With a belly still full of turkey and pumpkin pie, I left the cozy warmth of my brother’s house and trudged to Folsom Field in Boulder, site of this season’s football game between the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska. It was the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, gray snow clouds hovered low in the sky, and the temperature at game time was a sharp 24 degrees. Attending the game was my brother’s idea, a plan hatched to celebrate my father’s birthday by taking him back to the university campus where he earned his law degree and met my mother. Bundled in our long underwear and looking silly in our wool caps, I joined my father, brother and six-year old nephew as we settled in the bleachers. The game was an exciting prospect for all of us—for my father it was a nostalgic return to a place of pleasant memories; for my brother it was a chance to bring together three generations of the family; for my nephew it was sheer sensory overload; and it was my first time ever to witness a big-time, Division I college football game.
Adding our voices to the cheers and stamping our feet in unison with the 51,000 other fans, we became thoroughly engaged in the spectacle of the game. Within five minutes, we were captivated by the action on the field. Within ten minutes, we were enmeshed in the collective spirit of the crowd. Taken together, the mixture of thrilling athletic display and communal emotional connection was a potent blend of hedonistic excess. In between groans of disappointment after a Nebraska touchdown and outbursts of unadulterated joy in response to a Colorado interception, we connected with our fellow fans by eating, drinking, joking, singing, and occasionally swearing at the referees. This sense of connective social interplay and abandonment to indulgence is termed “psycho-social jouissance” by Richard Giulianotti in his ethnographic study of Scottish soccer fans (1995, p. 194), and we were gleefully in the middle of it. As Colorado fans, we experienced our psycho-social jouissance through a fuse of the incredible on-field action, spontaneous interactions with the people around us, the energizing atmosphere of the stadium, and the sense that our emotions were echoed by thousands of other fans. It was a heady feeling, and arguably one that occurs most intensely at sporting events.
Though strong and vibrant, our collective psycho-social jouissance was ultimately defeated by an otherwise innocuous annoyance of modern spectator sports: the mandatory television timeout. Owing to the bowl game implications of the match-up and the historic rivalry between Colorado and Nebraska, the television network ABC broadcasted the game nationally. Consumers of televised college football are accustomed to the numerous commercial breaks during a game, an accepted concession to the pervasive forces of capitalism and commercialism. Many fans even embrace the commercial breaks as welcome opportunities to grab a beer or make a sandwich. When you are a spectator physically present at the game, however, these breaks are maddeningly disruptive. Quite simply, they puncture the collective psycho-social jouissance of the fans. And once punctured, the jouissance is difficult to repair.
The ebb and flow of our collective jouissance was a direct result of the invasive and disruptive pattern of television timeouts. Whenever Colorado scored, our jouissance reached a peak and hollered its might via song, cheer and high-fives. Primed to maintain our energy and exhilaration, we then eagerly anticipated the kick-off. But nothing happened. Thirty seconds passed, then sixty. Aha, another television timeout. Seconds turned into minutes, our jouissance started to deflate, and we realized our toes were frozen. This pattern repeated itself countless times, after every score, turnover or change of possession. The television timeouts, those crafty inventions pandering to commercialism, continually interrupted our state of jouissance. With such regular disruptions, the fans were never able to sustain the emotional and social connections that imbue a sport spectating experience with meaning, significance, and memory.
I enjoyed the game and appreciated its value to my own family and the wider communities involved. However, I shall now look elsewhere to experience a sense of psycho-social jouissance. The intrusion of the television timeouts and their disruption of our collective connection completely infuriated me. But where to find a fix of sporting psycho-social jouissance immune to interruption?
Giulianotti, R. (1995). Football and the politics of carnival: An ethnographic study of Scottish fans in Sweden. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 30(2), 191 – 224.