Probably because I have spent most of my life in the entertainment business, I am often interested, I would even say taken aback, to see the adulation, I would even say hysteria, that the famous persons in our societies generate. The famous and accomplished we know are magnets in their societies, with each nation consumed by its own exceptional people, and, while there are many categories for it, nowhere is the process more vividly in play than in entertainment and sport. Famous movie or television stars, favourite music performers, and sports figures probably lead the pack, but there are high achievers in other fields – popular politicians are also confronted with this outburst – to the point of often needing security people or bodyguards.
This week, that “fan” behaviour is powerfully on view as the soccer World Cup is engaging us at every turn, and the television pictures are happily expanding the experience. In the recent surprising defeat of Argentina by Croatia, the extent of the pull that these popular figures have on us came across powerfully on the TV. No commentary was necessary. The grief-stricken Argentine fans in the stands, both young and cold, conveyed instantly the extent of the shock. The players themselves mirrored it, staring blankly into space. There was Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi wandering the field alone with a look of bewilderment on his face, and several of his team-mates were in tears or holding their heads in disbelief.
Adulation also comes to successful writers, to legendary business figures, and to a range of other standouts, but a case can certainly be made that it is in the entertainment sector, widely, that is to say sport and musical performances, where the most frenzy occurs. Some of America’s well known rock stars have literally had their clothing ripped by fanatic followers, and there is the memorable footage of young girls being carried out by security people after they fainted at a Beatles’ performance.
There are varying facets to this phenomenon, and varying criteria can be in play, but, on reflection, in the musical field, a display of superior intelligence is not the principal attraction, and although it can play an important role, physical appeal or beauty is not an essential part either, in that field. Indeed, we have popular calypsonians, Lord Brigo in Trinidad, and King Fighter, who were the opposite of that. Creation of a mood, or a feeling, as Machel Montano puts it, is the aim, and, whether you like the product or not, that is essentially the engine for most popular music today.
Although some persons in the society, usually the more adult ones, are offended by the behaviours in current popular music displays – the recent “carnival” in Guyana being an example – it is not, as some of us assert, a case of demented people following demented performers. The very fact that people are enthralled by their popular performers and swarm the stage to touch him/her tells us pellucidly that something powerful is taking place there; it is a spontaneous reaction or expression of joy. This kind of reaction exists, in varying degrees, in every nation on earth, often propelled by music, and while it is more prevalent in North America and Europe, it is found, albeit in different expressions, in different cultures including our own Amerindian one here. While women at a music concert throwing personal garments or house keys at a performer on stage may be an American expression not often seen in this country, the intimation is still there albeit expressed differently; in the Caribbean culture, women will take a more direct approach by simply shouting out their message at high volume, letting the performer know he or she is in demand and not just in a musical sense. And it’s not just the ladies. Several years ago, in the middle of her performance in New Amsterdam, at a quiet moment between songs, I heard a man shout to the singer on stage, “Ah wan fuh dead in yuh han’, gal.” It drew laughter from persons nearby, like me, but the man was not being comedic. I also recall an Ottawa show where a Jamaican lady in the audience regaled Trini drummer Andrew Beddoe with “Handrew, mi want yuh at all cas.’”
Finally, although I concede that the most electric examples of this “fan behaviour” are triggered by pop singers and film stars, sports is the other arena where these striking displays take place. I was astounded, just a few weeks ago, to see a clip on TV of NFL star Peyton Manning, being mobbed, as he came out of a store in a mall, by people asking for cell phone photographs. The crowd quickly grew to probably about a hundred persons, and it became a truly memorable event, as the retired athlete kept smiling and posing; there seemed no end to it. It was particularly striking to see two men, holding their photo of Peyton, and actually weeping. They were completely overcome by the encounter to the point where they were reduced to tears, and no one in that mass of people seemed to find that reaction unusual; such is the appeal of the pop figure.
I end with an outburst of my own. This one was in the impossible come-from-behind West Indies victory, with Lara shining, against England in Barbados, some years back. I was watching it in Grand Cayman, on television in the afternoon, alone in my house, and with the final blow I was hopping and jumping all over the living-room – gone berserk, shouting and waving, as the Guyanese say, me wan an’ God.
One thing for sure: stay tuned to the World Cup games on television. It is the nature of sports that there will be more shocks coming. There will be other followers weeping, or looking to the heavens, or screaming at their loss. There will be other favoured performers like Messi wandering the pitch in disbelief and despair; perhaps, even in Sunday’s game. But there will also be some like me, jumping and shouting alone, yes, me wan an’ God.