Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Derrick Rose and Fan Highlight Reels

Derrick Rose became the youngest player ever to win the NBA's Most Valuable Player award today.  By this point, even if you don't live in Chicago, you might know why.  If not, Sports Illustrated's version of Derrick Rose Central essentially provides all the numbers necessary to make a convincing case that he was the most dominant player in the league.  I'm not going to try to express in too many words the thrill of watching Rose play (though it's something akin to watching a man run downhill and jump off cliffs over and over again for 48 minutes).  Rather, it's a good opportunity to think about the phenomenon of fan-generated highlight films--and how they are changing the nature of sports fandom.

A YouTube search for "Derrick Rose Highlights" yields 7,500 video clips.  Filtering for "HD" leaves me with roughly 3,500.  But what's interesting about the videos is not just the sheer number, or the diversity of production values (though my favorites are the super cheesy ones), or the diversity of background music (everything from Kanye (below, my favorite*) to the "Derrick Rose Remix" of Rebecca Black).  Many contain religious-like fervor and investment in historical continuity between Jordan and Rose (and who could blame Chicago for desperately wanting to make that connection).

Perhaps what I want to say here is that Derrick Rose adds very little to the content of these videos.  The highlights themselves only infrequently seem to be the focus of fan videos.  In this way, they stand apart from, say, official highlight reels from sports networks).  Here, it's the announcers who contextualize the SICK DUNKS (I'm having a lot of trouble controlling myself watching these clips).  This kind of clip resembles traditional sports viewing, with announcers as the chief mediator of the content.

By contrast, each fan video represents a particular combination of simple production abilities with curatorial choices, the confluence of which embody an attempt to engender a very specific emotional impact.  Almost categorically, my reaction to Derrick Rose dunks is "OH MY GOD."  But YouTube fan videos allow for seemingly endless choices of emotional contexts in which to place that "OH MY GOD."  And, the volume of YouTube clips featuring the same highlight materials with different supporting songs and clips allows me to explore which of these contexts I like best.  Do I want to feel serious?  Badass?  Corny?  Religious?  I can immediately scroll through however many I want and experience a range of feelings immediately.

That's awesome.

But there's a next step.  Individual fan videos seem less interested in reaching Derrick Rose fans on the basis of his talents (side note: the fantastic sub-genre of anti-fan videos can be similarly explored), and more interested in finding viewers that desire the production of a particular feeling with regard to Derrick Rose.  Why?  So that like-minded viewers will share their video as a link.  In this way, Mr. MVP is not necessarily the central focus or purpose of fan videos.  Rather, these clips aim to connect individuals with similar aesthetically-expressed emotional communities and guarantee the expansion of those communities through social networks.

Fan videos create sub-bases within fan-bases, and in the process essentially reverse the concept of fandom.  They don't support the players as much as they speak to the need of fans to express their particular emotional investment in athletes, and perpetuate that community online.  In other words: you don't share all of the videos that you see.  Rather, you pick the one that you most identify with, and identify yourself as belonging to a particular community of feeling.  Derrick Rose exists for the satisfaction of your particular need to sense participation in a unique community.

*So, thanks, Promixes95, for reminding me of what it feels like to listen to Kanye (btw, already a deeply manipulative song) and want so badly to be a Chicagoan.  The collision of two Chicago hometown heroes lets me feel as though I too an a native.

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