting and making strange noises and flipping out while we bounce off the padded walls. We are all madmen and madwomen, driven insane by half a century of absurd failure.

In the end, the only thing we can trust is our gut instinct, that initial pang of either joy or misery that comes when we’re watching the game. Everything else is irrelevant, just dumb noise. Everything else beyond that is rationalization, an attempt to reconcile our feelings with the grand visions of our wounded brains. If anything, we have to stop trying to constantly put things into perspective. I know that sounds weird and completely contradictory to everything I have said so far, but honestly, that shit is just getting in the way. The big picture – our big picture – is so fractured, so warped, so filled with the dying echoes of a million terrible Failure Demons, that any attempt to make sense out of it is inherently doomed to fail. All we can do is try to accept now for what it is and stop savaging it – and each other – for what it isn’t. Some of us are almost looking for reasons to worry, to bitch, to complain, and that’s because we’re scared our dreams might not come true after all and that the past won’t somehow be answered by the promise of the future. And some of us refuse to ever acknowledge that there’s anything at all to worry about, to bitch about, to complain about, and that’s because we’re scared our dreams might not come true after all and that the past won’t somehow be answered by the promise of the future. In the end, we’re all coming from the same place. Whether it’s in bitching about Ndamukong Suh or in complaining because things aren’t good enough fast enough or whether it’s in denying that there’s ever anything wrong or in saying that anyone who doesn’t gush and rave like a schoolgirl about this team is a shitty fan, the root cause is the same, and that root cause is this: we’re all, every one of us, desperately trying to run from the horror of the past.

And so here’s the answer – at least I think: fuck the past. The only thing we can do is to try to let it stay there, in the past, and to accept this season for what it is. We have to stop making everything that happens about the past. It’s not fair to ourselves, to each other or to our favorite team. There is just too much weight there, too much pressure, too much insane noise, for it to ever be answered properly. If we continue to frame everything in terms of the past, like the present and the future are both nothing more than the answer to that past, then we’re all doomed to failure because in the end, that answer will be nothing more than a mirror and whatever is left of our sanity will just crumble into dust and be blown into the deepest pits of hell if we end up staring back at the reflection of our own cruel and savage past.

This season is this season. Next season is next season. And all the seasons that have come before are meaningless. That is a powerful statement to make but I think that it’s true. The past is just a prison of the mind and of the heart and of the soul. And I’m ready to escape.


Mr. Radon said...

First of all, long time reader, first time visit to the altar of Willie. You may be the best sportswriter since Hunter S. Thompson.

I've always chosen which teams to hate in our division based on their quarterback. For years, I've had the luxury of just aiming square at Brett Favre and unleashing my ire like some sort of fire hose that purges my soul of the darkness that being a Lions fan creates. Now, I can hate on Jay Cutler, because the man smiles less than Charlie Brown, and I can't stand his stupid pouty face.

I took the Green Bay Packers in stride because they beat down both Favre and Cutler in spectacular fashion, and they helped my fantasy team soar to wonderful, beautiful heights last season. But I saw an article today that Suh stomped on Evan Whogives-Acrap because he was instructed by his coach to untie Suh's shoelaces in every pile that formed.

So, hey. Childishness begets childishness, and I hate to have to still be talking about this, but it is what it is. If that's the kind of behavior that wins games, why don't we draft a player who gives excellent wedgies to Mel Kiper at the combine?

My underlying point is this: I propose that to unite the divisive, violent, chemically imbalanced Lions fanbase, we need to forget the past of this season, wins included, and focus squarely on the end of the year - Turning the Packers into a frozen vegetable-colored stain and winning a playoff game again.

Neil said...

Mr. Radon,

First of all, I'm humbled. Thank you for the kind words.

Second of all, yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

This . . .

"I propose that to unite the divisive, violent, chemically imbalanced Lions fanbase, we need to forget the past of this season, wins included, and focus squarely on the end of the year - Turning the Packers into a frozen vegetable-colored stain and winning a playoff game again."

. . . is now our mission statement.