One of the little things that continues to make card collecting fun 30-some years after I should have grown up and abandoned it is that every so often, there’s a little gem that offers something more than it appears at first glance.
The Kotter set, for example, is really just a junk set that I play at finding deeper meaning in. Sometimes this works in its own tortured way, probably more often it doesn’t. I’ve looked at some of the cards that are coming and haven’t the foggiest idea what I’ll do with them.
This one, however, accidentally asks an interesting question, even as it skews the original Shakespeare quote it’s drawing from: What happens when we abandon a label that we’ve used to identify ourselves? What part of our identity is tied up in things that are really affectations and what happens when we let those go?
This is something I pondered while the lockout was on and I watched/read numerous people swearing they were finished with hockey, finished with their fandom. Now, it’s probably true that those who say this in outrage are the least likely to actually go through with it since that anger belies a passion that’s still burning. The more likely candidate to abandon a team wouldn’t announce it but would simply do it. They’d cut ties and disappear.
For a lot of us in the internet age, fandom is multifaceted – it influences the sites we read, the forums we frequent, the online communities we belong to. Abandoning fandom thus isn’t just an interest-related thing, it’s a social thing. We’re not just leaving the thing we once enjoyed but quite possibly the places we talked about it and the people with whom we interacted. We’re leaving the tribe.
The labels we give ourselves either gain or block us from admittance to the tribe. When I decided on Premier League Football as something to follow in the absence of hockey, I had no real choice in what team I’d pick. I’d decided 25 years ago on Arsenal, and even though I’d never spent a real second as a fan, I couldn’t pick anything else because that label was something I’d held onto forever and ever. To try to be something else would have felt unnatural. Having given myself the label, though, I was allowed to choose a community to join and now that group is basically central to my understanding of the game.
This isn’t just true of sports – it’s everything. We get labels from our politics, our faith, the car we drive, the music we listen to. All of these gain us admittance to various subsets of society that do/think/believe the same things. They also enforce a kind of orthodoxy – if you want to be in the club, you need to do/think/behave in certain ways. Failure to conform brings penalties.
What makes Barbarino’s question interesting is that he’s mulling over the consequences of giving something up, relinquishing part of what he is, and that’s something we rarely seem to do. It’s deep and a little scary when you look at it. His identity is directly tied to being a Sweathog, so what would happen if he weren’t? Who is he? What is he? Did he gain his freedom or lose his self? What would it mean to be truly free of associations and just be out there alone?
Heady stuff from a hunk of cardboard.
Of course, the back has no relation to the front. The joke however, is better than most.