Flame Wars: The Tampa Menace

Saturday, 29 May 2004 — 8:29pm | Film, Hockey

In honour of tonight’s 3-0 victory over the Lightning, at which the audience was entirely in varying degrees of red, I am going to write some more about the euphoric atmosphere in this here city of Calgary.

From the Yellow Journalism Files comes this little gem I saw in this week’s FFWD Weekly, which, for you Edmontonians reading this, is Calgary’s equivalent of your SEE Magazine: a brief observation by one Jason Lewis that the sports fans leading the charge of Flames fever here in Calgary “are not only a little hypocritical, but also a bit nutty.”

This by itself is not so objectionable, but read on. “You know when the latest Star Wars movie comes out and people line up for five days dressed up as R2-D2 to buy tickets?” asks Lewis. “You folks in the Flames jerseys with the thermoses of soup outside the Saddledome at 5 a.m. to get playoff seats are the sports-world equivalent of those sci-fi geeks.”

Speaking as someone who indeed lined up for five days (okay, three) to buy tickets for one of the Prequels – and let’s not even get into The Lord of the Rings Trilogy Tuesday or the midnight launch of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – it’s easy to take this as a compliment to Flames fans everywhere. But in light of what he says in the first paragraph about hypocrisy, is it just me, or do I detect a bit of negativity? Lewis goes on and makes an entirely anecdotal argument that we “didn’t see [him] walking around in a yellow track suit for the opening weekend of Kill Bill,” which is a rather misguided take on the motivations underlying the dress-up, line-up subcultural phenomena we are seeing more often in this age of tentpole events.

The Kill Bill argument falls flat because as good a film as it is, and as recognized as it has become in the Internet film geek community in particular, Miramax never let it dabble in big licensing deals, which meant the burden of acquiring a yellow track suit (itself an homage to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Death) demanded that you make it yourself. That already eliminates the first pillar beneath a public demonstration of one’s admiration and support for something: the commercial infrastructure.

With the Calgary Flames, you have both the merchandise and a team whose performance makes it fashionable. In the case of films that have yet to establish both a major commercial presence and a fan base willing to spend hard cash on it – a fan base that needs to be earned on merit – this does not happen. This is why the hype machine comes into action primarily for sequels to films that are mainstream cultural phenomena, which Kill Bill, Vol. 1 sadly was not.

For instance, the amount of costuming that happened going into The Fellowship of the Ring on opening night was minimal; without the images from the movie imprinted on society at large, and given that the mass merchandising of Tolkien was just getting off the ground, it was impossible to tell the Aragorns apart from the Boromirs anyway, unless you somehow managed to procure a Horn of Gondor. The openings of The Two Towers and The Return of the King, however, saw a whole lot more in the way of elf fashion and hobbit pageantry. The first Star Wars underwent a similar pattern, and by passing off its growth with every passing film as the development of a geek subculture, it is easy to ignore how this culture was driven by the general public. Tellingly, nobody went to The Passion of the Christ decked out as Jesus despite its record-shattering run at the box office. The exception to the rule was the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, but only because the kids already had costumes they wore to the release of The Goblet of Fire or the previous Halloween.

The thing to remember about dressing up for movie openings and sports games is that it only works, and it is only fun, if a lot of people are doing it. Even when you put aside the commercially licensed paraphernalia you are still left with what is, in its own right and on its own terms, a crafts fair. On one hand, you have your tinfoil Stanley Cups and “Cup Belongs in Calgary” signs; on the other, you have the latest handmade Stormtrooper costume projects like the ones coordinated by The 501st Legion. Ultimately it has little to do with the event, and a lot more to do with the sense of community. It may seem obsessive to the layman, but that does not make it a bad thing.

Lewis may contend that the bodypainting of red flaming Cs on game nights is no better than mock fighting in a cinema parking lot with glowing plastic lightsabres, but it would be more accurate to say it is no worse.

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