Once every four years, something magical occurs.
Every night for two weeks, I park myself in front of the television, and I’m instantly hooked. I watch far past my “bedtime”, unable to sleep without knowing what happens. During the day I avoid the internet and gripe about “spoilers”, and I wait impatiently until I can go home and start watching again.
Now, if we were talking about Netflix’s latest must-watch series, no one who knows me would bat an eye. But it’s the Olympics.
Me, obsessed with a sporting event? Okay, that’s a little strange.
I know I’m not the only one of my kind when it comes to the Olympics, but I was curious about the reasoning behind our actions. Why do we suddenly care about the balance beam and vault? Why do we find ourselves keeping track of swimming world records and who holds them? Is rhythmic gymnastics REALLY worth the three hours I’ll spend glued to the television?
“The Olympics are entertaining, but have a deeper psychological draw,” said Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center. “Consider how people feel when other countries that are frequently cast as our ‘rivals’ win more gold medals than we do. The Olympics use sports to celebrate effort, competition and victory. Winning is important for internal morale.”
I admit, there’s a strong desire to watch my fellow Americans go out there and win the shiny medal for doing something I could definitely never do.
And I also admit, though it pains me to do so, that I might take the whole thing a little too much to heart. But I’m not too abnormal, according to Dr. Joshua Searle-White, professor of psychology at Allegheny College in Pennsylvania.
“When we win or lose, it’s going to affect me personally because I identify with this group,” said Searle-White. “It’s a natural human tendency to want to identify with a group.”
“The Olympics create a sense of affiliation,” said Rutledge. “Country-affiliation has historically been strong.”
There’s also something to be said for the “my friends are all watching it, so maybe I should watch it too” argument (aka, the Lemming Defense).
“Any social ritual generates social capital,” said Rutledge. “And the ability to talk familiarly about a significant event that others share creates a sense of community, social inclusion and social validation.”
Well, I always have wanted to be in the know. And as Searle-White points out, there is a sense of togetherness when we all share interest in something.
“It’s not so much about the game as it is being a part of the community,” he said.
To be fair, it is about the game in a sense. At the end of the day, I have real admiration for the athleticism and talent that these competitors bring to their sport. They’ve worked hard, and earned all the attention that’s coming their way.
Whatever the reasons are behind my obsession, I am so ready for the Opening Ceremony. If any of you need me, I’ll be in front of the TV.