Vicarious Pain and Genuine Pleasure: Some Reflections on Spectator Transformation of Meaning in Sport

In Heather Sheridan, Leslie A. Howe & Keith Thompson (eds.), Sporting Reflections: Some Philosophical Perspectives. Oxford, UK: Meyer and Meyer Sport, Ltd.. pp. 32-44 (2007)
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Abstract
Ambiguity in the athlete’s perception and description of pain that opens the door to a series of reinterpretations of athletic experience and events that argue the development of an increasingly inauthentic relation to self and others on the part of those who consume performance as third parties (spectators) and ultimately those who produce it first hand (athletes). The insertion of the spectator into the sport situation as a consumer of the athlete’s activity and the preference given to spectator interpretation shift control of meaning away from the athlete and encourage a demand for athlete suffering in aid of the spectator’s own need for meaning. Through discussions of the function of narrative in sport spectacle, the witnessing role of spectators, and the phenomenon of vicarious substitution, I discuss the representation of the athlete as a character ideal and moral exemplar. At a more developed level of external interpretation, the athlete (or team) becomes the champion of the spectator, the role model or focal point of civic pride whose victory asserts the ascendence of my team and town over yours; and finally, the athlete or team is the intentional object of fan identification: my team is me. I conclude that the existential commitment of the spectator as devoted fan is an inauthentic one.
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