Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Conformity Theory

A couple of weeks ago our basketball team played in The Hudson Valley Shootout in Bard. The games were fun, but the most interesting part of the tournament was how many fans Bard had in their gym. My rough guess was 150 students (out of 1800 undergrads), but it could have been more. And they were rowdy. I heard a story that four years ago when we last played there the fans cut out a picture of our best player's head and stuck it on a poster with a picture of George Bush's body.

Those of you who don't know much about Bard probably assume that it is some sort of big jock school, a liberal arts version of USC or something. But anybody that has seen the student body knows otherwise. These kids are artsy. I saw more wool sweaters and tight jeans during two hours at Bard than I saw in four years of high school. They're too trendy to shop at H&M, too politically heterodox to vote Green. They're too fucking punk rock to listen to punk rock.

So why do they go in droves to watch their basketball team? Basketball, the mainstream sport that was started by a crotchety old guy from the YMCA? I think it's because they're so non-conformist that they conform.

If everybody starts out as conforming, some cool people will probably end up not conforming in order to stand out. But if all of the cool kids are doing it, then everybody else will too. Now most everybody is non-conforming. So the next generation of non-conformists are so-non-conformist that they refuse to conform with their fellow non-conformists, and they conform. Viola, watching Bard basketball is cool again. This diagram should help explain my point (click on the image to make it bigger):

The numbers refer to degrees of coolness. So 0 corresponds to your average Mathlete competitor, and 720 is reserved for Chris Brown driving down to Tijuana in a convertible smoking a blunt, with his arm around Jessica Alba. Moreover, the numbers can apply to both individual people and activities. In the example of Bard basketball, the coolness of the activity jumped from 180, where nobody went, to 360, where suddenly it was cool enough to go again. If this all seems complicated, good. Keeping up with the cool kids can't be easy, otherwise everybody would be cool.

My advice to sports teams at trendy liberal art schools that want to get more fans at their games? Go semi-underground and market the team as conformist or boring. Maybe write an article in the campus newspaper under a pen name about how traditional sports are washed up and irrelevant. Explain in layman's terms why nobody watches the games anymore. Then sit back and watch the crowd tip back in your favor.